Everyone knows Ranveer Singh is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars today. His films have largely been successes, and several of his performances have been highly acclaimed.
But when I first watched his work (in films like Lootera and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela), I can’t say I enjoyed it terribly. He didn’t appear to strike a balance between overblown emotion and extreme restraint. So when I heard a few years ago that he was starring in one of my favourite directors, Zoya Akhtar’s next film I wasn’t really looking forward to it. However, I’m happy to report that my opinion changed drastically in 2015 when he gave us two very different but equally convincing performances.
First, there was Dil Dhadakne Do, where Singh displayed his talent for the kind of performances Akhtar consistently wrings out of her stars – real, believable and moving. Later in the year, we got Bajirao Mastani, his second Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, in which we saw some of his Ram-Leela swagger impressively mixed with subtlety and emotional control.
As Bajirao came out in December and became a massive success, Singh won awards primarily for Bajirao that year, leaving Dil Dhadakne Do a little undeservedly hidden. But even if you watch just these two films, you will see why Ranveer Singh is one of our most versatile actor-stars (giving the likes of Shahid Kapoor a run for their money).
In Dil Dhadakne Do, we see Singh as the stereotypical rich brat, only to discover that there’s more depth and heart to him. We see him as someone who’s always having a good time, laughing and partying, and then falling in love with Anusha Sharma’s cabaret dancer. Despite his jovial personality, the audience never loses sight of his inner turmoil and desire to break free from the shackles of his family.
Singh’s portrayal of Kabir Mehra is real and natural, which is something we’ve come to expect of Akhtar’s cinema. In the scene where his parents confront him about the dancer, he goes from awkward laughter to shock at their words (“Are you trying to bribe me?”) to resignation. Of course, Kabir’s character arc is slightly underwritten, but Singh is able to make the most of his little screen time to make us empathise with him.
In Bajirao, we see a completely different performance. A Bhansali film is usually pitched slightly higher than an Akhtar film. This is a dangerous place to occupy for Bhansali, because as we saw with Devdas, he has a tendency to go overboard. But in films like Saawariya and Bajirao, the director was able to maintain this pitch without entirely losing himself in the spectacle.
Singh’s portrayal of Peshwa Bajirao maintains this balance beautifully: he can give us thumping exuberance in the ‘Malhari’ song sequence, and he can also give us emotionality in his scenes with Bajirao’s first wife, Kashibai. When she tells him that he has robbed her of her pride, Singh’s Bajirao doesn’t shout or sob but simply sits quietly, listening to her, his eyes filling with tears and his voice cracking.
Singh displays the rare talent of being able to become whatever his director requires of him. Whether Bhansali wants him to slide into an over-the-top dance sequence (‘Tattad Tattad’, ‘Malhari’ or ‘Khalibali’), or Akhtar wants him to have a shouting match with his mother – he can do both convincingly.
When you look at Singh’s other work, this quality shines through. In 2016, he was Aditya Chopra’s flirtatious and confused lover-boy in Befikre, this year he was fantastic as the ultimate animalistic bad man Allauddin Khilji in Bhansali’s Padmaavat. He has been the unpolished urban Romeo (Band Baaja Baaraat) as well as the classy rich boy (Dil Dhadakne Do).
And yet, he is showing no signs of falling into a mould or being typecast. His next few films are all evidence of this: from Akhtar’s Gully Boy about street rappers in Dharavi to being Kabir Khan’s Kapil Dev in ’83 to starring in Rohit Shetty’s Simmba. Need I say more?
Sahir Avik D’Souza is a first-year BA student at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, with an interest in films, books, poetry and writing.