At one point during the wee hours of September 28, actor Ranveer Singh admits that he was “fucking scared”. On the bed at Hinduja Surgical Healthcare near his house at Khar, Mumbai, Singh was diagnosed with a severe case of dengue. The doctors had warned his family members that he had hit rock bottom and if he didn’t get any better, they would have to move him to the ICU. “It was terrible,” says Singh, who is now recuperating from the condition at home. “I was so weak that I couldn’t do this.” He picks up a glass and sips juice from it to explain. “I couldnt lift a damn glass and have water from it. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t lie down, I couldn’t walk,” he goes on. “It was like my body couldn’t do anything. It was capable but it didn’t have the energy and strength to do it. I couldn’t even see clearly.” Fortunately, he says, after that it got better. He was discharged from hospital in a record timing of just a week.
The actor, who made his debut in 2010 playing Bittoo Sharma in the Yash Raj film Band Baaja Baarat, says that he has a tendency to break records when it comes to health issues. Last year, Singh had to be helicoptered out of the location of Udaan-fame director Vikramaditya Motwane’s second film Lootera in Dalhousie, due to a severe back injury. He was bedridden for almost four months, which led to a 19 month gap between Singh’s two releases. Also, his last release Ladies vs Ricky Bahl hadn’t been that big a success as his debut. “I couldn’t let this happen to me, buddy,” says Singh, sprawling over his couch, trying to find a spot which would keep him away from the AC. “I took my rehab seriously and I started doing six hours of yoga, pilates and what not for three months. After that, I bounced back fitter than ever and the doctors were surprised that I had recovered 120 per cent in a record time.” Even before he was down with dengue, the 28-year-old had also suffered from a gash in his cheek and a leg injury while shooting for his 2014 release Gunday.
Dressed in a yellow sweatshirt, bright blue track pants and bunny slippers that have enormous ears, Singh is in character. That of the spoilt and frustrated Bandra boy. Spoilt because of all the attention the dengue has called for from his family and frustrated because he is forced to sit at home. This is the worst part, says Singh, who is known to be ever-energetic, loud and lively. “My strength and energy is not coming back as fast as I would want it to. I need to get back to work,” he says. Considering the amount of injuries and health issues he has gone through, shouldn’t he just give it some time? “No buddy,” Singh is restless although his eyes are droopy. “I am actually in a phase of my life when I am finding it difficult to while away time and take a break, to do nothing. I need to be stimulated. I need to keep working.” He confesses that he did try to “take rest and do nothing”, but couldn’t get past even an afternoon doing so. Right now all he wants to do is work, work and work. “I feel like I need to keep working and I need to be on a film set at least 300… no 366 out of 365 days in a year.”
Even while shooting for Band Baaja Baarat, Singh remembers that the film’s producer Aditya Chopra and his co-star Anushka Sharma had warned him. “Tu bahut tez bhaag raha hai (You are running too fast),” Chopra, Yash Raj Films honcho, whom Singh refers to as Adi Sir used to tell him. “Anushka would also tell me that I need to take things slowly and give them their time,” he says. “She used to call me impatient and try to make me understand that success wouldn’t come to me overnight.” But the boy who once gyrated to Bachchan numbers like Chumma Chumma at house parties hosted by his grandmother was not one to let this opportunity go. “It was an opportunity which I always dreamt of, a break that I always wanted. And when I got it, I got completely infused with this great charge of energy and enthusiasm to make good on it,” says Singh, on his dream debut of being the first solo hero to be ever launched by Yash Raj. “Having said that, I do try to take it slowly now. I do realise that I am running too fast and that I might stumble. I am well aware of it and I have calmed down a lot. And I do realise when I am pushing myself too hard.” But its still that luck factor, says Singh with a laugh. “If you have bad luck, the machchar (mosquito) will still bite you.”
Always the performer and the life of every party, be it in school or during his junior college days at H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, films were a natural choice for Singh. “I never had to make an effort to please crowds,” he says. “It came to me naturally. I was always very filmy.” It was no wonder then that Singh decided to recite one of Bachchan’s lengthy monologues from Deewar on the first day of his acting classes at Indiana University, where he was doing his liberal arts programme. Despite the fact that none of his classmates understood a single word he said, they all applauded his act and that was the moment he realised that he should pursue his dream seriously.
After finishing his course, a spirited Singh came back to Mumbai and started assisting his “mentor and big brother” director Shaad Ali in making ad films. He also networked with Bollywood production houses on the side. His raw energy and the fact that he was a fresh face, having never appeared in films, TV soaps, music videos or ads, worked in his advantage and he bagged the role in Band Baaja Baaraat. It is still his “madcap energy” that makes filmmakers sign him on for their ventures, says Ali Abbas Zafar, who is directing Gunday. “He is also a very hardworking actor. If you give him smething to do, you can be assured he will do it the best way possible,” says Zafar, who has known Singh from his assisting days. “But at the end of the day he is so much of fun, like a ball bouncing around full of energy.”
