It’s 6 PM on a lazy Saturday evening. The narrow lane next to St. Andrew’s Church in Bandra comes alive with a flash crowd thronging the streets, bringing traffic to a standstill. People jostle with each other and whip out their smartphones with camera apps on standby. As anticipation runs high, a tall, bearded man emerges from a small house, smiling, waving and gesturing at the crowd animatedly.

The folks on the street have just caught a glimpse of Ranveer Singh, 33, Bollywood’s newest and arguably 2018’s biggest superstar. Singh is dubbing for one of his upcoming films, Gully Boy, at Purple Haze Studios in Bandra and is getting ready to head home. Wearing his trademark oversized Carrera sunglasses and clad in an orange sweatshirt, black track pants, and white sneakers—all made by Adidas, one of 26 brands he endorses—Singh mounts a portable Marshall speaker on his shoulder and dances his way to his ride waiting close by. The speaker, blaring at full volume, is playing Singh’s latest rendition of a hip-hop number from his upcoming film, in which he plays an aspiring rapper from Mumbai’s slums looking to break the class divide and make it big.

As he dances to the tune of his own song, Singh makes his way to his car, a matte black Mercedes GLS AMG sports utility vehicle. All this while, the fans and paparazzi in his way keep rapturously chanting: “Baba! Baba! Apna time aayega, Baba!” Baba is a nickname that has stuck with Singh after some of his close friends in Bollywood started calling him that. Apna time aayega (‘our time will come’ in Hindi) is a line from one of his songs in Gully Boy, which is already topping the charts. The adulation bears testimony to the fact that Singh’s time has indeed come in a country where cinema and cricket icons are worshipped as demigods.

After opening the rear left side passenger door, he steps on the floor of the car, the Marshall in hand, and breaks into a small jig for his fans who roar in approval. Singh then sits in the car and turns his attention towards us. After exchanging pleasantries in his typical gregarious nature, we gear up for the interview. We spend the next 11 minutes driving around the “mean streets of Bandra”, as Singh calls them in jest, and hearing him describe the unbelievable success that came his way last year.

“I feel all the equity I had earned as an actor and a star before this has suddenly doubled in one year. Multiplied. To what degree even I can't judge. It’s really gone through the roof,” says Singh. “I am well aware of what’s happened. At the same time, I protect myself from falling into this entrapment of hype. I consciously make an effort to not start believing my own hype. It is very deeply ingrained in me that one mustn’t get carried away with success and one mustn’t get bogged down by failure.

Ever since he burst onto the scene in 2010 with Yash Raj Films’ (YRF) superhit Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) with Anushka Sharma as his co-star, Singh has, until the past year, had a mixed run at the box office. His talent and his effervescent appeal have, however, come to be celebrated everywhere. If the early years after the huge success of BBB were peppered with lows like Gunday and Kill/Dil (both 2014), and the more recent box-office dud Befikre (2016), there were also the sensitive portrayals in Lootera (2013) and Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), together with two other mega hits, Goliyon Ki Raasleela...Raam Leela (2013) and Bajirao Mastani (2015), both of which were directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Singh paired opposite Bollywood’s reigning female superstar Deepika Padukone, who he married in November 2018. Singh admits he has seen the highs and the lows. But more than his talent, what he is happiest about is the recognition of the fact that he is a very hard worker. “Talent can be God-gifted at times, but what I feel really happy about is when people tell me that I have worked hard,” he emphasises. A keen football fan, Singh quotes football legend Sir Alex Ferguson: “Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough.” And luckily for Singh, he has both in good measure.

Image : Alamy
I make high risk choices as an actor, even (my) sartorial choices...Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Ranveer Singh

The interview is briefly interrupted when I we reach Singh’s apartment building in Khar, where his family still lives. He divides his time between this house and his wife Padukone’s home in Prabhadevi in South Mumbai. We get down from the car to take the elevator to his eighth-floor apartment, where he greets some members of his styling team who are rummaging through a bundle of colourful designer clothes. Singh’s sartorial choices can be described as risky at best. Singh’s fashion sense attracts love and hate in equal measure. But one thing is certain: He carries it off with aplomb. “I make high-risk choices as an actor, even [my] sartorial choices,” Singh says with a knowing smile. “Everything is high risk. High risk, high returns… that’s what it is. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Singh then leads us to a lounge room washed in white and makes himself comfortable on a stretched white couch. He shifts around restlessly. It is almost as if his body finds it difficult to contain all the energy he is brimming with. Over the next hour, he slides down from the couch to sit on the floor, then gets up to take a stroll across the room, then comes back and plants himself on the sofa—all the while gathering his thoughts and articulating them.

