Ranveer Singh
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Ranveer: I stand by Sanjay Bhansali

By HT

When he was cast as Alauddin Khilji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus, Padmavati, it had stirred a lot of interest. 
 
And now, his fearsome avatar as the Delhi Sultanate ruler has become the talk of the town. “The trailer’s impact has been unlike anything that I have ever experienced,” says Ranveer. Unfortunately though, the film has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past few days as a few fringe groups oppose its release. Ranveer talks exclusively to HT about the film, controversies and more. Excerpts from the interview:
 
How difficult was it for you to turn into Khilji?
 
I won’t lie, it was very difficult. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive since I was going to play the bad guy for the first time but I am glad I did it. As a performer and an actor, it has been a fulfilling experience. It’s a rare opportunity and once I was convinced, I grabbed it with both hands and really got into it. Knowing myself well, my only apprehension was that it’s a dark character but I will get deeply into it. So, that way, it was scary.
 
Did it help that you had Bhansali at the helm of affairs since you have collaborated with him in the past too?
 
Sanjay sir knew what he wanted to do with Khilji, and was very hands-on. A lot of times, you say that a particular role was very difficult but this time, it really took a toll on me and you know, now that I am out of it, it has become a process to get rid of him too. Alauddin Khilji needs to be out of my system so I can neutralise, and I am currently going through that process.
 
As we talk, Padmavati is mired in huge controversies.
 
It’s undoubtedly a very tough situation. I am most concerned about Sanjay sir. At this point, for him to go through all of this is extremely difficult considering the amount this man has suffered, sacrificed and [the way he] fought to make this film. What anybody else is going through can’t be compared to what he is experiencing. It’s a difficult situation for him to be embroiled in after the kind of love and sheer effort he has put into the film.
 
It’s a helpless situation…
 
I am 200 per cent with the film and I stand by it as well as Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I also stand by his vision for the film. He had a vision and has done everything to realise it. Vis-à-vis the film, I can just request the audience and everybody else who have concerns about it to wait and watch the film. One shouldn’t doubt Sanjay sir; he is a magnificent film-maker and has tremendous respect for Indian culture and an enormous respect for Indian heritage and he will never intentionally hurt sentiments or do anything wrong. He is a good man with good intentions.
 
Since you’ve put so much effort in your character and the film, are you personally hurt with the current situation?
 
Whatever I am feeling right now is for Sanjay sir because I have been with him since the inception of this particular project. I know his intentions from the start. He wanted to make a film that the entire country can be proud of. So, to see all of this happening is really sad. I feel bad for a man whose efforts and good intentions have been kept aside. I just want to meet him and give him a hug.
 
On a positive note, the film’s trailer as well your new avatar has got a great response…
 
The trailer’s impact has been mind-blowing. It has been unlike anything that I have ever experienced, not just for my films but any film. It was overwhelming, so I felt I had to acknowledge all the love, and that’s why I wrote a note on Twitter. I am very happy because Sanjay sir and the entire team worked very hard. Especially, when I saw it in 3D, I was like, ‘oh, what am I seeing. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen.’ I am very proud of the work the team has done and now, I am looking forward to the release.
 
From the looks of it, it appears that Alauddin Khilji must have been a tough part to play?
 
I shot the film for one full year, so living with Alauddin Khilji for that long wasn’t easy. Now that the film is done, it’s a sort of a process to shed the character. It required a lot of energy and took a lot out of me. Let’s put it this way that it really affected me. This is the longest that I have ever lived with any character and also shot for a movie. I was the first to start the shoot in November last year and I’ve been the last to finish. Sanjay sir says it’s one of his most treasured characters. It’s a really meaty character to play and I’m happy he trusted me with this.
 
Deepika Padukone stars as Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus.
But now, are you relieved that you are done with the part?
 
Due to the shooting of the film, every other thing that I had to do was on hold, so now, I am catching up on all my other work. Sanjay sir is very happy with the work I have done in the film and I am really pleased about that. He said some very sweet things to me on the last day of shoot that really touched my heart.
 
Is Khilji completely out of your system?
 
