Nobody saw Ranveer Singh coming. Not in his striking debut, in Band Baaja Baaraat. Not in his actor-making turn, in Lootera. Not in his star-making turn, in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela. Not when Bajirao Mastani established him as the closest thing to an all-round package since Hrithik Roshan. Not even when he did Padmaavat, Simmba and Gully Boy in quick succession. In a career spanning 12 years (and counting), Singh has been compared to contemporaries like Ranbir Kapoor, legends like Shah Rukh Khan and entertainers like Govinda. Not a week goes by without a glimpse of the latest Ranveer Singh quote, ad, outfit, paparazzi picture or social media clip. He's not elusive or mysterious. There are no stories of him being temperamental. He's disturbingly accessible across mediums. Nobody sees him coming because he's already everywhere to begin with.
Yet, Ranveer Singh's reel identity is derived from our reading of his real-world ubiquity. With Bollywood entering a post-superstar age, he is reinventing the relationship between fame and genius, art and entertainment, aura and exposure. His roles are an exercise of his everywhere-ness; each one counts on us spotting the bond between character and actor, masculinity and metrosexuality, parader and person. So much so that, 14 films later (not including his cameos), Singh has reached a stage where the only Hindi film celebrity he can be compared to is himself.
Ranking his roles is a nice excuse to write about them. It's also a nice way to conclude that there is no such thing as a bad Ranveer Singh performance. On his 37th birthday, here are all 14 of them, ranked in order of 'least best' to best:
It seems unfair to bunch two different films and performances under one ranking category. But were they really different after all? Having revisited both YRF monuments to rugged homoeroticism on the same day, I can safely conclude that it's hard to tell Gunday from Kill Dil – especially in hindsight. Both feature two thick-as-thieves orphans. Both feature Ranveer Singh as the bronze-chested star of the bromance, as the hero torn between best friend and girlfriend. One has Priyanka Chopra; the other has Parineeti Chopra. Both share the same producer and the same year. And both are excitable quasi-Western odes to Sholay. Gunday had more texture and box-office success; Kill Dil had Govinda. Yet, Singh is undeniably the wind in the sails of both sepia-tinted ships. Most actors have an early career phase they – and we – would rather forget. But Gunday and Kill Dil, despite their brother-from-another-mother vibes, announced Ranveer Singh as a rare male actor secure enough to share the screen in two-hero movies. It also announced him as a young star with an affection for commercial film-making. Not to mention his versatility: of leading a Vikramaditya Motwane, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Zoya Akhtar title either side of this double bill.
It's tempting to look at Ladies vs Ricky Bahl as more than a glossy attempt to cash in on the success of Band Baaja Baaraat. The same director, writer, producers, lead pair and liplock returned, but the magic did not. The conman-gone-good movie will be remembered for little other than Parineeti Chopra's debut as Delhi brat Dimple Chaddha. Yet, despite the formula-riddled writing, it's hard to not notice a young Ranveer Singh's feel for mainstream acting. In his hands, playing a man of multiple aliases isn't a showy platform so much as an exploration of voice and identity – one that would eventually culminate in a fuller and wiser Lootera performance. Ricky Bahl marked the beginning of a diverse journey, in which any two Ranveer Singh characters would struggle to have a meaningful conversation.
"Delhi guy who moves to Paris to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian" sounds like a punchline of a joke that never lands. Yet, Ranveer Singh's Dharam Gulati – the male lead of perhaps the most panned Hindi film of the last decade – is as good as it gets in terms of the Hybrid Romantic Hero. Even though Dharam is written as a boomer's version of a trendy millennial upstart, Singh manages to breathe musical life into the modern-man-vintage-love trope. Unlike the makers, the actor seems to be the only one in on the campy joke. He visibly enjoys the role of a handsome and garish man-child, despite the self-seriousness of the script. Singh's performance in Befikre is a good example of how to read the room when the room is half-empty.
