Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ranveer Singh

"It's so evident to me how my life becomes after a poor friday versus a good friday."

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the December 19, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

Who would have thought that the fun-loving, boy-next-door Bittoo Sharma would someday be the magestic Peshwa Bajirao? While this journey from Bittoo to Bajirao might seem effortless, it's had its share of blood, sweat and glitches. On-screen, he's proven his versatility with an array of characters, though, ironically, off-screen what remains constant is just one adjective - energetic. That's almost his middle name and well-deserved so. But behind the flamboyant, boisterous, energetic outside, is a sensitive, shy man who speaks with immense 'thairaav' when you're having an in-depth conversation with him. This was one such time. He settles down on the couch by the window enjoying the beach-view in a casual black tshirt-track pants avatar. From his latest Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, to why he is the way he is, here's Ranveer Singh in a heartwarming chat... 

Photo credit: Errikos Andreou
On one hand while Peshwa Bajirao was this agressive warrior, the next minute he was laughing, and at another instance we saw him crying. Was blending in so many emotions in one character without going over-the-top, a big challenge?
I think it's a trade mark of Mr. Bhansali's films. He makes films that are very emotional at their core, whether you see 'Khamoshi', 'Black', 'Devdas', 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam', or even 'Ram-leela' - all his films have layered and complex emotions. It's beautiful that just in one film, he allows that you can display so much of your range in an emotive sense. He has got it done from me. The trick is that you don't even know how you're going to play the scene till the camera starts rolling. That's his style. He doesn't pre-decide or fix anything. There is an implicit understanding that he's going to allow the actor to bring in, his own interpretation to the scene. And sometimes he likes that it's done unexpectedly. When you can surprise Mr. Bhansali is when he loves it the most. So, I would give all the credit where its due, and only to him. He really empowers his actors, and I always say that he gives you wings to fly. He trusts us to make solid, creative choices and he lets you be. He allows all the acting choices to be born out of the actor's own instinct, and things that are born out of your own instinct are the most convincing ones. 

In a way, it must have been supremely gratifying?
For me as an actor, this is a role of a lifetime because the junctures at which he's chronicled Peshwa Bajirao's life, allows you so much scope as an actor. Like you mentioned, you find him laughing, crying, he has so many different shades, so many roles to play - son, father, lover, husband, and the widest array of emotions that no character has perhaps offered me thus far. That's why when I got the narration, I was like salvating (laughs). What an incredible part to be given to play.

You not only learnt Gujarati for 'Ram-leela', you mastered the colloquial accent. And then you had another pitch-perfect accent as Peshwa Bajirao. Your transformation from film to film is so drastic, that one doesn't see Ranveer in them. How? 
(smiles) These are are the compliments which really resonate me because that's one of my aims! To me the most alluring actors are the ones who have that versatility. Like Daniel Day Lewis, how much do I love him! You see him in one film and you can't say it's the same guy when you see another film of his. So, I've always tried to be like that. Of course, some work goes into it. Mr. Bhansali wasn't sure if I could do it during 'Ram-leela'. He asked me to go to Gujarat, present whatever I could and then he would tell me if it's working. I went for eight days, and then when we were doing the first reading, I just said two sentences and he liked it. Ultimately it's his choice if he wants me to do something, so for Bajirao I asked him if I should do it and he strongly felt I should. He's like, 'that's such a strong card that only you have as an actor.' For me immediately when the narration started and I was hearing the dialogues, I knew he would have a strong baritone. So I locked myself into a room. In the mornings, I would work out to get that toughness because I knew that Bajirao should have that air about him which hits you even before the guy walks into the room. And then the accent coach would come and we worked till one of us was fried (laughs). I came out after 21 days and was ready to be Bajirao! 

Everyone has been saying that it's a big thing for Sanjay Leela Bhansali to trust you with his dream project. But do you think any other actor would have probably given the kind of commitment or dedication that you gave to this film? 
I perhaps had an advantage over anyone else who was under consideration for casting because Mr. Bhansali knew I would go deep into that rabbit hole and do justice to the character in that sense. That's what the film required. So, I think I had that edge over anyone else who would be considered for the role. He trusted me to do that. Ultimately, he doesn't concern himself with what you do for the character. I did all the research for 'Ram-leela' and he realised that I probably have that level of commitment to play Bajirao. 

