Ranveer Singh: Bigger than Bollywood?
He bolts into the room with a careless, energetic enthusiasm that I assume will be impossible to maintain for an entire day. I am to be later proven wrong. Darting around our suite at The Taj, Downtown Dubai hotel, he admires the epic views with childlike intrigue. Easily distracted? Perhaps, but he will show himself to be thoroughly professional and polite; a trait often lost on stars of his calibre.
Ranveer Singh, in case you don’t know much about Bollywood, is one of India’s leading movie stars who, in five short years, has been catapulted to the top of the nation’s film industry. He made his acting debut in 2010 with a leading role in Yash Raj Films’ romantic comedy Band Baaja Baaraat. The film secured critical and commercial success, earning him his first Filmfare award in the Best Male Debut category.
Singh describes the success of that film as “the most significant point in my career; it put me on the map and got my foot in the door, ensuring I would actually find work after it.” And yet prior to the release, expectations for the film were modest at best, with critics doubting that a fresh face in a new Bollywood rom-com would amount to much.
He fondly recalls his then-directors’ (who are now mentors), cutting words on the eve of the release. “If people don’t like you after this, I’m sorry to say you really have no future, son; you’re done and you’ll have to look for a different job.” But luckily, people didn’t just like it, they loved it, and the door to Bollywood opened wide for Singh to stride through with the confidence that he possessed even back then.
In 2015, he starred in the ensemble comedy-drama Dil Dhadakne Do, and portrayed Bajirao in the historical romance Bajirao Mastani, one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films ever, for which he won a Filmfare award for Best Actor.
His fondness for those early films repeatedly comes up during our interview. Singh’s naivety back then, or so he feels, added to his performance and he often wishes he could still approach a film with that same ignorance. “This awareness is very detrimental to an actor. Once you know all the technicalities of the craft, you know how to mess with it for effect.”
Singh laughs as he remembers the silly questions he would ask on the set. “My co-actors would smile and say to me things like, ‘That’s the boom microphone, it’s going to pick up your dialogue and that’s how you are going to be heard in the film.’” He’s come a long way since those innocent days.
Every woman in the office quizzed me in the week leading up to my shoot with Ranveer Singh. “What time is it?” “How long will you be with him for?” “Can you ask him this?” “Can I come and get a picture?” He certainly has a pretty dedicated fanbase, and it’s easy to see why — he exudes celebrity.
A good-looking and charming man, he has a team around him checking every detail to ensure the day runs smoothly. But he seems genuine, focused and new enough to the game to not be tainted by the pitfalls of fame. When I tell him that one PR girl requested to come on the shoot and observe from afar, he smiles. “You should have agreed. She should have come to get a selfie and give me a hug!”
Singh’s relationship with his fans is something he takes great pride in, dedicating chunks of his time to talk to them via social media. “Most of my fans are very warm; they are all very affectionate and very expressive in their affection,” he says before recounting how they send personalised gifts, which he greatly appreciates. His ultimate source of joy, and favourite fan gift, is the cult hazelnut chocolate spread, Nutella. “I could go through an entire jar in a single sitting, I’m crazy about it!”
But such a fanatical fanbase comes with its own set of hazards. Singh tells us of darker experiences with the more obsessive individuals. “I was in Paris recently and for the longest time I felt that someone was lurking around the apartment.
A few days afterwards I found my door broken and somebody had attempted to break in. Things like that can be scary.”
After a long day of shooting, throughout which he is chatty and friendly, I already feel like I have gotten to know the real Ranveer Singh. But once we sit down for the actual interview, I soon realise I have only scratched the surface. Because of his success, you expect the usual stage-school spiel of his best training techniques, where he learned his craft, how he always knew he would make it… etc., etc... but instead, he tells a tale of a simple Bandra boy from humble beginnings who never expected this level of success. (A Bandra boy, I am informed, signifies a Mumbai homeboy, a real boy-next-door character, if you will.)
“When my first film broke, my father was coming out of a very funky financial phase so it felt as though things were finally working out for our family after a decade of struggle,” Singh recalls.
He remains close to his two best friends from childhood, who help keep him grounded by quickly bringing him down to earth with a bang when needed. Their prolific one-liners include, “Bro, you really sucked in that film,” Singh tells us this with a wry smile on his face, clearly proud of his roots.
At the beginning of his career he says he often found himself taking too easily to the slippery celebrity slope, in danger of losing himself within the fame game. It was these friends, or “brothers” as he describes them, who helped him “keep it real”. “They will literally smack me on the back of the head,” laughs Singh. “They have, in a few instances, reminded me that my focus is wavering from where it needs to be and that my priorities are changing from what they should be.”
But do not mistake humility for blandness. Bollywood is all about flamboyance, colour, and general over-the-topness, and Ranveer Singh does not disappoint on any of these levels. He adores fashion, which you can see from the moment you meet him. Alongside the usual suspects of Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton Dolce & Gabbana, along with sport and streetwear brands, Adidas and Jack Jones, he also talks about his favourite Indian designers. Arjun Saluja offers “very unique cuts and fabrics”, while Manish Arora has “psychedelic, Pop Art-inspired stuff; it’s really out there and that’s what I love about him… But he doesn’t make too much menswear, which is really tragic.”
Singh’s personal get-up seems to be on the quirkier side of things, but he is quick to assure me this isn’t always the case.
“My style is dictated by the kind of mood I’m in,” he says defiantly, perhaps noticing my initial hesitation at some of his choices. “Sometimes I’m feeling a bit dreary, so to lift my spirits I’ll wear something that’s colourful and loud. And sometimes I feel much more comfortable in a simple black and blue outfit.”