In the gratingly mediocre Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Ranveer Singh plays a beta male at odds with the toxic patriarchy of his environment. At first, it's odd that his character is the only sensible man in a regressive Gujarati village; his open-mindedness feels too readymade, too urban. But Singh's endearing performance – as a man whose wisdom is seldom backed by a spine – conveys a sense of history without the crutch of flashbacks. He's a husband driven by guilt, a brother burdened by legacy, and most of all, a son who lacks the courage to defy his sarpanch father. Singh turns Jayesh into a plausible non-hero. He's not someone who will explode or single-handedly batter his village. Instead, he cries, lies, tricks, plots and hoodwinks to protect his pregnant wife. Even his monologues are rooted in a feeling of fear and uncertainty. It's why Singh can't be accused of co-opting the Ayushmann Khurrana genre – he says the right things, but it's his emasculating battle for agency that shapes the escapism of the narrative.
Ranveer Singh's performance as iconic Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev treads the thin line between physical imitation and cultural translation. "The actor was unrecognizable" is a phrase often used in praise of a role's authenticity. But perhaps the most striking aspect of Singh's Kapil Dev is that the actor stays visible without hijacking our perception of the cricketer; we see him occupying a moment rather than a real-world person. It's a rendition that works, largely because 83 is not a biographical drama so much as a snapshot of sports history. The film reduces itself to a series of anecdotal flourishes, but Singh – much like the man he plays – lets his craft do the talking. The result is a character that transcends the soft voice, stilted English, polite moustache and trope-generator storytelling.
One rarely uses "cheap" in a positive sense. But Ranveer Singh's performance as a fictional Gujarati romeo is cheap in all the right ways. It's a greasy and mischievous turn in a film that dilutes its central love story – between two impossibly good-looking humans – with a disjointed plot. Singh's Ram Rajadi wasn't my cup of (milky) tea when I first watched the film; the vanity and adrenalin of being a Bhansali hero hijacked the romance. But it's grown on me over the years. Unlike the overmade film itself, the style becomes his substance. His chemistry with co-star Deepika Padukone is the clincher, especially in a gun-toting meet-cute in the dying moments of a Holi party – a scene I still can't revisit without blushing like a teenager. He plays the rustic rogue with an oddly contemporary charm, the kind that we see him routinely bust out in interviews, advertisements or adoring comments on Padukone's Instagram feed.
Almost single-handedly, Ranveer Singh's Alauddin Khalji lit up a decade starved of vintage Hindi film villainy. It's fascinating when popular Bollywood heroes break bad for a film or two. Singh's performance as a sinister Turco-Afghan ruler transcended the regressive overtones of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's most divisive film. In Padmaavat, the trademark Singh swagger finds a different sort of release – as a kohl-eyed, flesh-chewing, cackling baddie who is as unpredictable as the chemistry he shares with his eunuch slave-general. Despite the crushing antagonism of Khalji, Singh still brings a sense of self-awareness and levity to the role, almost as if he counts on us enjoying the conceit of an urban 21st-century actor pretending to be an unhinged 13th-century ruler. Many period villains have followed since, and even though Saif Ali Khan came close in Tanhaji, none have managed to make madness look as…exotic.
No reputation, no baggage, no tics, no fear. There's nothing quite like that first chapter. The everyman flair of Ranveer Singh's debut – as a man-child flirting with adulthood through the lens of a wedding-planning business ('binness') – is steeped in the sort of anonymity that one doesn't usually associate with legacy-making titles. Singh's Bittoo Sharma is defined by the desire to go from passenger to co-driver of someone else's coming-of-age journey – as well as his own narrative. I remember watching the film for Anushka Sharma and her Rocket-Singh-style arc. But what crept up on me was Singh's unique reading of North Indian masculinity – his ability to influence scenes that don't involve him, and conversely, his willingness to cede the stage in scenes that do. That's the thing about Singh and his go-for-broke freshness: Band Baaja Baaraat may have been his official debut, but he's made his debut 13 times since.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's most emotionally and politically sound film till date rests on the committed shoulders of Ranveer Singh, who plays 18th century Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao as a man who owns the intersectionality of lust, loyalty and Indian history. We tend to judge period roles through the prism of scale, pitch and extravagance. But Singh's rendition of Bajirao is grand and intimate at once – he manages to portray a leader with the fragility of a lover and a lover with the pride of a leader. It's a wonderfully measured performance that goes beyond the blatant beauty of Bhansali's frames. Despite the duality, the platonic Bajirao we see with first wife Kashibai is not too different from the passionate Bajirao we see with second wife Mastani. The final descent into insanity towards the end – where Bajirao hallucinates and virtually guilts himself to death – remains Singh's most visceral on-screen moment yet.
