Ranveer Singh is known for his immersive process as an actor. Not only does he get into the skin of his characters but he also physically and emotionally transforms into them. His recent film, 83, was yet another demonstration of this talent. After earning accolades for his performance as Kapil Dev, the actor talks about the meticulous preparation he underwent for the role, completing ten years in the film industry and why box office numbers don't affect him.
Anupama Chopra (AC): I know that you stayed 10 days living with Kapil sir, I know that you talked with him for 3-4 hours, you had three cameras, you recorded every conversation. But then what did you do to get into the mind of the man?
Ranveer Singh (RS): Kabir and his degree of detailing translated into my performance as well. Kapil sir's daughter Amiya Dev was Kabir sir's assistant director. She was with me throughout the process – from the first day to the last. She has been my priceless, invaluable touchstone in this entire process.
There have been two prongs to this. One is cricket: I had to play cricket like Kapil. Then you've got to be like Kapil in terms of the persona and all the exterior and interior, body and soul. The cricketing aspect was extremely fulfilling, joyous, because I love playing cricket, but it took work. Balwinder Singh Sandhu [who was played by Ammy Virk in the film], was our coach on the set. The first day, Ballu sir tested my cricketing skills. He was like, "Ok, let's you hitting some shots." I gave him hooks and pulls, and he was like, "Great!" I am good batsman but bowling was very difficult. It was probably the most testing part of this entire characterization. And everybody was looking at me with eagle eyes and saying "You better get the bowling action right because you are playing Kapil Dev." I knew this all too well and also knew that it was not going to be easy at all.
Kapil sir has very unique physical biomechanics. He's got these long levers, his wrists, shoulders, the length of his fingers – his body is very different from mine. And the mechanics of it are very different. I was sent for physical conditioning in a space where I had to change my physicality. Then we started to see it. And then I started to learn it like dance choreography. For four months of prep and three months of shooting, I'd be playing cricket for 4 hours in the morning, put in a couple of hours of physical conditioning in the evening, and the rest of the space was all for character development.
Initially, when I asked for video footage and they put a folder on my iPad, I was like, "This is scary! With such little video footage, how am I going to do this?" So, Kabir suggested, rightly so, that we go and spend time with the man himself. We asked, and ever so generously, Kapil ji and Romi ji kept me in their house. I was staying in the guest room, and at any given opportunity when I could spend time with him, I would. Sometimes, as a fly on the wall, most times at dinner. I would just videograph him, record him and watch him, observe him, see how he reacts to a joke. He hosted an evening for me where I got him to dance. I watched his dancing skills and observed every little thing. I'm so proud when I see the film, because this was a long time back for me. I played two characters since, so I have some kind of objectivity now that I see the film. I am like, "Man, that's so Kapil!"
AC: Kapil sir was at this shoot watching you play him, doing this 175 historic run in cricket which is not recorded. So the only version for posterity is what you are going to do. What was that like?
RS: I can't tell you what that was like. I get goosebumps by just thinking or remembering about that day. He had come to give his little cameo. And there we were, at Royal Tunbridge Wells, on the ground where he played his innings, in the real place, on the pitch where he played it. I'm in character, shooting the iconic innings, and he's there watching it happen. It was amazing.
Then the presentation ceremony [was shot], when they lift the cup. We were at the Lords, shooting with the real cup. I know it is an inanimate object but it has got this reverential energy. We were in this historic, iconic balcony, where it happened all those years ago. And Kabir sir was very particular about the presentation ceremony. Because these are moving images that have been seen over and over again over the years. Not much video footage of 83 but ye sabne dekha hai. So, we had to get it done to the T. That morning, everybody was charged up. It's the presentation ceremony, multiple cameras, one shot. There were 50-80 people in the balcony, everybody has to get their thing right. The boys were watching the video footage multiple times, just to get their timing right, each expression. Everything is set up. It took a lot of time to set that shot up but we did it meticulously.
This is exactly how it played out: I took the trophy in my hand, forgot the envelope, took the envelope, went to the boys and lifted the cup. There was a spooky moment that happened once during Bajirao Mastani. This was my other spooky moment. When I lifted that cup, I could hear cheering. I could see flags waving. That moment was just unforgettable. I went to the boys, cut was called, and there was just pin drop silence. And we all just started crying. We all just huddled and wept because we had relived that glorious moment. It was just so overwhelming for us. I will never forget these experiences for the rest of my life. This is such a Merry Christmas for me. The kind of response, the kind of unanimous love people are giving to the film, the kind of things they are saying – I have been in showbusiness for 10 years and I haven't experienced euphoria like this around a film.
AC: I think that the choices you have made and the films that you have done in the past 10 years, have really defined Hindi cinema. Many people call you the best actor of your generation but I also think that you are the most influential actor of your generation. What do you want to do in the next couple of years to redefine this notion of the leading man?
RS: More of the same, to be really honest. I will admit that I am a different person now. I am a different performer from where I started. This journey has also noticed an evolution. I have evolved as a person, as an artist. I want different things now. I think differently. I approach my work differently. I was struggling for three or four years when I started out. I guess I didn't know that all those experiences was filling me with angst. It was imaginably not easy. I learnt some hard lessons along the way in that period. I'm so grateful for that struggle, because now I have that much more value for my opportunities.
But when Band Baaja Baaraat became a hit overnight, I was like, "I knew it! Now you know it!" I was like, "Acting? I know acting! I can ace just about anything." Then I went along and started working with the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali – people who break your boundaries, break your shackles, break you down, so that you can be reborn again. That was followed by so many experiences down the way. At some point, 10 years down, I realized, I don't know anything. I am scratching the surface of the potential. There is no limit to this craft. There is no right or wrong way of doing things. There is no good or bad. It's art, it's creativity, it's infinite. It's limitless, there's no end to how much you can invest or pour yourself into a character, or into a process, or into a film. That means there is a whole new universe to explore. It's been a great 10 years. I have worked with the finest directors, and I am so happy.
AC: Marlon Brando once said that too much success can ruin you as surely as too much failure. How are you going to prevent your success from ruining anything?
RS: I am not worried about me. I am too attached to the process. I believe in my bones that the process is the prize. So, I am not result-oriented. People on Fridays are like, "How much did it earn?" Even on a Saturday evening, I haven't asked anyone, "Hey! How much were the collections yesterday?"
AC: Really? You are not driven by the box-office at all?
RS: I am not asking paisa kitna kamaya. I have detached myself from results. For me, it's not about the results anymore. I am about the process and the work. I am about being on set, creating. For me, that's the prize. I get to go on a film set, work with the finest talents, technicians, collaborate with them, create, contribute. That's where my entire focus is. Results are great – they make you temporarily happy or temporary sad depending on how it went. But it's only that much. There is only that much value that I attach to what the result is of something.