The Seductive Villainy of Ranveer Singh’s Khilji

Bollywood

The Seductive Villainy of Ranveer Singh’s Khilji

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

“K

itne achhe ho tum. Kitne achhe hai tumhare usool,” Ranveer Singh, as Alauddin Khilji, tells Maharaja Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) when the former attempts to school him in the language of the Rajputana, that prevents him from attacking Khilji in Padmaavat. To Khilji, the Rajput values seem utterly stupid – and it’s almost as if he’s reading the audience’s mind – and Ranveer’s mocking tone drives home that sentiment in a way that cements the stage for one of Bollywood’s most electrifying villains.

On the surface, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Alauddin Khilji, the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, is an out-and-out psychopath; a manic-obsessive ruler fond of “naayab” possessions. The film paints him as a one-note barbaric ruler who wages a deadly and almost costly war blinded by his lust for a woman he has never seen, forgetting to acknowledge his lofty expansionist desires as probable cause. Besides the obvious bastardisation of his appearance, Bhansali’s unabashed “good Hindus, bad Muslims” narrative makes it obvious that Khilji is worthy of no sympathy or curiosity.

Except, in the hands of Ranveer Singh, it has the opposite effect.

In a film that is populated by a cardboard Shahid Kapoor who walks around with all the frustration of a Rajput ruler asked to perennially suck his stomach in, saddled with bland dialogue about Rajput valour, and a lacklustre Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh’s electrifying performance, laying bare the infinite layers of Khilji shines the brightest. Ranveer owns the role of the wild-haired, bare-chested, and soot-faced Muslim ruler with aplomb, infusing his catwalk stride and absolute lack of conscience with a kind of humanity that’s otherwise missing in Padmaavat. The film might as well have been called “Khilji” because Ranveer inhabits an evil that has the power to leave the valour of the Rajputs inadequate.

This is most evident in a vulnerable scene where he prods Malik Kafur into telling him whether the lines in his hand have the prospect of love. In that brief scene, Ranveer does the unthinkable; evoke uninhibited empathy for a Muslim ruler who stands outside his camp all night with eyes fixated at the door of the fort to be the first one to see Rani Padmavati.

Ranveer Singh

Padmaavat might as well have been called “Khilji” because Ranveer inhabits an evil that has the power to leave the valour of the Rajputs inadequate.

Image credit: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures

Just like Khilji, his insecurities, his dreams, and violence dominate the length and breadth of Padmaavat, Ranveer Singh has commanded a star presence hitherto unseen in Bollywood. The road from actor to celebrity to star is a difficult one to traverse (cc: Abhishek Bachchan), but Ranveer has steamrolled through it while standing atop a tank and firing an AK-47. He’s moved from Band Baaja Baaraat to Lootera to Bajirao Mastani at the speed of the virality of his hair ruffle in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, establishing himself as a bankable star in the post-Khan era, with the rare ability to guarantee a stellar opening.

Ranveer and his complete disregard for decorum when he’s talking about fucking or kissing on screen makes the rest of the Bollywood brigade look like a bunch of sanctimonious pricks. “I fucked around a lot until I was 26… but I love being in a relationship. It’s the best thing ever,” he said in an interview. “Motherfucker! I must be growing up,” he declared to a world in which Ranbir Kapoor won’t even acknowledge the existence of a relationship and Salman is an eternal virgin.

It’s no wonder then that the web, forever in search of a non-mainstream pin-up boy, happily embedded him in public imagination as a “star” with boyish eclecticism and roving references. Ranveer has always projected himself as a charismatic actor ready to light up the box office, and now, the purveyors of information have started singing his song. In addition, his ability to bring in torrents of energy sets him in stark contrast to the lethargy of Ranbir Kapoor, or the constant sleepiness that Arjun Kapoor induces in audiences, or whatever the fuck Shahid wants you to feel. He has become a dreamy dick: Never ever saying no and always throbbing frantically with hope.

Just like Khilji, his insecurities and violence dominate the length and breadth of Padmaavat, Ranveer Singh has commanded a star presence hitherto unseen in Bollywood.

Add to this, his affability and charm which are inclusive of a slum-dweller in Dharavi and a 20-year-old driving a Mercedes in Lutyens’ Delhi. Ranveer has become the funeral pyre where all clichés go to die. Perfect projections with box-office success have made Ranveer India’s first star boy: The kind of dude who would look at an unscalable mountain, make sure someone is around to watch, and then tell the mountain, “I’m Ranveer Singh, bitch,” and start climbing toward its peak with his bare hands and no harness.

In a way, Khilji demands the same kind of over-the-top craziness that Ranveer Singh’s persona is all too familiar with. It’s precisely why Khilji, despite being the most un-Bhansali character ever, ends up being the one you can’t take your eyes off of in Padmaavat.

Ranveer’s fire is perfectly in sync with that of the Muslim ruler who tears pages of history because it doesn’t feature his name. In the actor’s case, he’s too busy making his own.

With inputs from Parth Arora.

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