Actor Ranveer Singh has said he felt pushed against the wall with the many roadblocks ahead of the release of Padmaavat and its long gestation period, a rage that propelled his portrayal of Alauddin Khilji in the film.
The film, which released on January 25 with multiple disclaimers following nationwide protests, found itself in trouble from the very beginning with its sets being vandalised twice in Rajasthan and Maharashtra last year.
"There was a lot of anxiety surrounding the shooting. Whatever untoward incident happened, it made me very, very angry. Ever since the first incident on the sets... I was raging from inside. But I chose not to act out in a destructive way. I channelled it and used it constructively. I put it into my performance," the actor said.
The much-debated film is already a blockbuster and Ranveer's portrayal of Khilji has been singled out for particular praise. More than happiness, however, Ranveer has said he feels a sense of relief. "Apart from what was happening, the actual shooting process was difficult due to the delays. I was shooting for more than 40 days straight, which is unheard of in a costume drama, especially on a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. It is draining at every level, physically mentally, emotionally."
In his previous collaborations with Bhansali, there would be a break every six to eight days so that the crew could recuperate but that was not the option this time. "My brain had turned into mush, my body had turned into pulp, I had no feeling in my muscles. I kept pushing but physically, I was breaking. But when you have your back against the wall, you need to keep digging deeper. It was the angst that kept me going."
Constantly being in character took its toll on Ranveer. The darkness of the character, he said, started to creep up on him, a feeling so intense that he lost touch with himself for a while. "I try to be as honest to my craft as I can possibly be. The dark person that Khilji was, I had to become that from the inside. I had to feel all those things and that can be unhealthy. The shooting process was non-stop. I would put on the make-up for two hours and shoot for 12-14 hours straight and repeat it the next day. I lost touch with myself. I realised that something was wrong. I had become uneasy, unstable. So I first confided in my mother and my best friend. They started spending time with me after the shoot. They brought me back to myself. I was lucky to have that kind of support."
While the release of Padmaavat was stalled by Rajput groups over the portrayal of queen Padmavati, post-release, the film has attracted criticism in certain quarters over the unidimensional portrayal of Khilji as an evil, imbalanced ruler, which some historians say is inaccurate.
Asked whether Khilji's extremism was over-hyped, Ranveer said he moulded himself to Bhansali's vision of the character. "As an actor, I need to be honest with the script. I used the script as my textbook. For the most part, I take my cues from what is written. The character that Mr Bhansali and Prakash Kapadia created, I tried to do the best I could with it. In fact, I wanted to make Khilji darker and even more of an extremist. Mr Bhansali really moulded me this time. In Bajirao, he allowed me to interpret but this time he was hands-on. I built on what was written and how he directed me."
The other criticism against the film is over the 'jauhar' (mass sati) scene towards the end, which many feel glorifies the practice. Actor Swara Bhasker has written a scathing letter to Bhansali criticising the scene. But Ranveer sidestepped the issue and said, "I got a message from Swara just yesterday. She loved my performance in the film. So..."
The actor, who has collaborated with Bhansali for the third time after Ram-Leela and Bajirao Mastani, said the praise for Padmaavat is sweeter as he was not sure Khilji would be accepted. "I feel like I am walking on clouds. There were enough people who were advising me to be careful. It is scary to take on a part like this. It is such a big risk that it can be your undoing. But I went with Mr Bhansali's conviction and gave my whole and soul to this part. I am just relieved that my risk has paid such dividends."
There is a running joke between them where he calls Bhansali (Martin) Scorsese to his (Robert) De Niro. "It is all in jest, we are not actually comparing but we joke about it. He is quite brutal when I am not getting a scene right and equally effusive with praise when I get it right. I have been his leading man in three back-to-back films. It is a big deal and like a major acquisition. He is very special and dear to me."