"I Was Losing My Marbles" - Ranveer Singh On Playing Sultan Alauddin Khilji In Padmaavat

Shreemi Verma , 09 Feb 2018

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As Padmaavat finally hit the big screen, a lot of opinions about the film began to float around the interwebz. But the one common takeaway from the magnum opus has been the appreciation for Ranveer Singh‘s spectacular performance as Sultan Alauddin Khilji. The actor has easily been the breakout star of a movie, which comprises of a great star cast and that’s a very big deal!

On his latest blockbuster, he says that so much has been edited from the 6-8 hours of content that if a director’s cut is ever released, it’ll blow our minds. In a chat with a group of journalists (including yours truly), Ranveer mentioned that his co-star Jim Sarbh (who played the amazing Malik Kafur) called him to lament on how many of their scenes have been cut, allowing our imaginations to run wild on how intense their on-screen chemistry actually was. Apart from this unexpected fan-favourite relationship, the actor also spoke at length about this evil and yet iconic character, collaborating with Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the third time and his emotional investment in the upcoming film – Gully Boy.

P.S – This interview has spoilers from the movie Padmaavat.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the hour-long conversation –

On sinking his teeth into the meaty role of Alauddin Khilji  –

I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this part. I like doing different stuff all the time, I always wanted to play an antagonist so I thought why not play it with Mr. Bhansali? You know as they say, be careful what you wish for *laughs* I wanted to play an antagonist and I got to play the most evil one!

On improvising with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and THAT perfume rubbing scene –

All the eccentricities of this character were not there on paper, I added a lot to it myself, but more than me, it was Mr. Bhansali who added layers to it. The additions in the written material actually made the character unique, fresh and interesting to watch. The film has been out for a few days now, so many people now tell me that “dude THAT scene was so good, and THAT scene was so good”, everyone has their own interpretations. For instance, some people mentioned – “When you throw the perfume on the girl and you rub her against yourself, that’s your style of putting on perfume?” That was Mr. Bhansali’s idea, it was something he came up with right on the spot!

We freestyled so much with this character. Like before the climax when Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) comes (instead of Padmavati), Khilji is like “kitne ache ho tum‘, that bit was improvisation. The scene where I’m with Ratan Singh and smelling the food served to me? That was my addition. During that bit, we were sitting with each other, so Sir (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) was like okay this is how it’s blocked, and I just said, “you know what? He (Khilji) should smell the food served by his enemy.” Then Sanjay sir added, “if he’s smelling the food, then you shouldn’t trust that he’s giving you food that doesn’t have poison in it”, so then I decided to move my plate and take his plate. We keep feeding off each other, scene after scene.

When you add it all up, it’s the layering which creates this entertaining character. I completed all my work but I saw the final movie with the VFX and the background score much later. When I saw the film for the first time with everyone else (at the premiere), I felt the magnitude of the emotion. Of course, it helped that I had left the movie behind and started work on another project (Gully Boy) and that I was seeing the final product many months later.

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On finally watching the entire movie –

I was moved to tears when I saw it finally, I was so emotional. When the last act starts, I was just breathing heavily and crying. I was like “he has done it! It’s his victory. After all that he’s been through, he made an amazing film!” I absolutely loved the film and I can’t say that about all my films.

On Aditya Chopra’s reaction to Padmaavat –

Adi sir (Aditya Chopra) after watching Padmaavat said, “I don’t know what it is about you and Bhansali, you two are just magic together. Something very, very special in that collaboration”. We’ve seen that throughout history, a lot of people point out that there have been many instances where the filmmaker has found an actor and they go on to create a vast legacy together. I believe the same about Sir (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) and me. I understand and value all too well what he’s done for my career and given me my biggest hits. But more than that, he has shaped me to be the artist I am today.

On building respect for a character as dark as Khilji –

It wasn’t difficult for me (to respect the antagonist) because I imagine there to be a great honesty in every decision that he took. If I had to speak in third person and judge from Ranveer’s moral compass, I don’t think he’s a good person, I think he’s a bad person, an evil person, detestable, despicable. But when I play Alauddin and get into the mind space, let’s say in the literal space when I’m wearing the make-up and costume, I’m fucking Alauddin at that time. At that time, I am 100% convinced that everything I’m doing is right. I’m convinced that I rule the world. He is a narcissist and megalomaniac and I convince myself of that reality. Then every action I do, I’m doing it with his honesty.