Ladies vs Ricky Bahl walked so that Lootera could run. The Vikramaditya Motwane film featured Ranveer Singh's second consecutive character as a conman weakened – and redeemed – by love. His role as a crook who poses as an archeologist in 1950s West Bengal is the sort of performance that has evolved with the luxury of hindsight. His excessive off-screen persona over the years has shed a renewed light on his quiet, inward-looking protagonists. Lootera is at the forefront of this illusion. Singh is not all whispers and warmth in the The Last Leaf-inspired story either; his muted body language evokes the cruelty of an orphan who is at odds with the grainy loneliness of a lover. If you look closely, the final scene – where his character succumbs to the past after enabling a future – is the precise moment Ranveer Singh entered his own future: as actor, star, and a man confronting our notions of movie masculinity.
The inherent symmetry of a Ranveer Singh performance in a Rohit Shetty film is indisputable. They fit just right, finding that elusive balance between spoofing retro blockbusters and celebrating them. The first half of Simmba is a masterclass in high-pitched masala storytelling. Even as the film collapses into a black hole of tonedeaf virtue signaling, Singh's skillfully calibrated performance as a corrupt policeman reveals the actor's love for the Bollywood he's grown up on. He may seem like a natural fit in Shetty's Cop Universe, but there's a woke anti-manliness about Inspector Sangram 'Simmba' Bhalerao that perhaps only Ranveer Singh could have weaponized. His movie-lifting cameo in Sooryavanshi also proves that Simmba's comedy-as-a-front-for-cowardice trope works as an antidote to the straight-laced heroism of the two other cops. His is probably the most 'relatable' Rohit Shetty character, if there's such a thing, especially in terms of how internal turmoil must wear the veneer of clumsiness and levity. What's more, the actor plays the character as though the two are mimicking – but also taunting – one another.
Zoya Akhtar gets Ranveer Singh like few other film-makers do. She taps into the actor's deep-set boyish earnestness to create Kabir Mehra, a rich brat who strives to use love as a catalyst to transcend his inherited identity. The beauty of Singh's performance is that nobody – least of all the character himself – expects Kabir to be the tie-breaker of the dysfunctional family game. We see a son and a brother bloom into his own man over the course of the film. But at no point does Singh succumb to the sort of manicured masculinity that mousy characters are inclined to embrace. He wears his sheltered heart on his sleeve; the result is a semi-hero who isn't afraid to flaunt his weakness to realize his potential. Kabir is a personal favourite, too, especially in the scene where he gets fed up and forces his family to confront each other in a cramped medical room. If there were ever an example of an actor shepherding the rhythm and emotional plurality of a moment, this is it.
The biggest lesson I learned from Gully Boy is that the protagonist need not be defined by the best performance of the film. Ranveer Singh's Murad is probably fourth in line after Alia Bhatt's Safeena, Vijay Varma's Moeen and Siddhant Chaturvedi's MC Sher in terms of pure craft. But I can still think of no other modern Hindi film actor who could have humanized the screen impact – the frustration, energy, constructed charisma and slow-burning confidence – of someone like Murad. As a character who is learning to frame his agony as art, Singh is equal parts rebel and underdog. The stage presence and rapping aside, one of the most definitive scenes of the film – and Singh's career so far – features Murad schooling his abusive father about passion and compromise. The moment, like so much of the film's soundtrack, reaches a crescendo with emotion and eloquence. It's Ranveer Singh that enables Murad to win the day: with words and verbs alone.
Alexa, define "Perfect Cameo": Ranveer Singh as a deliriously happy catholic man who chokes to death on his wedding cake.