MUMBAI—There were no media interactions with the star-cast of “Padmaavat” or its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali before the release of the film for obvious reasons. However, after we were swamped by Ranveer Singh’s fantabulous performance as Allauddin Khilji in the film, there was an overpowering demand for his interviews by the media. One by one, Singh fitted in everyone, with India-West getting its turn one late night at Yash Raj Studios, Singh’s home ground.
Singh was in the thinned down avatar of his “Gully Boy” character, having lost all the beef he had put on for the Bhansali epic. But his warmth, spirit and vivaciousness has not ebbed one bit; He gave me a “high five” when I told him that his performance was “5 star in a 4-star film,” and grinned, “Dil khush hua (You made me happy)! I must have done something right!”
Singh chatted candidly on the film, his approach to Khilji and his way of looking at his career. “The only thing I ever wanted to do was to become a Hindi film hero. And I am enjoying every bit of my career! So the huge level of enthusiasm, excitement and energy continue!” he said grandly.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: How was it playing Khilji?
A: I had the time of my life! This was the best of my three experiences with Sanjay-sir for multiple reasons. One, the character allowed me to make some bold choices, and the best part was that I was free to make them. When I played Ram in “Goliyon Ki RasLila: RamLila” or Bajirao in “Bajirao Mastani,” there were limits that I could not cross for those characters, but as an antagonist, it was totally different.
Two, I also do not think that any star has played such a depraved character before, and, three, frankly, I am relieved that the film has worked. Had it not, I do not know where I would have been today!
Q: As an actor who goes out of his way to physically and mentally become a character, what did you do here?
A: I did not relate to Khilji at all! But I had wanted to play an antagonist at some point in my career, and if I could do it with Sanjay-sir, why not, I thought. When I accepted the film, I could not find any part of me that was so scheming, greedy, ambitious, manipulative and sinister! So I read all I could on tyrannical rulers, oppressive regimes, genocide, serial killings and even various creatures from the animal kingdom!
I then isolated myself again from friends and family – a rewarding process in which there are no rules, and you are there just with the material in a room. I was finding, exploring – writing, writing and writing furiously sometimes, sometimes cutting and pasting things on the wall, painting, and writing on it, looking into the mirror, walking within a room or just talking to myself. I was reading, watching and assessing what was working and what was not. After all this, I just arrived at the base of my character, and the rest was done with a lot of freestyling with my director on sets, and by playing off against my co-stars.
Q: And did that make the shoots easy?
A: Not at all! The shoots were delayed, as you know due to various reasons, and when my turn came, we had just 45 days’ time. After about six to eight days of shooting intense scenes, Sanjay-sir would give us a couple of days break to recuperate like he always does. But I had to scream and banish my wife one day, then have a fight sequence with Shahid on another, and dance to a song on the next day.
On day 37, I broke down at night and called my mother, saying that I could not shoot more! On another day, I went to a corner and started crying, and my make-up man of years, Madhav Dada, who is like a father-figure, came and comforted me. At that point, I was bleeding from some minor injury, sweating in the heat and tears were flowing down, and I told Dada, “Look, these are blood, sweat, and tears all at the same time!” When we met at the cast and crew screening, he gave me a hug when we recalled that day.
Q: Which would you say was the most traumatic moment?
A: The climax was to be shot in cool weather at Film City, but we finally had to do it on a burning May afternoon. I was wearing four layers of leather, and literally thought I would melt. I would suddenly collapse, have to be revived, would throw up and then give my next shot!
Then there were days in which my mind was sharp, but my body would not obey me! On the day I shot the song “Khali Bali,” my legs felt like jelly. But once the cameras rolled, I was thankfully fine!
Q: Did the fact that you shared no frame with Deepika Padukone anger you enough to play Khilji better?
A (Seriously): I don’t think so. It felt like we had never done this film together, so it makes me look forward to our next! We met once before the film and then at the cast and crew screening. But occasionally, I would drop in to watch the shoot when I was not a part of it.
Q: What were your expectations from the film?
A: I believe in the dictum of “Karm karo, phal ki iccha mat karo (Do what you must without expecting rewards). I have zero expectations from every film. And I genuinely feel that way. I remember I had dislocated my right shoulder before shooting even a single sword-fighting scene in “Bajirao Mastani” and my spirit was broken. I was lying in one place, borderline depressed. During that phase, I listened to many audiobooks, and something lit inside me when one said, ‘The process is the prize!’ I then realized that my preparations and interacting with the director and the co-stars and adding nuances and layers were the actual prizes. Now I want to be detached from my films. I want to be like my idol Johnny Deep, who I am told, does not even watch his own films!
Q: Now that “Padmaavat” has done so well, will expectations increase?
A: I do not get bogged down like that, because every story, character and director is unique, and each film teaches you something about yourself, a new skill set or a craft. You learn and develop yourself with each film. People ask me how I reacted to the failure of “Befikre,” but for me, it is NOT a failure. I learned so much – to dance, to have conversations on camera, and I got to work with a man I adore – Aditya Chopra. I learnt about my strengths and limitations and did a lot more comedy than I had ever done.
Q: How charged are you about your forthcoming films?
A: I am thrilled! This look of mine is for “Gully Boy,” my second film with Zoya Akhtar. She is a very internal director, who believes in drawing the audience into her world. I love working with Zoya again, with Alia Bhatt for the first time, and with all the rappers.
Then there is the one and only Rohit Shetty’s “Simmba,” which is home territory for me! This is the kind of movie I grew up on and was dying to do, and I know that together we will be dynamite, especially after the ad film we shot together! Unlike Zoya, Rohit reaches out completely to the audience.
Then my greatest challenge is enacting Kapil Dev comes in Kabir Khan’s “1983,” the underdog story about cricket that not many know about. I was born in 1985, and an entire generation needs to know the truth about this event that galvanized India and Indian cricket. I can hardly believe that we are the lucky team that is carrying the story to the world.
Q: Would you do a good digital story today?
A: No. I am an entertainer, and for me, it’s about big-screen entertainment. I watch the promos of so many films and find that I do not need to go to a theatre to watch them. I want to do films that draw audiences into the theatres.