I think my haircut, travelling (for ad shoots) and the fact that I am focusing on other work is helping a lot. A big thing that came out of the trailer was people’s reaction as it was very significant and since I was damn scared. I was apprehensive as to how will people receive me playing a negative character? But I was happy to see that our audience is so evolved. They appreciate the character that an actor plays as well as the characterisation of a part and are able to differentiate, so that has relieved me.
 
Was cutting your hair the first step to shed Khilji’s mindset?
 
I was very consumed with the character as I was shooting for 12-14 hours every day, and especially a character, which is very far from who I am [in real life]. So it was difficult and when I cut my hair that was a big step to get rid of the character as I caught up with my friends and family. I realised that I was not spending time with friends and family as I was hardly going out. All this is really helping. Now, I am looking forward for the film’s release on December 1. I was very excited to see the feedback to the trailer that doesn’t have even a single dialogue of mine. Now, I am excited and anxious about the film. The character definitely took me deep and it will take me some time to cleanse the character out of my system. I gave it my all for Sanjay sir but now I need to chill a bit, do normal stuff. I have been really cut off, so I need to reconnect and live like a normal human being.
 
At this stage of your career, weren’t you afraid to take up such a negative role?
 
As an actor, I was just very excited about the part. I feel ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is just a matter of perspective. I felt this is an opportunity for me to do something completely different. If I was to ever play such a character, why not do it with the best film-maker, with whom I have such a brilliant chemistry and a great creative collaboration. It was scary, but Sanjay sir wanted me and he was very adamant. I will always be there for him no matter what because his contribution towards me and my growth and development as an artiste is immense. I am indebted to him and if he wants me for any part, I will always be there for him. Once I took it on, then it was my duty to play it as honestly as possible. So, there were no half measures. Once I was in it, I immersed myself in it completely, with full conviction and it was very gratifying.
 
Were you confident that you were on the right path – in terms of your character – even while shooting for the film?
 
Since there were a few unfortunate delays, so I would watch the rushes of the film and I was very pleased to see that distinctive characterization because I rate actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis very highly who have a chameleon-like quality because that versatility is very important for me. When I used to see rushes, I used to feel, ‘this characterisation is very nice and it’s very distinctive from anything that I have done.’ I surprised myself too so I am happy with the way things have gone.
 
Since you have done such a tough, draining part, given an option, would you take up such a character anytime soon?
 
I already have my line-up of films ready for the next year which I am damn excited about. They are very different characters from Alauddin Khilji. My next is Gully Boyz with Zoya Akhtar and then there’s Rohit Shetty’s film besides a Kabir Khan film wherein I’ll play Kapil Dev. At least for the next year or so, I have a lot of different stuff to play. I won’t immediately attempt or choose such a role because I know it really takes a toll – emotionally and psychologically.
 
So, you won’t take up such parts…
 
Never say never (smiles) but it’s unlikely. It was extremely difficult so I don’t think it’s happening in the near future. Maybe, a few years later, if I have had enough time away from such parts, I may want to do it again. Some time ago, I was like, ‘main kabhi nahi karunga.’ But then I realised I don’t shouldn’t be like, ‘never say never.’ I don’t want to close the doors. What if a great part comes tomorrow? As an actor, I don’t know what I will feel at that point.
 
Padmavati actors aren’t extensively promoting the film in the current situation. Do you think it’s a good idea?
 
Yes, the film should be seen first. Anything that we (actors) say isn’t going to subdue this tension. People should give the film a chance; be patient and they can have healthy debates after they have seen the film. Right now, people are debating over conjectures. I guess the team including Sanjay sir is assessing the situation on an everyday basis and are taking each day as it comes. From what I know, I will be brought out once everybody sees the film and the context is set.
 
After Padmavati’s shoot, what has been keeping you busy?
 
As far as I am concerned, I am doing my endorsement work, and also exorcising Alauddin Khilji from my mind and whole system. It’s been psychologically exhausting and very draining. It’s been over a year since I have been playing Khilji so I am okay not going out and speaking about it. I am really done with Khilji’s energy (smiles).
 
You have been unusually quiet – online as well as in real life...
 
It’s a difficult situation for me also to be in also because anything I say or write on Twitter – despite it not having anything to do with the situation – may get misconstrued and is further distorted. It could unintentionally harm sentiments because who knows what is going to be picked up that someone might take offence to. I feel audiences should now see Alauddin Khilji on screen only.