Incidentally, just as 'Bajirao Mastani' released, you've also completed five years in the industry. Lots of ups, a few downs, and some injuries later, what's been your learning?
The past one year of being Bajirao has been the biggest learning experience because there's been no other part that I've struggled with, this much. The number of times I failed to get the scene right, has taught me a lot. I know I have shortcomings, limitations, parts of myself that I need to work on. But what I've been happy about is the fact that in the last five years I've gotten to play a wide array of characters. To have, 'Lootera' and 'Ram-leela' in the same year, and then have 'Dil Dhadakne Do' and 'Bajirao Mastani' this year is incredible. I've been blessed with good opportunities that came at the right time. I'm happy that I've had the chances to put my versatility on display which I believe is my strongest point. Yes, the negative side is that I could have done without all the injury. It's always a setback for an actor to be forced out of action because of physical injury. But there have been so many highlights... 

Photo credit: Errikos Andreou
Please continue...
I had a dream start with 'Band Baaja Baaraat', which I believe has achieved cult status now. People don't get tired of watching it on television. That's the kind of film one hopes to be a part of, always. I was unhappy with the way 'Ladies vs Ricky Bahl' had gone and I had a point to prove to myself so I did 'Lootera', which was a risky part for me - inhibited, brooding and vulnerable. At that time it didn't do well commercially, but it proved that I had this range and versatility. It still keeps making me proud because so many people I meet tell me they love it. Then 'Ram-leela', was my biggest breakthrough. There's also 'Gunday' which a certain section of the audience loves. There's a segment of the fanbase which just loves me for 'Gunday'. 'Dil Dhadane Do' also had such a good reaction and now 'Bajirao Mastani' is the icing on the five-year cake journey. For this film, I had to summon everything I knew and learn a lot more. It's been an incredible journey. Of course, there's always scope to do better. There are people who are five years younger and have already won an oscar or what not, so there's scope to achieve more, but I'm not dissatisfied. I'm feel happy and blessed that I got good opportunities. 

And while stardom has also come along, how do you continue being this simple Mumbai boy?
My fundamentals and my foundation was very strong ever since I came in. From a very young age, the reason I wanted to be an actor, is not why most young kids want to get into acting. I wanted to be an actor because I love acting, because I love being a performer, I love saying lines, learning choreography and everything. I love the process. But most people are just lured by the frills - the fame and money. For me, I see through it. I see that it's very transient. It's so evident to me how my life becomes after a poor friday versus a good friday. The phone rings more often, more business comes in, more gigs happen, more people want to be in touch with you. I see through it all, so for me my foundation is really strong in the sense that I know what's really important. What's important is that you do good work and that you're enjoying it.  

So there isn't much that you need to be happy?
Touchwood, my father was a prospering businessman. But many a times, even if he and the family went through a lean phase, financially, he never let that come to me. He didn't let me feel that crunch. So, I've always had that comfort taken care of of. I never have been a really materialistic person. Of course, I like great clothes or cars, who doesn't? But I can do without it also. Now a days, the cell phone has made celebrity life very difficult, so it's actually become quite a pain. But now, I've grown into the kind of person who wants to just focus on my work, family and friends which is now a very small circle. It's gotten smaller and smaller every year. I just have a few relationships which I want to nurture and make them substantial. I can choose to have a very fancy life. But I like to keep it simple. I like to eat dal chawal, watch TV and go to sleep. I don't need much. In fact, if I am wearing something very expensive, I feel weird, it doesn't feel right. I like to think of myself as a fakeer who doesn't need too much to be happy. I have this ability to find happiness and joy through things that aren't materialistic. What's important is to be kind to people, be warm and share a good positive energy.

Your emotional, sensitive, calmer side usually gets eclipsed by this stereotype of being overtly energetic and flamboyant...
It's my fault. I hide that side of me purposely because I'm shy of it. If there's one thing I'm shy of, then it's my emotional intelligence, sensitivity, general intelligence and my eloquence. I don't like to alienate people or intimidate people with that side. I would want to make anyone feel comfortable around me. People or my co-actors don't feel that threat to come and speak to me. They know they can speak to me, or come and give me a hug. I love that relatability. I'm the kind of person who is hyper sensitive, emphathatic, a very deep thinker, all of those things but that side of me, isn't my every day side. I am not like that on a daily basis. I like that I have this ability to go through the catharsis and do it all on-screen. I'm not shy to tap into the intense side of me on-screen, but in real life I am. I'm very shy to let people know that I'm sensitive, emotional and easily attached. Infact, to the point that I not only hide it but I make fun of people who are emotional. So may be the high-energy or flamboyance and all those things are consciously or sub-consiously counters to the way I actually am. 