Image : Gettyimages
I want every brand to believe that I am a fit and that there are certain values that I embody
Ranveer Singh

It’s not surprising why Ranveer Singh is the toast of the Hindi film industry today. Having given back-to-back superhits in 2018 with Bhansali’s period film Padmaavat, which garnered over ₹300 crore in box-office pickings in India, and following this up at the end of the year with another monster hit, the action-packed cop drama Simmba (₹240 crore and counting), directed by Rohit Shetty and coproduced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Singh has demonstrated both box-office bankability and oodles of talent.

“Ranveer’s spontaneity is his greatest asset. He has tremendous energy, both on screen and off screen,” says Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, which co-produced Padmaavat. “It is evident that he still looks at his own stardom with an awe which is a child-like quality that makes him real, accessible, and endearing.

It is exactly these qualities which have endeared Singh to an impressive line-up of the biggest brands, as he peddles everything from the snow-capped climes of Switzerland to innerwear for men. According to international consulting firm Duff & Phelps’ ‘Celebrity Brand Valuation Report 2018,’ Singh figures at a high No. 4 in terms of his brand value, which is pegged at a hefty $63 million, ahead of megastars like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Amitabh Bachchan. Add Brand Padukone (the most valued Bollywood celebrity at $102.5 million) to Singh’s own brand value, and you have Brand DeepVeer (short for Deepika and Ranveer) which is the most valuable “power couple brand”, according to the report.

Known variously as quirky, zany, and even crazy and over-the-top, Singh says these adjectives, while they enable recall of Brand Ranveer, are actually limitations. “I don’t subscribe to these tags. I never have and I find them limiting. I would say I am whatever you want me to be,” emphasises Singh. So, if he is the marauding invader Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat, he is also the corrupt-yet-lovable cop with a heart of gold in Simmba. “I bank on my versatility. I want every filmmaker to believe that I will be effective in their film—whatever genre it is that they are making. I want every brand to believe that I am a fit and that there are certain values that I embody that will fit with them. If I had to distill it, I would say those values are a promise of excellence, a promise of quality.”

These promises have brought in the brands in droves. But Singh insists on authenticity as the key ingredient for a successful partnership. “Ultimately, it is my face that is going to be passing the message on and I am not going to be lying about it to anybody. I am someone who uses more or less everything I endorse. I have a Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. I wear Adidas, Carrera, Rupa. I even put Set Wet Gel in my hair and use Nivea under my arms,” he says.

R.S. Kalsi, senior executive director, market - ing and sales, Maruti Suzuki India, says: “Both Ciaz and Ranveer Singh were challengers at the start and went on to become leaders in their respective fields. The strategy of engaging with Ranveer is of immense value. Ciaz is high on style and luxury and Ranveer’s demeanour complements it. The imagery of both fully connects with the urbane audience. Progressively, Maruti Suzuki has associated with Ranveer Singh as brand ambassador for our premium retail channel NEXA. Ranveer and NEXA both aim to provide unique and delightful experiences to customers and viewers.”

One of the first successful endorsements Singh did was for Ching’s range of instant noodles. Singh recounts his first meeting with the Ching’s team at YRF’s offices in Andheri in Mumbai. After the initial pleasantries, Singh asked: “Where’s the food?” —alluding to the need for him to taste the Ching’s products he would be endorsing. “I told them that [tasting the noodles] was the first order of business. We spoke, exchanged greetings, and came back when we could eat the food.”

As in his films, Singh likes to give his 100% to his brand endorsements as well. And he says he is a hit on the brand circuit because he doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. “I have never been in a place where I haven’t given it more than my 100%. It comes from the kind of person I have evolved into.”

