With 83, Ranveer Singh has established himself as the biggest superstar of his generation. A commendable oeuvre of work behind him, one can call him a shape-shifter who can do anything—Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, Simmba, Gully Boy, 83. He is like a chameleon that can get into characters without any reference point and deliver stellar performances. How is he so secure as an artist? What was it like playing Kapil Dev, one of the most loved icons of India ever? What were his own expectations from 83, which has won a lot of plaudits already? Does making money at the box office drive him as a performer? Also, 83 is being said to be in the league of Bahubali, Lagaan, 3 Idiots—what does he make of such statements?
In an hour-long conversation, Ranveer opened up on all things 83 and more. And in doing so, yet again displayed his confidence as a leader of mainstream Hindi cinema. Excerpts:
To begin with, I have to ask you how daunting it was to play Kapil Dev and play him with so much success. It’s one thing to play cricket in a sport film. But it’s a very different challenge to have to bowl and bat like Kapil Dev. How did you deal with this challenge?
First of all, let me tell you this. That’s a massive compliment for me. I was really looking forward to what the original players, the audience, members of my fraternity and people like you who live cricket felt about my efforts. And to hear this from you is huge for me, so a deep thank you. I keep thinking how cool it is that I became an actor in the first place! I am literally living my dream and then further to that not only am I an actor of mainstream Hindi cinema, which is exactly what I wanted to do in my life, and now I get an opportunity to play Kapil Dev on screen. I recognised all too well what a golden opportunity it was and I just embraced it with both hands and went to town with it. I was thrilled that I got to play cricket because just playing cricket gives me so much joy and then to embody a character who is as inspiring and is such a talismanic figure on and off screen, who is such an alpha male, a leader of humungous proportions, is just a dream come true.
Kapil Dev is someone whose perspectives on life are so inspiring I think meri life ki jab highlight reel banegi na this will be one of the highlights. The way 83 has been received by the audience, the way people are showering love on the film and the things they are saying about the performance, I couldn’t have asked for more. It is fast becoming evident to me that this will be a landmark in my filmography. But more than anything, I am just grateful for the opportunity to be able to tell such an extraordinary story. 1983 is a glorious chapter in the history of our country and is a story we feel so proud off. It is not just a cricket victory. There is so much more to 1983… you know what I mean. To be able to recreate that on screen and to be able to make the audience fall in love with it has been extremely gratifying.
You did Padmaavat and thereafter you went on to do Gully Boy and now 83: Don’t you feel the pressure? Don’t these roles weigh on you? Each of these is very different and you have very little to fall back on as you embark on these challenges.
To tell you the truth, I do feel the pressure when Sanjay Leela Bhansali comes with Allauddin Khilji or Kabir Khan comes with Kapil Dev or Rohit Shetty comes with a full blown masala character like Simmba. Initially, I do feel the pressure and it does feel daunting and I feel nervous, but it’s nervous energy. There is a difference. I have learnt this from Kris Srikkanth whom I have had the good fortune and privilege of spending a lot of time with over the past few days while promoting 83. Srikkanth told me: “Energy can’t be created or destroyed, it can be transformed.” If you think about it, he is correct. So I take the nervousness and channel it into energy that can then be used to travel this path of transformation. These characters, diverse and never done before, are the challenges that excite me and it is my endeavour to create characters that are different from each other because growing up as an aspiring actor I was always fascinated by those actors who were able to showcase a wide range of characters in their repertoire.
It is this ability to transform, to be like shape-shifters or chameleons so that if you watch one film of that person and then you watch another you can never compare. It’s like you are watching two different people. That’s what will blow your mind and that’s what I have endeavoured to be. When I was asked to play Kapil Dev, I did feel apprehensive. After all, he has such a distinctive persona, with a very distinct body language, a unique way of talking. I can keep going on and on. So, when you have to play such a character, it’s a huge challenge. But I was up to it because I was excited about it. I was like man this is a new challenge, this is something I haven’t done before and I have to do it the best I can.
I was coached by the legendary Balwinder Singh Sandhu. Kapil Dev kept me in his house and allowed me to absorb him in order to build the character. He came and trained me in my efforts to emulate his batting style, his bowling action
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Right through the process, Kabir’s assistant Ameya was by my side for every detail. I have watched the film five times now and each time she and I have noticed something new. Each time we say to ourselves this is so Kapil! Maybe 90 per cent of people are not realising this but we know. At every laugh of his, every clap, the smallest thing, Ameya and I turn to each other and wink. That is the kind of fine detailing that was done on the character. It was mirroring Kabir’s detailing of cricket. Cricket ka jo keeda hota hai na, apke jaise mere jaise jo sabkuch janta hain, those diehard fans of cricket, even if they sit on the film with a magnifying glass, they will have to applaud Kabir Khan’s detailing.
How did you feel when you lifted that trophy on the Lord’s balcony?
