At the first promotional event of Aditya Chopra’s upcoming Befikre in Mumbai, a few things became clear. Ranveer Singh’s DNA is lined with coffee beans. He is a male magnet. He likes to sing, or more precisely, hum. And he has the gift of the gab. Singh is not as smooth or effortlessly witty as Shah Rukh Khan, but he has only been in front of the camera for six years. With time and many more movies and media appearances, he will perfect his mastery of the microphone and the moment.
Aditya Chopra’s latest movie stars Singh and Vaani Kapoor as an uninhibited couple who put the sex into the Seine. The December 9 release is set in Paris, where Dharam meets Shyra and embarks on an intensely emotional and physical relationship. The romantic comedy involves lots of kissing and more, as the trailer and videos suggest. The trailer was launched at the Eiffel Tower, and the release of a new video from Vishal-Shekhar’s soundtrack, of the song You And Me, followed by a short press conference with the leads, marked the inauguration of the local publicity campaign.
Entertainment channel crews, press photographers and reporters waited for an hour for the stars to show up – which is hardly any time in the realm of film journalism. After the new video was played, Singh, dressed in a deep purple jacket and pants with an orange patterned t-shirt, and Kapoor, in an off-shoulder white shirt and a lace black skirt, trooped in for the usual mix of serious queries and the kind of questions that you find only on Quora.
Many of the questions were directed at Singh and centred on the hectic kissing in the trailer and the songs. Befikre (meaning carefree, reckless, devil-may-care, take your pick) has caused eyebrows to disappear into the hairline ever since no-holds-barred posters of the leads in passionate embrace emerged. Usually, only terminally ill characters display such lack of reserve in Indian films. Since the movie is by a director known for his squeaky clean and conservative films, the posters, trailers and videos have ensured that Befikre has become a synonym for “bold” – an adjective usually reserved for item girls and soft erotica horror flicks.
Befikre has been given a UA certificate by the censor board, which tends to halve the duration of screen kisses (by 50 per cent, no more and no less). That is because, Singh explained, Befikre is actually a “family film”. The 31-year-old actor, who made his debut with the YRF movie Band Baaja Baraat in 2010, earnestly said, “The duration of the kisses was very short. This film doesn’t have the kind of kissing that will make you shield your eyes. A kiss is shown with the same kind of warmth as a hug.”
Whatever Befikre achieves, it might just normalise the truth about romantic couples – they eat, drink and shop together, and they do other things too.
Is Ranveer Singh Emraan Hashmi Part 2? Singh gave a graceful reply to the comparison with Hashmi, whose claim to fame is his tendency to pucker up his lips in all his films. If kissing has warmth, it is also hot, a female journalist wanted to know. What is the difference between hot and warm – and when does Ranveer Singh take the opportunity to steal a hot kiss?
Singh deflected the question, which is especially loaded because he is supposedly in a relationship with Deepika Padukone. Which kiss are you talking about, he wanted to know.
Clearly, this is one star who has learnt the art of the dodge.
It wasn’t all frivolous. Befikre is being released during a severe cash crunch caused by the government’s overnight decision to remove Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from circulation. The hedonistic songs have the same effect that the American musical had on Depression-era audiences in the 1930s – they are getaways to a time and a place where the mundane realities of life have disappeared into a soft-focus gaze, and the only queue that matters is the one that leads into the movie theatre.
“Are you befikre or are you in tension because of the 500 and 1,000 notes issue,” one journalist asked, defying the perception that the entertainment media is disconnected from the headlines. Even as the attendant publicists winced, Singh expertly dodged that one too: I don’t understand economics or anything, I am a daddy’s boy, he said.
The highlight of the evening was a fanboy one. A young man told Singh that he wanted to give him a gift, and walked to the stage empty-handed. Was he a deranged devotee, like the one in the YRF movie Fan? Or was he a plant? The man showed Singh the tattoo “Ranveerian” on his arm, and the star hugged him tight for what seemed to be several seconds. The journalists mock-groaned, the camera flashes went off, and the fan got a sumptuous kiss from Singh on his cheek.
A PhD thesis titled “Ranveer Singh and the Male Gaze” is surely being banged out somewhere in a film studies department. Singh’s comfort with his body and sexuality is not lost on his male fan base. Men have been known to try and kiss him at public events, and he is most unruffled. He is undeniably macho on and off the screen, but is also given to outré and gender-bending dressing. Singh has bared his well-sculpted and hairless chest in his films, endorsed a condom brand, and played a hyper-sexualised version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo. In Befikre, he strips down to red briefs with a strategically placed Playboy bunny, promoting an envious comment from Shah Rukh Khan on Karan Johar’s talk show Koffee with Karan (Khan said, he is either wearing padding or I’m a fan.)
Were there any bashful moments? “I am comfortable in my own body. I am quite besharam [shameless],” Singh said. “Physical nudity means nothing to me, what I am doing is letting you into a much more intimate part of me. I am letting you into my soul, and I cannot be more naked than that – physical nudity does not even begin to compare.”
The performativeness of the giddy actors on stage threatened to reach its apogee when Singh proceeded to imitate Aditya Chopra, only to cut himself off well in time. Pre-release media coverage is a crucial engine of the film industry, and enigma has no place in a world that cherishes glibness masquerading as frankness. Chopra is the exception to the rule. Notoriously camera-shy and averse to interviews, the filmmaker has locked himself away from public gaze. The phantom of Yash Raj Films is unlikely to give interviews about Befikre, and it will be left to Singh, Kapoor and the rest of the crew to speak on behalf of the last bastion of mystery in the movie business.
Singh pretended to imitate Chopra’s manner of speech – earnest, accompanied by slow blinking – but stopped before it got too hairy. He did reveal important details of the narrative style of Befikre: “It’s all about casual banter, humorous dialogue, we improvised a lot, there was lots of walking and talking and long takes, so there are hardly any cuts.”
After the press conference, male reporters pounced on Singh to take selfies. Many of them were wearing caps handed out by the publicists bearing the words “Who cares mon amour.” The leads disappeared into the night. Outside, the real world awaited – traffic, winter pollution, and concerns that the government is having its own “befikre” moment about the state of its citizenry.