DP: It is actually different in every way. It is different in terms of the character I am playing; it is different because of the kind of film it is; it is different because it is a period film; and it is different because of Sanjay sir’s vision and hunger to make this film. It is a very challenging film for an actor and it takes a lot out of you. There were days when you just felt like giving up; there were days where you were so exhausted that you just didn’t want to do it any more.
Of course, when we watched the trailer and everyone got goosebumps, it was overwhelming and it reminded one of all the hard work and energy we had put into the movie. Everything came back in a flash… all the arguments, all the disagreements, all the crying… it all comes back and you feel choked. Everything you probably thought while shooting – I don’t want to do this film, I want to give up or I am never going to work with him again – suddenly vanishes. You feel recharged and ready to work with him again because of what you finally see on the screen.
RS: But, literally, haan… blood, sweat and tears. Khoon bhi nikla, pasine bhi choot gaye, tears also. There was blood, sweat and tears for so many people.
DP: (Cuts in) Broken bones too!
RS: Yes, broken bones. I mean, what haven’t we done, yaar?
BOI: And you shot for over 250 days.
RS: It didn’t feel like that as the process was so immersive, so all-consuming that you feel as if nothing else existed. I was training from 5am to 7am, learning to use a bow and arrow, horse-riding or sword fighting. We would shoot from 7am to 7pm, and train again from 7pm to 9pm. Training and shooting simultaneously was all-consuming. For 12 hours on the sets, his (Bhansali) creativity keeps evolving, he keeps improvising the scene, designing it differently and changing lines. You have to keep up with him, which means you have to be on your toes.
Between shots, you are either learning your lines or offering inputs because he is very collaborative and is always asking you questions. It is not like you’re waiting, off camera, while the shot is being set up for four hours. You are fully immersed. During those 12 hours, you are all about that (film). In the past year, every other aspect of life took a back seat but for a good reason. I mean, look at the trailer, I was blown away when I saw it on the big screen.
DP: More than 200 days of shooting makes you wonder how much you can give. Because it is so consuming that, after a point, there is a fear of exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, mental exhaustion, because you have to submit and give so much every day, to every scene, over one and a half years. And he (Bhansali) is not easily satisfied. Never mind satisfied, he always demands more than 100 per cent. There is no… Chalo, ho jaayega, nothing is upar upar se or a chalta hai attitude. It makes you wonder whether, emotionally, you will be able to give what he is demanding of you due to the sheer duration of shooting.
BOI: Ranveer, what was it like for you… the action, the physicality of it all, the emotional intensity that Deepika spoke of, being a period film. What was the scariest part for you?
RS: Some of the emotionally charged scenes. It was very daunting to listen to those scenes even at the narration level. Your instinctive reaction is, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to approach this scene?’ There are points in this character’s life that are very difficult, so you don’t know what it is going to be like. Those points in one’s life are very daunting. The climax gave me sleepless nights for an entire year! I would keep asking Bhansali questions and he would tell me, ‘You will do it (Laughs).’
Some of those scenes are part of an emotional memory that you tap into from your own life. You have to go back deep into your soul, to once again feel the way you did at that time. If you haven’t experienced anything like that, you have to rely on your imagination. And, amid all of that, we had to keep up with Mr Bhansali, who is like a charged-up bunny on the sets!
As soon as he arrives on the sets, his ADs, actors and technicians begin chasing him, anxious to be given instructions and information. That is Mr Bhansali’s creative process and it is hard to keep up, especially when there are difficult scenes to perform. Those emotional scenes were very daunting. I wonder how they have turned out because I haven’t yet watched the entire film!
BOI: Was it easier doing this film as you had worked with Bhansali before?
RS: Yes, it is easier because you are familiar with the man’s creative process. You have to go in, every morning, like a blank canvas; you can’t decide beforehand how you will execute a scene because everything is going to change while shooting. Sometimes, a six-page scene becomes a one-page scene or one sentence can become a monologue. You sleep araam se, and you need a minimum eight hours of sleep to function on Mr Bhansali’s set.
DP: He is one of the few actors from this generation who so completely transforms himself into the character he is playing that there is no trace of himself in the character. When I watch Dil Dhadkane Do, I see Kabir; when I watch Band Baaja Baaraat, I see Bitoo Sharma. Just 5 or 10 minutes into the film, you are invested in the character he is playing. He is one of the few actors I have worked with who transforms himself into the character, even physically, to suit the character he is playing. I think in Ram-Leela, he was a little unsure of himself but, with Bajirao, he has more control over what he is doing.
RS: Kitni meethi baatein karti hai!!! (Laughs)
BOI: Tell us about the night after your first narration and the feeling of being part of a dream that Bhansali had harboured for 12 years. Was it a joint narration or an individual one?
DP: It was not a joint narration.
RS: I was given the narration in his office. After I emerged, he was there, pacing up and down, waiting for me. As soon as he saw me, he was, like, ‘Tell me!’ All I did was give him a big hug because, after listening to such a powerful story, you can get very emotional. We went out on his terrace and spoke for two hours about the film, about the canvas and how we were going to shoot, what he saw in the character and what I felt. It is important for a director like him to know what his actor feels, the instinctive first reaction after hearing the narration. We spent a long time on the terrace just talking, with me doing most of the talking, reacting to what I had heard. It is a timeless story, you can make this film in any decade and at any time and it will be just as powerful and emotionally charged. The emotions are universal, the story is timeless and he has a very high-octane approach.
DP: I knew we had something very special but I did not want to overthink it as I didn’t want to weigh myself down by making myself realise the enormity of what I was getting into. I didn’t want to let something like that affect my performance. I wanted to treat it like any other film and, just because of the scale, it did not mean I was going to do any extra acting in Bajirao Mastani, just because it was Bajirao Mastani. I was not going to conserve my energy in one film and do something extra in Bajirao just because of the scale.
I give all I have to every film I do. The scale and other elements are the director’s job. I don’t build things up in my mind and treat any film differently from my other films. To my mind, all my films are equally big.
BOI: The moment you step in, the movie becomes big.
DP: Of course, it is special but I don’t want to build it up in my own mind. I know that if Sanjay sir is working with me for the second time, back to back, there is something in there. I don’t want to create pressure for myself by telling myself, ‘You know what, Deepika, this is a really big film and you have to give this your all.’ I don’t want to do that to myself. I may not be able to perform well if I put that kind of pressure on myself. I would rather just treat it like any other film and let the magic happen, when it has to happen, if it has to happen.
RS: No, I will try that. (Laughs). Well, whether it is a film that has a smaller canvas, scale, mounting or a massive one like Bajirao Mastani, from an actor’s point of view, you have to give it 110 per cent every single time. For me, that also applies to whether the film is fully mainstream or not. But my process, my approach, is very different for each character, For instance, I don’t usually have to prep as much as much I did for Bajirao Mastani. For Dil Dhadkane Do, it was a much more conversational, candid, easy breezy kind of film but that didn’t mean I didn’t put my best foot forward. It was just physically and emotionally less demanding than Bajirao Mastani.
After this film, I am going to do another light romance, Befikre, for which even the shooting experience is different. So, if Dil Dhadkane Do felt like we were on a family vacation, there were times in Bajirao Mastani when I felt I was on a battlefield and times when I felt I was losing my mind. Even Mr Bhansali said to me, ‘You are turning into a lunatic, my child.’ So I get very immersed and I totally adapt to the genre.