Aviral Jain, managing director at the valuation advisory services practice at Duff & Phelps, explains what Brand Ranveer means to the business world. “In terms of brand endorsements, Ranveer has had a consistent, yet fast growth [as compared with other celebrities.] In 2016, he endorsed 14 brands, which increased to 19 in 2017... He endorses the highest numbers of brands within our list, followed by Virat [Kohli] with 24 brand endorsements,” he says. “And given the kind of brands he’s got into, I would say they are all class A brands that he endorses—recently he added Kotak Mahindra [Bank], Dish TV, and Nerolac, brands that are leaders in their market segments. Which effectively means that he’s becoming the [preferred] choice for these top tier brands. I think he’s already an icon in the endorsement space.”

Singh says the increasing number of films and endorsement deals have forced him to change his lifestyle and reduce his “down - time”. He now wakes up at 6 a.m. and goes to bed by 10 p.m. every day. He says he takes advice on time management and multi-tasking from his senior colleague in the industry, Akshay Kumar, who is also known for his regimented lifestyle. Singh says despite his current success, he wants to remain “a little hungry and a little foolish” and hopes he can maintain the fortitude to take high risks, something he has always done.

Singh prides himself about being Sindhi, a community known for its business acumen. While he concedes he’s not good with numbers, he does say he has started improving on that count. “I have developed a sense of business acumen. I understand that along with being a performer and an actor, somewhere along the way you have also become a star whose talent is being monetised.”

The businessman in Singh is now beginning to come to the fore as he examines various interesting offers which have started coming his way. In fact, he has just taken a first big step by setting up a company called—in typical Singhspeak—Maa Kasam Films. Starting with Simmba, Singh has begun taking a share of the earnings in the movies he is part of, rather than ‘top-loading’ the film’s cost by charging an astronomical fee. “I guess every film I will do from here on will have some portion of equity,” he says.

Singh’s endorsement deals may also go the same way as smaller companies may offer him stakes as a part of his remuneration as brand ambassador. “It’s the smartest thing to do. I’ll have to admit when you reach a certain level you get offered some sweet deals. Some of them are coming my way and I am saying, aane de [let them come],” Singh says with a twinkle in his eye. His entrepreneurial instincts are now leading him to examine new bets and indications are something may be in the offing in the music space. “I find myself to be a musically-inclined person, so it is very organic for me to invest in the music business which I see exponential potential in.”

As the movie offers roll in, Singh’s decision to take equity in his projects also means producers can spend more on putting up the large-scale mass entertainers which he wants to be a part of in the coming days. Asked whether he would choose box-office success or creative satisfaction, Singh doesn’t bat an eyelid and replies instantaneously: “Box-office success!” And then goes on to explain: “Box office success means a lot of people were entertained, which is what I want to do. I want to be that entertainer. Being an entertainer is my calling and my purpose in life. I was born to do this.”

However, he doesn’t see box-office success as militating against artistic expression. “People may have a certain view or misguided perception of commercial cinema. What they don’t realise is it is, perhaps, even more painstaking to make. To appeal to a broad spectrum of audiences and make everyone feel good is equally, if not more, painstaking,” he says.

This phase of wanting to be in lavishly-mounted theatrical experiences is Singh’s current adrenaline rush. After Gully Boy comes ’83, based on the Indian cricket team’s journey from being underdogs to winning the 1983 World Cup, where Singh plays the role of cricket legend Kapil Dev. Thereafter, he gets busy with Takht, a period drama directed by Karan Johar.

Clearly, it’s all about mass entertainment for Singh now, though admittedly he says it’s a phase he’s going through and he doesn’t know how long it will last. “I feel like there is no tomorrow. I don’t believe in the concept of tomorrow. For me, it is now,” he says.

As the reign of the three Khans plateaus (Singh’s meteoric rise in 2018 coincided with an indifferent year at the box office for all the three Khans—Shah Rukh, Salman, and Aamir), Singh knows his journey to the top has just got a serious leg-up.

The Gully Boy’s time is now.

Styling: Nitasha Gaurav

Hair: Darshan Yewalekar (D Shave Barbersop)

Make-up : Mahadev Naik

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