When I ask him to pick, Ranvir Shorey struggles to make a list of five favourite characters he has played. There’s much to choose from his exciting, typecast-free body of work, spread over seventeen years. But the last few years have been unrewarding, which has left him a bit disillusioned: he was as good as ever in Titli (2015), and in A Death in the Gunj (2017), but they haven’t translated into good offers.

He was banking on Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya, a film he thought was ‘middle-of-the-road’ enough to shake things up for him. But released on 1 March, the film is virtually out of theatres on its second week, and the actor is still wrapping his head around it. When I meet Shorey, inside a vanity van in Mehboob studio, he is in grey full sleeves and short briefs — as though they are part of the same set. A short story collection of Murakami lies on the table. He is shooting for a web series called Hasmukh, a black comedy, where he stars alongside Vir Das. He has to wear bruises for the next scene, which shows him getting bashed. The real bruises, however, have been caused by the underperformance of Sonchiriya. “It’s just terrible to have a film like this be treated by the audience with such apathy,” he says. 

The real bruises, however, have been caused by the underperformance of Sonchiriya. “It’s just terrible to have a film like this be treated by the audience with such apathy,” he says.

In the film he plays Vakil Singh, second-in-command of the leader of a band of dacoits, Man Singh. Vakil is a loose cannon, who has his insecurities and his prejudices, but like the other men in the group, guilt is eating away at his soul. Notice the scene where Vakil reacts to a great ‘betrayal’: his anger dissolves quickly, and he is able to see the greater good behind it, his eyes lit up by the prospect of mukti.

Vakil Singh makes it to Shorey’s list, as does Vikram from Titli, the elder brother who is violent, overly religious, and dutiful, all at once. The other Vikram, from A Death in the Gunj, the bully, complete with seventies mop top and sideburn, who terrifies the film’s shy, sensitive protagonist Shutu, doesn’t make the cut; “I knew the script from a development stage, so I had an added advantage, I have to say,” he says about the film directed by his ex-wife Konkona Sensharma. With some more struggle, Shorey fills the rest of the slots with Bunty from Khosla ka Ghosla, Dominic from Traffic Signal, and, of course, VK/Raje from Mithya (a funny, tragic solo hero performance, which ironically is about a struggling actor trying to get his break as a lead).

At one point, he got stuck, and started looking at his filmography on Wikipedia. Shorey says he sometimes does this when he is low. “At least apni zindagi mein ek acchi picture kari thi na,” he says, and laughs a little. Shorey says these honest, sad things, and immediately deflates them with his manic, almost childish giggle, a familiar trait of his screen persona. 

A still from A Death in the Gunj.

One’d expect an actor of Shorey’s talent to thrive in our new filmmaking environment, which is creating meatier parts for actors such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi, Gajraj Rao. But the good offers just wouldn’t come his way, says Shorey. “I have a breakout performance every two years, and it seems like ‘Okay now you will get more work in mainstream.’ But that has not happened,” he says. 

He has a strong feeling that the lack of good work is because of factors that lie outside his craft. “I think I have been very independent minded about my choices, about my the way I work, who I am. Bollywood has never been a level-playing field, and I am not aligned to a huge banner, or a star. It’s about relationships and past histories, your last name,” he says.

He has a strong feeling that the lack of good work is because of factors that lie outside his craft. “I think I have been very independent minded about my choices, about my the way I work, who I am. Bollywood has never been a level-playing field, and I am not aligned to a huge banner, or a star. It’s about relationships and past histories, your last name,” he says. (Shorey’s father, KD Shorey, was a producer; he was an active member of the Producer’s Association, and may have made a few enemies, he says). “But all this speculation…The only thing that hurts is not having good work,” he says.

Shorey has done the odd reality show or web series for money. And in the past few years, scraped through financial crises (his son is 8 years old now). There have been times he has questioned his decision to become an actor and contemplated if he “should have just done business” like his brother; he says he has learnt to save. He keeps himself inspired by doing something or the other; recently he signed up for a screenwriting workshop by Anjum Rajabali. His theatre work continues, with What’s Done is Done, a take on “Macbeth,” traveling to Bangalore in April. His new web series Metro Park has just been aired. On the film front, he is waiting for an offer that will excite him.

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