Ranveer Singh returned home to Mumbai in 2007, armed with a Bachelor’s degree in advertising from Indiana University, Bloomington, ambitions of working in the movies, and strong self-belief. The journey to stardom was not easy.
Ranveer was born to Anju and Jagjit Singh Bhavnani, who run an automobile and retail business in Mumbai. Having decided to strike out on his own, in an entirely different direction, he spent three-and-a-half years struggling to be noticed in Bollywood.
He worked as an assistant director, accumulated on-set experience, learnt the value of a stand-out portfolio, hustled, ambushed, attended auditions, experienced rejection and, like every Bollywood struggler, fought to keep his belief in the dream alive.
He then landed his first starring role, as Bittoo, the street-smart wedding planner, in Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baaja Baaraat (2010).
“I had the talent. I was willing to work hard and with sincerity. I could not imagine doing anything besides acting,” he said in an interview to People magazine in 2011, weeks after the release of his debut film. At the time, stardom was still around the corner, revving its engine, waiting to hit him “like a truck”.
It’s now 10 years since the juggernaut that is Ranveer Singh thundered into the Hindi film industry. His filmography is akin to Pop Rocks, the crafted-under-pressure, effervescent candy that surprises you as it explodes, crackles and fizzes.
There’s Singh as the intense and charming con artist Varun in Lootera. As the Romeo known as Ram in Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet. As the conflicted scion Kabir in Dil Dhadakne Do. As the Maratha warrior in Bajirao Mastani and the tyrannical Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat. The corrupt cop who has a change of heart in Simmba and the brooding rapper in Gully Boy — and each time it was snap, crackle, pop.
“There is no question he has talent, but I think his love to dress up just adds to his roles,” says Sujata Assomull, journalist and author of 100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes. “Costumes play such an integral role in cinematic language.”
He dreamed of stardom, yet when it came, Singh has said that he found himself without the tools to cope. For two years he stayed cautious, guarded, until 2013, when he tasted both critical and commercial success with Lootera and Ram-Leela respectively.
Empowered by the validation, he shed his fear of judgement and unleashed a limitlessly energetic, whimsical, individualistic and fashion-forward self who jumped on car roofs with a wave to accommodate selfie-taking fans and kissed his wife goodbye on Mumbai streets.
“That energy and those incidents, that’s the folklore around Ranveer,” says filmmaker Kabir Khan, who has directed the 35-year-old actor in the cricket epic 83, due out next year. “But that’s not how he is on set. On set, he is an actor. He’s committed to the creative process. As a director, one couldn’t ask for more.”
Khan credits Singh’s astute film choices for his rising stock, on and off screen. “He balances the machismo with nuanced performances. He is a mass hero as much as he is admired for his discerning portrayals that bypass the tropes of the conventional ‘Bollywood hero’. His effort and honesty make him attractive — to both women and men,” Khan says.
Like the mercurial and menacing Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat, there is a duality to Singh, one that he is deeply comfortable with. He can rock a skirt, break into impromptu dance, dive into a dark rabbit hole to portray a ruthless 13th-century ruler and wear his heart on his logo-emblazoned designer sleeve.
Resolute and prolific, Singh proudly walks shoulder-to-shoulder with his successful actress wife Deepika Padukone and is uninhibited in expressing his affection and admiration for her. It’s the stuff of teenage fantasy, especially in a deeply repressed, patriarchal society where couples meet on the sly and huddle in dark corners of cinema halls, parks and waterfronts.
In an interview with Open magazine, Padukone said, “I’ve never come across a man who was so comfortable with my success and the attention I was getting. He was supportive and encouraging of my career and it wasn’t superficial support. That doesn’t happen with many men.”
Singh’s forthcoming projects, in a career built on 12 carefully selected leading roles thus far, include playing a Gujarati man championing equal rights in Jayeshbhai Jordaar, a cop in Sooryavanshi and in a double role in the comedy Cirkus, besides endorsing a plethora of brands ranging from condoms to instant noodles, high street brands to banking services, underlining his bankability in a country of star worshippers.
“Whether cringe-worthy or cool, his style has made you sit up and pay attention,” says Assomull. “He has made it okay for men to have as much fun as women with fashion. He uses fashion as a way to subvert stereotypes.”
In an industry that has long preserved toxic masculinity, Singh challenges conventional notions of manliness. He has steadily shown that the Indian movie hero does not have to operate in a binary formula, but can dwell in shades of grey or — as is more likely in Singh’s case — pink, green, yellow and blue.
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