Shah Rukh Khan

"If I'm staring down at so many people from a huge hoarding, claiming to be Badshah Khan, then I should be deserving of that"

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From this week's issue of Super Cinema)

The phenomenon called Shah Rukh Khan is hard to describe. But the fact that he has a heart-melting effect on most women irrespective of their age, gives a glimpse of it. Not to mention, even at 50, he raises the bar for most men when it comes to love and romance. Cut to off-screen! Here he is, sitting casually in front of you at his office, just passionately talking everything about movies and confessing things about himself that make you forget his starry stature. That he is well-read, articulate and has so many experiences to share, makes a conversation with Shah Rukh Khan, almost enriching. Over to the man himself! 

The moment it's a 'Shah Rukh Khan film', people assume that the film will garner a good opening, but what's your state of mind usually like, before a release?
One only gets tired before a release, there's so much to do, that there's no excitement, as supposed to get over in the first week of November but it took a little longer so it was more chaotic. I don't know the exact price of a ticket but when we promise a big film na like say 'Raees' or 'Dilwale', it's important to live up to that. I call them the superhero films of Hindi cinema, and we call a large audience to watch it. Realistically, cinema is a product that people buy without seeing. So, before the film releases, it's important to tell the audience what they might be in for, if they come to watch the film. I can sit down, relax and think that people will come to watch the film. But as a company, we feel that it's our duty to tell people about a film before hand so they don't feel cheated. It's said that I do a lot of marketing to get that extra money on the opening day, but that's not true. I am not really concerned about that because if the film is good then eventually it will do good, for example 'Chak De! India' had a 55 per cent opening but it was good so people came to watch eventually. I know that before 'Dilwale' released, someone must have saved money to watch the film. Personally I feel, it's my duty to inform people that don't spend your money without knowing what you're coming in for! 

Does the variety in terms of a Fan' or 'Raees' after a 'Dilwale' reflect your inclination towards cinema that's largely creatively satisfying at this point?
I am creatively satisfied by every film. As a matter of fact, I was talking to Varun in London a few days back and I was telling him that a lot of times people assume that the popular cinema is not creative. When I came to Mumbai, I was from theatre and I'd done very serious stuff. In fact, after 'Dil Aashna Hai', Hemaji thought I was a serious actor like Naseer Saab. So when she saw me dancing in films like 'Chamatkar' or 'Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman', she was disturbed and she told me, 'I thought you were a serious actor so I didn't make you dance in my film,' (laughs). At the age of 50, it takes a lot to stand with a girl on a mountain, hold her dupatta and romance with a feeling of conviction. Who does that in real life? It takes a lot, especially for an urban educated guy like me. I realised early on, that the fantastical part of acting is the most difficult. Hence, a lot of serious actors don't look so convincing while doing such things. So, I'm not justifying why I do it. But the problem is, when you become a star, before you even know it, like in my case, a lot of compulsions come in. 

Because that's what people expect you to do?
Yes. Adi (Aditya Chopra) and me were going to make an intense, fight film instead of 'DDLJ'. But Adi told me, 'now you're a big star, so let's make a love story first.' So he made 'DDLJ' and it's still running. Then we thought, chalo ek aur love story banaate hai. Hence, I do these big films, and then if I can pepper it up with a bit of realism in terms of films like 'Chak De! India' or 'My Name Is Khan', it gets better. But it's unfortunate that a film sometimes takes 150 days to make, so you cannot do too many films. When I was setting up the company I didn't have much time, but now that I have good people to take care of things, I can give more time to acting and do smaller films which are different as well. I want to do films offbeat films like 'Fan', and still do quintessential blockbusters! 