That said, a lot of people are not looking at a certain aspect of Alaudin, they’re looking at a villainy character. They don’t see that he’s a great statesman, a great strategist, a very astute and a very shrewd ruler. He has a sense of humour and he’s a patron of the arts. He’s actually a brilliant man and a very effective ruler. Sure, this (the plot of the film) isn’t about his life story, this was a very small chapter in his life but he was a very great man.

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On his apprehension to play this role –

The apprehension was born out of the fact that when I read the script, I knew that if I have to play this character, I have to visit some very dark places in my own life experiences. Isme lamba ghusna padega aur scope hai pagal ho jaane ka. I wasn’t prepared to do it. I was in a very happy space, I didn’t want to dwell in negativity, but I can never say no to Sanjay sir. For instance, in my prep process, I studied subjects like various acts of oppression in history, genocide and mass killings. I studied the lives of tyrannical rulers and watched really disturbing things. I had to convince myself somehow that duniya mein aisi bhi cheez hui, duniya mein aise bhi log hain to generate that conviction. Those are depths of the rabbit hole one is scared to go to.

On his equation with Shahid Kapoor –

(A journalist mentioned that Shahid stated in various interviews that he felt like an ‘outsider’ on the sets of Padmaavat, Ranveer thought for a long moment before answering this question) –  To be honest, I did my best to welcome him and whatever I could do to be a supportive co-actor, I did. But I think it’s (the discomfort) to do with a genre as well. If I’m not mistaken I think it’s his first costume drama. A costume drama has its own sets of challenges which I faced during Bajirao Mastani. It takes some time adapt to so I think it’s his reaction to that.

Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh
Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh

On pouring his heart out for Padmaavat

I poured so much into the character, especially those last 47 days were so difficult that I was waiting for wrap on my part to be called and I let him go immediately. For the first time, I let a character go immediately, he didn’t even stay with me overnight. It was such a tunnel, I was building myself to the point where I was like “I don’t have to do this anymore” and the moment they called wrap and cut the cake and we all rejoiced, I was never Alauddin after that. During and between shoot days, from 9 am to 9 pm I was shooting, post 9 pm, I used to have a hangover of my character. Like till 4-5 in the morning I was still reeling from what I’ve done. And those types of thoughts, even when you’re at ease, you’ve done your scenes, you’re chilling out, those waves of thoughts would suddenly come up and I would just cram hard to snap out of it. Between shoot shifts, I always had a character hangover, to the point where I thought I was losing myself. That was very scary for me.

On channeling his sense of humour for Alauddin and the collage he posted of Alex (A Clockwork Orange), Joker (The Dark Knight) and himself as Khilji –

Ranveer Singh
Source: Instagram @ranveersingh

(I mentioned this photo he had posted on his Instagram a year ago because I thought it was cool, but it bothered Ranveer for a little while) – Why did you bring that post up? So I uploaded what I thought was an interesting collage and I got massively trolled for it and I was like “what the fuck?” First of all, I thought it was a very cool image so I uploaded it instantly, and people just started making their own inferences.

I, in no way, will compare myself to cinematic legends like Heath Ledger. The guy lost his life playing that part and I’m mature and understanding enough to know that there is no comparison… he lost his life! A Clockwork Orange is a film that is a cinematic text book. As a lover and a student of cinema, I will never compare myself to such legendary characters. That is a wrong interpretation. What I learnt from that artwork was that all three characters had the ‘cupid stare’ which has been written about extensively, and I never knew about it till the person who sent me the picture and who is a cinephile, noticed it and sent it to me. Not only that, the reason that picture stood out to me was that during my prep I studied these characters very very closely.

About the sense of humour, well, there were small hints of it on paper, but I found that very interesting so I kind of built on it and brought more humour into it. That clapping moment was improvisation. This is a great thing about Mr Bhansali’s process, you can keep building and building and you get layers on layers. So I went up to him and said “when he (Malik Kafur) cuts their throat, I’m going to clap”. I didn’t tell him which type of clap I wanted to do, you could do a *slow clap* and be like “waah Malik Kafur waah”, so Sir started scratching his head and muttering things like “he wants to clap, we’ll have to do an extra shot” but then he said “chal theek hai karle”, and then I did that clap and he completely flipped out. He jumped out of his chair and he was like “THIS IS IT!”

