And just like that...it's a wrap for me on my most incredibly enriching & fulfilling life experience!!! #BajiraoMastani what a ride!!!" tweeted Ranveer Singh on November 8.
Going by the number of exclamation marks in the post, I was expecting an ecstatic Singh on the phone; instead, a subdued voice greets me. He's down with the flu and unable to speak much. And yet when he starts to talk about Bajirao Mastani, it becomes apparent how strongly he feels about the film.
"I knew from the start the kind of involvement expected of me. I knew that I too wanted to approach it wholeheartedly," he says. To prepare for the role, Singh locked himself up in a hotel room for three weeks and had intensive sessions with his accent coach and physical trainer to get into the skin of Bajirao, the Peshwa. "It was important as I was playing a warrior from the 1700s, someone so distinctly different from my own being," says Singh.
People who have worked with him are not surprised. Singh is known for going the whole hog when preparing for a role - even if it means shaving off the head to suit the part. "I remember that when we started talking about Bajirao, he told me that there were chances of his head being shaved off. We both decided to keep it real and decided to commit to Bajirao all the way," says Singh's hairstylist, Darshan Yewalekar.
Singh doesn't just believe in getting the look and feel of the character but also getting every emotion bang on - and for that he tends to take method acting to another level.
Picture this: there's a scene in Lootera, the 2013 period drama, in which Singh's character is supposed to stagger into a clinic after having been shot in the stomach during a long chase in Dalhousie. But as film schedules go, the scene in the clinic was to be shot before the actual chase. Singh walked up to the director, Vikramaditya Motwane, and asked how he could feel the pain of a bullet if he had never been shot before. Motwane asked him to imagine the pain.
"I spoke to several army guys. But it wasn't enough. I needed a starting point," says Singh. So, he ended up twisting his stomach with a clamp clip used in lighting to feel at least a part of the pain. He even ran up and down the hilly lanes to get a feel of being chased down while being wounded.
His co-workers hail him as a team person. "We were shooting for Gunday on the banks of the Hooghly and he was supposed to be barefoot. Just then some glass cut through his foot," says Tanmay Mohan, who was first assistant director for the film. Singh realised that the team had only one week of shooting left. "So he and the director decided to do the shoot waist up. He even did a dance sequence with his feet locked down," recalls Mohan.
When asked about it, Singh quotes from the actor that he looks up to: Daniel Day-Lewis. He recalls an interview of his when Day-Lewis was asked about his process and why he does what he does and he simply said, "Because I don't know any better."
"I need to experience emotions. I can't be dishonest about the feeling that I have to express," says Singh.
It is this commitment that impresses directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is working with Singh for the second time in Bajirao after Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. "I have always had a thing that any director who casts me should not want to work with anyone else. It's heartening that a person with that kind of creative ability puts so much faith in you," says Singh.
Maneesh Sharma, who directed Singh in Band Baaja Baaraat and Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, calls him a director's delight. "As a director, you are trying to create a certain world within the film. It's half the battle won when your actor is already on that path," he says. He recalls taking Singh to Delhi on a technical recce for Band Baaja Baaraat and asking him to hang around in Delhi University, taking DTC buses and the works. "It was easier at that time as he was not known. When he came back, he had made 25 friends in Kirori Mal College. He showed me images of him at the centre of a group doing cartwheels. It was very 'Bittoo' of him," says Sharma. "It's commendable that he continues to bring much more value than expected even today when he has become the Ranveer Singh. The process is natural to him."
The creative freedom that Singh enjoys from his directors, he extends to his team and co-workers as well. "He is very flamboyant and open to experimentation. I couldn't have done the look in Ram-Leela without that," says Maxima Basu, costume designer for Ram-Leela and Bajirao Mastani. "For Ram-Leela, I gave him colourful underwear and he agreed. He works from that detail onwards and truly makes an effort to get into character."
His stylist Nitasha Gaurav says that it is liberating to work with a person who is not constrained by what a hero should look like. "He owns whatever look he dons. Even if he is wearing a polka Dior shirt, he will be fully committed to the look."
Be it polka-dotted ties, velvet jackets, acid-washed jeans matched with curled up moustaches, bracelets, chappals and rings, Gaurav has created looks that are not just high up on the fashion radar but also bring out Singh's personality.
"I usually get a brief about the event he is attending and start pulling out clothes to create a rack, which is then shown to him. He tries whatever appeals to him and together we finish off the look with hats, shoes and the works."
Music has a huge influence on Singh, even in the way he approaches roles. "If it's a serious sequence, he will listen to that kind of music to get into the mood," says Basu. "It helps me get into a zone and stay there. I feed off the emotion of the song," says Singh, who has been collecting music all his life.
In an incident during the making of Bajirao, he lost a chunk of his collection. "It's not about cars, assets and bank balance for me. Music is my wealth. Now I am rebuilding my collection slowly," he says.
Though he has that image of an energised bunny, someone who is always vivacious, there is another side to him. "He is a people's person and truly enjoys being around them, but he is also one the most intelligent people I have come across - he is sensitive and practical," says Gaurav.
Basu agrees that there are no pretenses about Singh. "He is sorted and deeply aware of what he plans to do," she says. Mohan adds: "He remembers the name of every person on the set - be it the spot boys or lighting boys."
Shanoo Sharma, casting director at Yash Raj Films, who first cast Singh in Band Baaja Baraat, feels that nothing has changed since Singh rose to stardom. "We still call each other up. We need one dinner to catch up on everything - love, life, films. He's a very real human being," says Sharma.
Even before he started acting, Sharma found Singh extremely watchable. "He was very arresting as a friend and as a person - whether he was explaining something to a child or telling jokes, people would just get hooked on. He is like how Shashi Kapoor used to be - dildaar," says Sharma, who has now cast Singh in Aditya Chopra's directorial venture Befikre. "There's no one who could have done it better," she says.
A print version of this article mistakenly omitted giving the photographer, Errikos Andreou, credit for Ranveer Singh's photograph. The error is regretted.