Marketing gurus say that to really make the news today, you need to have spawned a few memes about yourself. Naked photos of actor Ranveer Singh, published about two weeks ago in Paper, sparked much cheer: “Since you thought his fashion sense was ‘obscene’, look at him now”, or “Mumbaikars when they meet in Delhi during the summer”. , or even Myntra’s “Fixed It” campaign turning glitzy flowers onto her buff body.
In today’s India, unfortunately, you haven’t really made the news unless you’ve offended someone’s sensibilities and invited an FIR. Yes, that’s what you get for showing off your soul and a bit of your fabulously chiseled butt. Perhaps Singh knew he would have a touch of controversy. But I suspect he would do it anyway.
Singh is truly a socio-cultural study of what it means to be a successful young actor in the biggest film industry in the world. He arrived as a newcomer, with no famous last name or godfather, and landed at the top of the pile with one of the most illustrious production houses, Yash Raj Films, backing him. With only a few movie releases, he became YRF’s goose. He turned Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bhansali Productions and Zoya Akhtar’s Tiger Baby into major production houses by producing blockbusters. Singh had grown bigger than Bollywood itself.
Singh understood the Instagram generation. He knew before all of us the power of digital media – where outrageous photos and videos would eclipse everything else – and gave us striking images. He used flashy fashion to arrest the viewer, provoke and tease. Its colors were mind-altering, its shapes flowing, and its accessories obnoxious, ensuring its imagery was everywhere. From his mannerisms to his methodology, Singh has made madness his schtick. He who owns the optics, owns the public. Soon, he went from town clown to artist king.
Singh’s fashion is as personal as it is political. Soon he begin to announce a new age man. In Bajirao Mastani, bald, mustachioed and with a brahmin’s tail, his hyper masculinity was combined with a feminine softness: flowing dhotis and diaphanous angrakhas, and as much jewelry as the female characters in the film.
It was also the year he started wearing skirts at public events – a lehenga with a bandhgala, to be precise – and brought camp attire into the mainstream. Its designer at the time, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, told me this: “In India, where patriarchy rules everything, women are the biggest victim. But we must not forget that many men are also victims of patriarchy. In traditional mixed families, the rules and roles were decided for the men. Men must not cry, must not show emotion, must not show weakness. Ranveer gives these men the courage to break free. Mukherjee said in 2015 that the way Singh dressed then would be the way men dressed a decade later. In 2018, Singh played a bisexual Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat. This is also the year the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality.
Singh’s personal life has also introduced us to the perfect partner. He is in absolute admiration for the beauty and talent of Deepika Padukone, a rarity in Bollywood where heroes have refused to acknowledge their girlfriends or hide their marriages for fear of losing female fans. Singh, as a zealous lover, was a new kind of sexy.
Nitasha Gaurav, her stylist and longtime friend, is in awe of her nude photos. “Look at him, he’s at the peak of his physical form – edgy, polished, perfect. Almost like one of those Olympian sportsmen you see in ancient Greek art,” she says. “He’s also immensely self-aware, he does not need the artifice of masculinity or imposed femininity. Clothes only enhance his being. And his “being” is to be a hero for women and queers. Clap while you squint, please.