There are so many instances of improvisations in the film but most importantly, I think if you’re playing a negative character, the person must enjoy it. If you’re the enfant terrible who is unabashed about it and if you’re going to have fun, then humour is bound to follow. I think I modeled it on my best friend who is a quintessential enfant terrible. He says the most inappropriate things all the time. He’s a habitual line-crosser, but yet, he’s the most entertaining person to be around and he’s hilarious, so I feel I drew from that. He’s a bad boy, but he’s so fucking funny.

On not playing dark characters for a while –

Dark I’m not sure. I’m done for a while, only because it was really hard man. I don’t think it’s healthy to play that part anymore. I felt like I was going crazy, I was losing my marbles. A really strange incident happened off-camera. Somebody made a mistake and I turned towards the person and I felt like I was going to physically assault that person as Alauddin Khilji but then I was like wait… wait, this is not fucking real! This shit is going down. Suddenly my instinctive reaction was the characters’ and not mine.

The thing was that I had isolated myself during the shooting process as well. So I was going into set in the morning, being Alauddin all day, sleeping whenever I slept, and going and being Alauddin again. It was Allaudin – isolation -Allaudin – isolation, and in that period, I had the hangover of the character. Doing that for enough days on the end, too much of it for too long, I was suddenly generating negative thoughts.

A really strange incident happened once, I looked into the mirror and had like an out-of-body experience. I was alone at home, I was thinking something and I happened to walk by the mirror and I had this look on my face, and I had never seen my face look like that. It was just… something else… so I thought I was going mad! I realized that this was happening because I wasn’t doing enough ‘Ranveer’ things so I started by calling my mum and telling her how I’m feeling. Then I started calling my best friends and telling them how I’m feeling and they started coming home after I came back from work and started spending 3-4 hours with me. That was very helpful. I was able to talk to them and they could talk to me and counsel me. We’d talk about shit. Like how’s nani? What’s happening with my cousins? Umm… what’s happening with Arsenal? Why are we not gonna make top 4? Have these type of conversations. I am very happy and blessed that I have such a lovely support system that keeps me grounded. It was all that helped me not completely go off the handle.

And finally, on transitioning from Khilji to Gully Boy –

I think if you’re excited about the work then it’s not difficult at all. The day I finished this movie, immediately, my first thought was Gully Boy!

This film is very very dear to me, I personally feel for the people these characters are based on. They are marginalized, disenfranchised people from the lowest strata of society, who have a very tough existence. They live a very difficult life and they find their expressions as artists. They have started a music scene that is so unique. It’s in Bambaiya bhaasha and it’s the most incredible thing. You have to read what these kids are writing. They’re in their late teens and early 20’s and they’re writing social commentary about what’s fucked up in the system. These boys are making observations and comments on the state of affairs and I believe that will affect social change. There are thousands of kids listening to their music and learning and understanding what they’re trying to say. I strongly feel for them. I want to do what I can to give a platform to this amazing new musical talent.

What was happening in Harlem and Brooklyn (in the United States) in late ’80s and early ’90s? There were these disenfranchised kids who were the youth, they had this tough life around them. They found beats, they started writing poetry with social commentary embedded in it and it became rap and hip hop. That’s what’s happening now here, these kids have discovered that all they need is an iPad and they need a beat and they can actually do this. That is happening here now and it’s so exciting for me! It’s a story that I really want to tell along with Zoya (Akhtar). And yeah, you will be quite amazed to hear the music of the film. It is a film about music and finding your expression and breaking through as recording artists. These guys are legit artists! I find it to be an amazing story and the music of this film is very special.

Ranveer has exciting projects like Zoya Akhtar‘s Gully Boy, Rohit Shetty‘s Simmba and Kabir Khan‘s next on the 1983 Cricket World Cup lined up for this year and the next one. We can’t wait to see what this “talent ka voolcano” has in store for his audience!


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