This is also the reason, said his co-star and rumoured lover Deepika Padukone in an interview recently, that she admires him a lot. “He is so unique, be it the way he dresses, the way he carries himself or the way he speaks. That is what makes him so pleasanly different from everyone else,” she had said. But this was exactly the image that Motwane was trying to get him out of for playing Varun Shrivastava in Lootera. Set in the 1950s, the film was a love story, and Motwane’s character was a brooding, young thief in the disguise of an archaelogist.
Although Singh was all kicked about the role initially, he almost gave up on the fourth day of the prep workshop. “I took a plastic chair and banged it down and told Vikram that he had made a big mistake signing me,” he says. “But then he sat me down and made me understand that it is not my birth obligation to entertain people and play only crowd pleasing characters.” Motwane says that it is diffcult to express in words what he saw in Singh that made him confident that he could pull of the character. “I knew that Ranveer had a pretty interesting quiet side to him,” says Motwane. “When someone’s a great actor, it is always fun to put them up to a challenge. I had full confidence that he had it in him.” It was Singh’s unflinching dedication that led him to play the role so well, the filmmaker says. “He is super dedicated and involved. He always wants to learn,” says Motwane. “He comes fully rehearsed to the set and asks a lot of questions while shooting. He just wants to get it right at whatever cost.”
That is all what he wants to do in life, admits Singh. To get it right. In terms of directors, characters, stories, genres. “There’s nothing that excites me more than that,” he says. “I just want to keep doing more and more movies for my own creative satsfaction, not because I want to earn money or climb the ladder of stardom. It is something that I want to do for myself.” But he is worried that he will reach his “big three-o landmark” with not as many achievements as he had planned for himself. “There are so many things that I want to do, I always feel time is running out,” he says. “Before I turn 30, there are a bunch of things that I have to have done. I cannot articulate and put my finger on it saying I have to do this, this and that. But something needs to happen in my own head. So I am in a very impatient stage, not a situation in which I want to be at home at all.”
Nevertheless Singh is happy to have striken off one of the biggest wishes out of his list–of starring in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. He will be seen playing the lead role in the filmmaker’s magnum opus, Ram Leela, slated for release next week. The film is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, set in Gujarat, in which Singh plays Ram, the “raw and Don Juan DeMarco-esque village stud” who falls in love with the beautiful Leela who belongs to a warring clan. “In my own estimation, I am the ultimate Bhansali hero,” says Ranveer, with a laugh. “I may not fit the bill in the looks department, considering Hrithik, Salman and Shahrukh were the earlier Bhansali heroes, but other than that I have it all. The inclination towards melodrama, the affinity for histronics, the theatrical, the operatic, the love for song and dance–I have it all.” When he was signed on by Bhansali, Singh says he knew that it came with a lot of responsibility. “I was like ‘Boss, this is it!’,”he says. “It was my biggest project till date, in budget and scale, and I was clear that this was something which I was going to throw an incredible amount of work into.”
The best compliment he has received in his life, says Singh, was on the sets of Ram Leela. Bhansali, known to be a hard taskmaster, turned to him one day and said, “Beta, I don’t know who Ram is anymore.” A bewildered Singh asked him what he meant to which he replied: “My writers and I had written a character on paper. But you have used that as the starting point and you are freestlying with Ram. Just doing your own thing. Till now I am loving it, so I am keeping it. But this Ram is now completely yours. You are telling me every day on the set who Ram is. I am liking it so I am going with it.” To be given such freedom from a filmmaker like Bhansali has made him more confident as an actor, says Singh.
But after Ram Leela and Gunday, there is another project that is keeping him excited. In Shaad Ali’s Kill Dil, Singh will be sharing screen space with his all-time favourite actor. He laughs when he sees my expression when he says it is Govinda. “I get this a lot,” says Singh. “People expect me to name some Hollywood actors or at least Bachchan saab or Naseeruddin Shah when they ask me this question. But Govinda is my all-time favourite.” In college, his friends used to call him Junior Govinda, thanks to his funny clothes and crazy dance moves, he says. “It is really a dream come true for me to be acting with him.”
There are many more such dreams, he says. So what next? He is listening to a lot of scripts, says Singh. And, he has no qualms to admit that he seeks the help of his seniors and friends in the industry to make the right decisions. “In the past, I have made both good and bad choices. But I have no regrets because I know I made all the bad decisions because I didn’t know better at that time,” says Singh. “I have a lot of people around me like Adi Sir, Shaad, Maneesh, Vikram and others whom I trust completely. I am inexperienced so I take their advice. And, it has always helped me gain perspective.” Every decision is a gamble, so he listens to all of them, but ultimately follows his heart and instincts. “My mad, charged instinct,” he says, with a laugh. “But right now, all I want is to get out, get going and start working.”