I jokingly question how often he dresses down, since from the moment he entered the room this morning, he has declared his love for a beautiful gold statement jacket from Dolce & Gabbana hanging on the rail. “I like unique things,” Singh replies. “If you put out a rack of suits in black, blue and grey, I will pick the one with teddy bears or flowers or psychedelic stars on it.”
There’s no doubting his personality shines through in his wardrobe choices, but does he consider himself a stylish man? “I would say yes, because I’m able to express myself and I don’t curb that enthusiasm.” His personal style icons are just as eccentric. “I think Lady Gaga is the epitome of style,” he says. “She expresses herself without any filter; freely and without fear of judgement.”
For acting inspiration, he says he turns to Hollywood’s leading men. “I watched Taxi Driver when I was younger and it changed my life.” His favourite actors include usual suspects such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert De Niro, Will Smith and Jim Carrey. When it comes to directors, Spielberg’s his man. “He’s amazing and some of my favourite movies are Hollywood films.” He elaborates, describing how Hollywood has been around for longer so is naturally ahead in terms of money made, technology used and sheer scale, though his appreciation is overshadowed by his clear love of Bollywood. “It is a much smaller industry, but I’m very proud to say that it’s very self-sufficient.”
Singh is lucky enough to have worked with the leading film-makers in India, including Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who he describes as a one-of-a-kind. “I share a special creative partnership with Sanjay, unlike any other.” He describes Zoya Akhtar and Vikramaditya Motwane as “world class directors who are at the heart of the changing landscape of Hindi cinema, It’s a really exciting time to be a part of it.”
The meaning of success has changed over the years for Singh, as it does with most people who achieve it. Juggling commercial success with critical acclaim is the feat all actors try to pull off and Ranveer Singh has done a good job so far. But he also admits that being content in his personal, as well as professional, life is increasingly important. “I want to be a person and a leader who makes other people’s lives better. Not just in the pursuit of selfish interests; that doesn’t fulfil me anymore.”
As we’re on the subject of happiness, I have to ask if a musical is on the horizon, after hearing him sing and rap all day at the photoshoot. “I love musicals and I’m an alright rapper,” he admits. “However, my manager thinks I’m a terrible singer and she breaks my spirit every time!”
His unwavering confidence is, of course, hard to dilute, despite this opinion. “I would love to be a triple threat — singing, dancing and acting! So I’m going to work on singing. Leave it with me,” he says with his usual sense of humour.
This hyperactive enthusiasm never falters, despite our early-morning start, and it continues right through to the Man at His Best Awards that night, where his impromptu speech will steal the show. So how and when does he relax on rare moments away from the spotlight? “I try and get at least a day off every few weeks,” he says. “I like to just vegetate; I don’t move. I want to be in front of a TV screen playing video games or watching movies. I like to numb my senses, get massages that help me unwind.”
The usual Netflix favourites are watched, when time permits. “I saw Stranger Things recently, which had a unique narrative; I watch a lot of English football, especially Arsenal games. I play cricket, squash and I swim.” Despite his love of the beautiful game, football is for watching more than participating, as he “never had the competitive streak” to play professionally.
His travel itinerary is enviable, though he struggles to explore the places he visits due to packed schedules. “I like any place with a beach, though I recently visited Switzerland and it was one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen.”
A beach bum by nature means only one thing: a fitness routine to match. A self-proclaimed “fat kid until 14”, Singh’s healthy lifestyle is “the biggest source of self-confidence,” that he swears “helps me become a happier, more positive person.” This, he says with a twinkle in his eye, alongside his local gym’s “eye candy” is more than enough motivation.
The secret to Ranveer Singh’s success, or at least one of them, is that when he is in charming work mode, he can hold any crowd and any conversation. But when he’s in business mode, he is sharper, more analytical, concise. Describing himself as the Theatrical CEO of Ranveer Singh Incorporated, he treats the business side of the brand as seriously as he does his acting. Though he admits to never having been “a numbers person” he leads his team and has the final say in all decisions, though he seems to give an unheard-of amount of freedom to his close associates, whom he clearly trusts to get the job done.
Brand partnerships aren’t a new phenomenon for Singh, and he likes to develop his role beyond what is expected. “Advertising is a real area of interest, so I like to work collaboratively with brands. Whenever my creativity is invited, I am more than happy to offer it.” Adidas and Jack Jones head up the list of big names keen to associate with Singh. These are impressive and, generally speaking, expected of a movie star. Not counting, of course, his partnership with Durex. In typical Ranveer Singh fashion, he saw an opportunity to do something a little bit different and a chance to break down an unfairly taboo subject.
Singh wrote the lyrics and rapped in a video for the Durex campaign, which went viral. It could have been a huge mistake, but he is proud of what they did to raise awareness about sexual health in India. “It was a big risk, but I am glad it was so well received. It will always be a feather in my cap.”
It’s refreshing to see that he appears to make his decisions based on passion. The usual pressures of fame haven’t stopped him doing what he thinks is best. “I’ve always been notoriously reckless in my behaviour, I can’t live my life to fit into an expected mould,” he says with even more passion than usual in his voice. “I’ve lost that fear of judgement entirely.”
As the day draws to an end, Ranveer Singh leaves to get ready for the evening, still with as much bounce as when he entered seven hours earlier. “As long as I’m operating from an honest place in my heart, not hurting anybody and I know that I have no malice towards anyone or anything, I think I’m doing fine.”
It’s perhaps this closing statement’s sentiment that best explains Ranveer’s winning Esquire’s Man at His Best Awards International Man of the Year.
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Words & styling: Daniel Higgins; Photography: Richard Hall; Art Direction: Cate Warde; Hair & make up: Shindesu