Like I said to you off camera, we had limited video footage of 1983 but the footage we do have is that of the presentation ceremony. Those images are there. And Kabir, with a documentary filmmaking background, is very precise about these things. In fact, he made it a point to ensure that every fine detail of the presentation was replicated to the T because people have seen that video footage over and over again. I have to take you to that morning when we filmed the presentation. We were all there on the Lord’s balcony rehearsing that shot time and again in our minds and Kabir had set it all up beautifully. Every click of it, every movement about that shot had to be perfect. That’s when something absolutely magical happened. Just as we were about to roll, walked in Sir Clive Lloyd!
The moment we saw him we were like “WHAT!!” Were we seeing a ghost or something! We are shooting this presentation ceremony and with us is Sir Clive Lloyd on the Lord’s balcony and the cup we are shooting with is the real Prudential Cup, which has an aura of its own. It has that energy, it’s like that magic urn.
Clive Lloyd, real cup, everything looks real and feels real and that’s when Kabir calls action and I walk up to collect the trophy. In my head, it is constantly going on yeah bohut accha shot jaraha hain, this is the perfect shot so far. And when I lifted that trophy, I tell you Boria, I was on a mind trip. I could hear voices, I could see people on the ground, I could see them waving flags, it was like I had transformed into the real man.
It was a strange one. Acting ka kya hain, action aur cut ke beech mein kuch moments of truth hota hai jise aapko jeena parta hain. You have to live them to know it. That’s when Kabir called cut and there was silence all around. Soon after there were tears streaming down my eyes, Kabir was crying, my entire team just huddled up and it was the closest we could come to the real men and the real thing, to understand the gamechanging moment for each of these men and for the country.
How does it feel to be the leader of the Hindi film industry? Perhaps I am not wrong in saying this any more.
Thank you, Sir. That’s big of you to say. I intend to continue on this path and continue to explore more. I am really in the process of exploring myself as a person and as a performer. To do different characters and to present films that we as a people can be proud of. I have to confess to you that it is as if I feel duty bound to entertain people. It’s like an instinct. Do you remember that line in Gully Boy: “Yeh toufa diya hain mujhe upar wale ne”? You know it’s like a great gift, a blessing to be in this position where I get to do what I love to do for my living. It’s been an amazing 10 years. I have worked with the finest filmmakers who have shaped me, taught me what it means to be an artist and entertain my audience. I have learned so much but I feel hungry for more. I want to do more films like 83. I can’t tell you how fulfilling it was to be at the screening of 83 where I could see people laughing through their tears.
What was the first reaction of Kapil Dev after he saw the movie? I was commentating with him in Dubai during the World Cup and I could sense his excitement. I also had the opportunity of meeting him in Kolkata when he launched the promotions and he had mentioned that he would be seeing the film for the first time with you all.
I was counting down the days and seconds for the screening. It was decided that the whole cast and the original 1983 team won’t watch it earlier but would all watch it on a special day—all of us together. It was unforgettable. I was watching Kabir’s face and the faces of all my heroes and they were crying, clapping, laughing. It was incredible.
The other occasion when I had a similar feeling was when I was shooting for the 175 at Tunbridge Wells and watching me shoot was the man who did it in 1983. When the screening was over, I will never forget Kapil Dev’s initial reaction. It was “no more crying, no more crying”, which was meant more for him. Just like me, he is a very emotional man. It is something I have in common with him and both of us cry easily. His first reaction was to give me a big old Kapil paaji hug and he said no more crying, but there was a lot of crying that night as we all felt the emotions.
We were all there on the Lord’s balcony rehearsing that shot and Kabir had set it all up beautifully. Every click, every movement had to be perfect. That’s when something absolutely magical happened. Just as we were about to roll, walked in Sir Clive Lloyd!
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I am sure you know Kapil paaji was the only man who drank milk that day on the Lord’s balcony. How did you feel when you were doing that?
Like I told you before, if there are reels made of my life, there will be a lot of 83 in it. And yes to the milk! No one except Kapil Dev could have done it and that’s what makes it unique. Everything about this process, my bonding with my cast members, my interaction with the legends of the game, the fact that I was coached by the legendary Balwinder Singh Sandhu, that Kapil Dev himself kept me in his house and allowed me to absorb him in order to build the character, it is all so special. He came and trained me in my efforts to emulate his batting style, his bowling action and then shooting at Lord’s on the balcony with the real trophy, drinking milk. I can’t describe how I am feeling because the kind of love showered on the film is new for me. I am always used to my films getting mixed reactions. For the first time perhaps, it has evoked similar reactions from all who have seen it. I don’t know how to describe it. All I will say is, these are memories I will cherish for life.
To close this conversation, you have to give me your favourite Kapil Dev line.
There is this one line, which was there in the trailer as well. It is the line that has now gone into everyday situations and that’s when you know it connects with your daily life. It is when he says at the press conference: “We are here to win. What as we here for” (sic). People are using this one line in different situations. In fact, people are saying it back to me. It’s amazing and very amusing at the same time.