So, how do you bring a balance between bringing in the quintessential SRK element to a character and yet make it different for your own satisfaction?
That's difficult because if I'm going to play the quintessential SRK, how differently do I even play it? But you try. For instance, in 'Dilwale', the young portion, may remind you of me. Because unfortunately, what Kajol and I have done is so classic, that people haven't forgotten it. So I even told Kajol, let's do our walking-talking scenes differently, so we've not taken it completely to 'KKHH' or 'DDLJ' level. Then there's a second part which is very different, where my character is older and quieter with a tough exterior. So, that is what helps me go out in the morning and act. Then there's a 'Fan' which is completely opposite to what I am. That can only happen if directors come up with that. Maneesh Sharma came to me with a story of 24-year old fan who looks like Shah Rukh Khan. Aanand Rai comes to me with a story of a dwarf, I find that interesting and challenging. I cannot write stories for myself. But everyone doesn't come with that. I meet some offbeat directors who I really like, but they tell me, I want to do a Shah Rukh Khan film. However, I want to do the kind of films they make. When you try to mix the two, it becomes a mess. Supposedly, if I work with Anurag Kashyap or Vishal Bhardwaj, then I want to make the kind of cinema that they make. Everyone feels they will make me do a love story different, but nobody knows love more than me, so, I will do it just the way I've been doing it (smiles). 

But at 50, and having spent 25 years at the movies, there's no dip in your dedication or drive to keep getting better.
Yes, production wise, if not anything else. I thought 'Ra.One' was quite amazing. It was so hard to work on. At my age, there was no reason for me to wear those tight pants, be in sweat and go mad with physicality not knowing what's happening. But I gave it a shot, because I think, very honestly speaking, perhaps I'm not deserving of the commercial or artistic success that I have got in the last 25 years. It's a big cross to bear that you wake up in the morning and you're the biggest star of the country. It sounds very good and happy - King Khan but, somewhere, as a consciensous person I keep feeling that have I done enough work to deserve this? I go to meet the head of states and strangely, I represent India as an ambassador in a certain sense. I don't think I have that body of work or perhaps have that kind of talent. Every morning I feel that if I don't deserve it which is why I should push myself, so that eventually, at least by the end of my career I feel that I deserved it. The worse thing is not to know whether you deserve something or not. My son when he is giving an exam or running a race, he is clear that it shouldn't happen because he is my son, it should happen because he deserves it. when I see nature like this, in my heart also I feel that I should work hard. Maybe if I'm lacking in talent or creativity or in the films I've done, if I can cover it up with drive and hard work, then in my heart I will feel I will deserve it. If I'm staring down at so many people from a huge hoarding, claiming to be Badshah Khan, then I should be deserving of that. Can I tell you a small story?

Please do! 
I had an actor with me, Haider bhai in 'Circus'. He was the ringmaster. One day, he trained the tigers, lions and he said, we'll not tie them. He released them. We were all shocked. He went in, and all the four tigers and lions came out. Then later, we asked him why did he do that and he told us, 'My son should know that I was the ringmaster.' He would anyway know I was the ringmaster, but I should deserve that. As an actor it's important that you deserve it. So, if someone says Shah Rukh Khan is a superstar, I should be able to rightly agree to it if I've worked hard. 

Many actors have turned producers, and also share the film's profit. You turned producer pretty early in your career, but are you always more inclined towards the creative aspects or being an actor first?
I've never taken profit as an actor, I've never taken territory as an actor. In fact, my fees are decided after the film is made, I've never even demanded fees. It's a very simple logic, if I'm produceing the film, I'm taking a risk. I became a producer very early with 'Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani' and we lost money. Then we made 'Asoka', we lost money. Later we made 'Chalte Chalte', and we just about brok-even. From the outside it seems very easy but it's risky and expensive. Also because I'm a stylish producer, so I want things to be big and cool with best equipments and everything. I have never gone and told anyone to give me a fifty per cent share in the profit. Even today, if you ask any producer or director who've signed me, I tell them you decide the price and give it to me, because as an actor I'm not saleable. I'm priceless. As an actor you cannot buy me, that's one thing I've kept for 25 years. I read in the papers that this is the amount I charge for my films and I wish I could take that much. As a producer, I have put in more money into my company than taken it. I'm very well to do, but not because of films. I'm well to do, because of shows, commercials, and talent - I can host, do television, dance on stage. I work so much because I like the good life, but I never use cinema to earn money. Once I've done it - with 'Guddu'. I've bought a house with it. 

