Bollywood star Ranveer Singh is basking in the acclaim for cricket epic “’83,” an account of the Indian men’s cricket team wining the World Cup in England in 1983.
Directed by Kabir Khan (“Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” “Ek Tha Tiger,” both starring Salman Khan), “’83” follows the journey of the Indian team, rank underdogs having won just a single game in the previous two World Cups, as they upset reigning champions the West Indies to lift the trophy. Singh plays team captain Kapil Dev who motivates the team to victory by both words and personal heroics on the field.
Singh, who is the NBA brand ambassador for India, prepared for the role by initially watching archival footage of Dev. He then went to Delhi and stayed as Dev and his wife Romi’s (played by Deepika Padukone in the film) guest in their home for two weeks, during which time he closely observed the champion sportsman. “They were so warm and welcoming, they treated me like their own son,” Singh tells Variety.
“It was in that phase I started picking up all of the ammo that I needed to create his character. He came to train me in cricket, showed me the nuances of his batting style, of his bowling action,” says Singh. “He’s a brilliant, remarkable human being, an absolute alpha and a very inspiring person. So all the time that I spent with him was some of the highlights of my life, because I learned so much and was so inspired by him.”
“’83” was originally supposed to release in April, 2020 but the first wave of the pandemic put paid to those plans. The release was postponed several times and like with “Sooryavanshi,” starring Akshay Kumar with Singh in a cameo, producers Reliance Entertainment decided to hold out for a theatrical release and not bow the film on a streaming service while cinemas remained closed. “’83” finally premiered at Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival on Dec. 15, 2021. It received a wide global release over the Christmas holiday frame in its original Hindi-language version, with dubs in the Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam languages.
During the screening organized for the original cricket team, Singh says that he spent the duration of the film watching the reactions of Dev and his team members. “His reaction to the film was probably the one of the most special moments of my life.” Dev was full of praise for the film and Singh’s performance.
The common thread through the audience and critical reaction to “’83” is that within a few minutes, Singh disappears and only Kapil Dev is seen on screen. For observers of Singh’s career, this should come as no surprise. Singh debuted with the role of an effervescent wedding planner in “Band Baaja Baaraat,” produced by his mentor Aditya Chopra, and has subsumed himself into every role since, be it Maratha Prime Minister Peshwa Bajirao in “Bajirao Mastani” (2015), Sultan Alauddin Khilji in “Padmaavat” (2018), mischievous cop Sangram Bhalerao in “Simmba” or slum rapper Murad in Berlin title “Gully Boy” (2019). Unlike stars who play themselves in film after film, Singh is transformed into the character.
“It was always my endeavor from the start of my career to not be like those actors – I like them, I love their films, I love their performances, but I can also recognize that they are playing themselves, which is great, and because I love watching them playing themselves,” says Singh. “So it’s cool, but not the kind of actor I aspire to be.”
“Growing up, I was always attracted to those actors who would be able to transform themselves in this chameleon like way, and get into different skins, embody different characters,” adds Singh. “And across those films, you just cannot claim that it’s the same person, it’s like, ‘What have they done?’ They’ve literally become somebody else.” Singh says that he always makes those “high-risk” choices while developing a character, concentrating the minutiae of the look, voice, gait and mindset of the part, adding that he is a great admirer of those actors who showcase range, versatility and can straddle genres.
“It’s a personal challenge that I throw at myself every single time I do a new character, like, ‘How can you be so wildly different that it pops?’ Because that’s what excites me. I would feel a bit bored or jaded if I were to do the same thing over and over again,” says Singh, adding that besides the shooting of the films, the two or three weeks that he spends building distinctive characters is what excites him the most.
Coming up for Singh are a range of diverse characters. Social comedy “Jayeshbhai Jordaar,” by newcomer Divyang Thakkar, is due a Feb. 2022 release. Chopra called up Singh saying that he had come across a “genius script.” “There’s a little bit of a social message in there, which is not in your face, it doesn’t hammer you on the head with it,” says Singh. “It’s full of heart, it’s a lovely story, it’s a lovely character. That film is just pure love.”
Singh’s first pure comedy “Cirkus” reunites him with his “Simmba” and “Sooryavanshi” director Rohit Shetty. The broad plot points are adapted from Shakespeare farce “The Comedy of Errors,” but it is “very much a Rohit Shetty rendition,” says Singh. “It’s one of those experiences you go in for two and a half hours and just laugh your head off. Screwball comedy, slapstick, insult humor, you name it, it’s just all packed in there.” The film is currently scheduled for a July, 2022 release.
Multihyphenate Karan Johar’s “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is 60% complete. “It’s like vintage Karan Johar but totally updated – it’s like everything you love about Karan Johar’s cinema, the music, the warmth of a family, a little bit of family drama, romance, color, glamour, all of those things are packed in,” says Singh. “He’s left no stone unturned in any aspect to ensure that this is a glorious presentation of everything you love about him and his cinema.” The film also stars Alia Bhatt, and veterans Dharmendra and Jaya Bachchan.
Also coming up is a remake of S. Shankar’s 2005 hit “Anniyan,” as revealed by Variety. Shankar is known for his big-budget extravaganzas including “Sivaji” (2007), “Robot” (2010) and its sequel “2.0” (2018), all starring superstar Rajinikanth, and “Indian” (1996), starring actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan.
“It blows my mind that I’m going to do a movie with this person whose vision, whose craft, whose creativity is limitless,” says Singh.
Meanwhile, the plaudits for “’83” continue to roll in. “I’m just so happy with the response that ”83′ has gotten – I want to make films that are memorable, that connect with people, like they can feel nostalgia, catharsis, they can laugh, they can cry, they can applaud. That’s what I want to do. And I want to do more of it. And I want to keep doing it,” says Singh. “I am fully ready and excited and enthusiastic about about the journey that lies ahead.”