As a person, you're so deep and philosophical - is it because living so many lives, characters and meeting so many people has made you richer? Is that also what Hindi cinema has given you?
Not may be consciously but when you have experiences of meeting so many people, you are richer. Coming in touch with such wonderful people of different thoughts is enriching, especially all the ladies, and people like Rahul Rawail, Yash Chopra, Mani Ratnam, and now the younger guys, who are friends. But, I'll be honest, that I've not taken as much as I've given. In every film you do, a part of it gets left behind. People may not see it, and I don't want any extra appauds for that. I'm a very shy person in real life. When I was a kid, if there were guests at home, I would hide under the bed and my mother used to call me anti-social. Even now, if I go out to public place which is not my zone, I get shy. For me to do stuff that I do in films, even if it's saying a simple line, I find it very awkward. To dance like that, to take off my shirt, to run after a girl, it's not my personality. It's a big deal to expose myself to the world, every day, for years now, and I'm doing that12 hours a day, so if I calculate then 12 years of my life have gone on set. I still shake. I know my lines and my technique, I'll never be wrong about that! I'm an educated actor. But very often when I'm doing a song or scene, I hope people don't come to know I'm so bad at this because it's not in my nature. My friends and my co-actors know it. I never come out of my bedroom without fully dressed. Even people who work at my house wouldn't have seen me in shorts. Only one day my kid came and pulled me out. I feel awkward being open, and then all my life, I have just done that - laughed and cried in front of so many people. So, it's strange in a way. 

What is it that you love the most about Hindi cinema?
The good part is that there is existence of so many different creative minds, especially now in the last ten years. You're allowed to do so many things that you want and we haven't stop making more films. Indian cinema is making about 800 films a year, we have a very loyal audience. We're one of the few countries left that has super stardom. You don't find such stardom in so many other countries. The western world is also now looking at our market. So, we are very loyal to our own cinema. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Parineeti Chopra

“I feel great about being in a position where people expect something from me or look forward to my work” 

By Ankita R. Kanabar

She might have had a slightly low profile at the movies this year, but Parineeti Chopra is making heads turn with her new, super avatar. She’s fitter and happier. But some things don’t change, do they? Like her effervescence or contagious energy…even if you’re having a telephonic conversation with her! In a brief chat, she gets talking to us about dealing with criticism, why she’s so secure and the feeling of finally having her own place…

 Has it been a conscious decision to take it slow this year? 
I was setting up my own house, that took about six months and then I really wanted to concentrate on my health. So, I took time off to just pay attention to that. Also, I’m still reading a lot of scripts. So hopefully, I will announce something soon.

Last year, while there was ‘Hasee Toh Phasee’ with its own quirks, ‘Kill Dil’ was more in the glamourous, commercial space. What gets more difficult?
I’m glad that last year I had these diverse roles irrespective of how the films did. However, in any kind of role, you’re acting eventually, so there’s some challenge in every film you do. But that’s what makes it great. It gets boring to do similar things otherwise.

You made your debut with ‘Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’ which had three other actresses, yet you got noticed and ever since, you’ve always exuded a sense of security.
I didn’t even have 1/5th of a role in ‘Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’ but I’m glad people noticed me and I also got the best debut award. But I’m a very secure person in my head in any case, and people who’re close to me appreciate that. That’s just my personality. Things that other people do, don’t affect me. I care about my work, my team and people I work with.

To have kind of security despite a fair share of criticism coming your way…how have you managed to take it all with a pinch of salt?
I’ve always been subjected to criticism – be it my looks or later my choice of films. But yes, I have been positive about it because eventually you have to set goals for yourself and work on them. For instance, I was worried about my health so I took time off to work on it and now I feel good. So, the idea is to concentrate on what you think is good for you. But I feel great about being in a position where people expect something from me or look forward to my work. You have to keep honing your skills. Eventually you cannot take everything so seriously. It’s important to realise that there’s much more to life.

But being an actor, isn’t it difficult to have a life beyond movies sometimes?
It is! When you’re on set all day, actually giving in all your emotions, it can get difficult. Sometimes you might have to cry all day, so you end up being in that zone. It’s difficult to have a personal life when you’re an actor. But it’s important to surround yourself with certain people, friends and family who let you have a life outside of movies.

You’ve also accomplished another goal of having your own house, what’s that feeling like?

Earlier when I was staying in a rented apartment, it was difficult to even hang a painting on the wall, because it wasn’t my house. But finally having your own place and decorating it your way is a great feeling. I’ve set it up myself the way I wanted it to be. It’s a happy, comfortable space.