Ranveer Singh: Making Femininity Manly Again

Bollywood

Ranveer Singh: Making Femininity Manly Again

Illustration: Akshita Monga

It’s not often that a celebrity shaadi comes around where everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what the male half of the equation will be wearing. At the plebeian weddings we attend, the groom is only expected to be bathed, and dressed in a coordinating sherwani or suit, so he can provide a suitable backdrop for the bride’s richly embroidered lehengas and fairytale gowns. But with Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, we are no longer be satisfied with the bare minimum from the man.

Deepika, of course, is both a former model and a goddess on earth, capable of making  you buy anything she wears in the desperate hope that you might somehow look a smidge as good as she does. Still, there is little debate as to which half of the Bollywood power couple is the fashionista. Last October’s striking Vogue cover, featuring Ranveer and Victoria’s Secret model Sara Sampaio, put the matter to rest once and for all. In what Vogue dubbed the “#blurredlines” edition, Sampaio wears a floral skirt and bikini top, while Ranveer, sitting behind her, is resplendent in a matching kimono dress and his signature handlebar moustache.

It’s not new territory for Ranveer, who has frequently worn traditionally feminine garb, from skirts to patialas. He embraces beauty in a way that few men dare, and in an industry whose nepotistic status quo rarely faces a challenge, Ranveer flaunts his outsider credentials with eccentric, eye-catching fashion choices. His Chaplinesque bowler hat and moustache have by now become symbolic – just like his leonine beard, brightly patterned pant-suits, kajal-lined eyes, and even his brief tryst with the much-maligned manbun.

There is little debate as to which half of the Bollywood power couple is the fashionista.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for DIFF

Each look, however experimental, feels authentic, because the hang-up of gender never seems to cloud Ranveer’s conception of his own masculinity.

In the last season of Koffee with Karan, Ranveer was a guest opposite Bollywood’s quintessential action hero: the manliest man of them all, Akshay Kumar. Dressed in an eye-popping floral-and-leopard print jacket, Ranveer cuddled up to him, all while expressing his deep respect and love for Akshay “sir”, praising him as a role model.

Moments later, Ranveer was casually flirting with host Karan Johar, known for having one foot in the closet, without a trace of self-consciousness – the same quality that is so refreshing when he waxes poetic about his romance with Deepika. Ranveer even insisted that his flamboyant, expensive clothes were hand-me-downs from Karan, who apparently buys them and then feels too embarrassed to wear such outlandish outfits.

How many Indian men can so lightly embody the many contradictions of Ranveer Singh? In a culture where gender is rigidly defined and hardly ever up for debate, Ranveer’s brand of masculinity is both unique and above question. His unabashed affection for his wife, and the attention he lavishes on her publicly, might be seen as weakness on another man. His ardent support for her career belies any accusations that he feels inferior with a woman who, when they began dating, was by far the bigger star. In our determinedly binary society, his love of lehengas on anyone else might have garnered epithets of “sissy” or “hijra”. But then, as his infamous t-shirt at the 2015 GQ Awards once declared, Ranveer always makes one thing abundantly clear: he’s got no fucks to give.

Each look, however experimental, feels authentic, because the hang-up of gender never seems to cloud Ranveer’s conception of his own masculinity.

Ranveer leaves you with no opportunity to emasculate or censure him, no room to accuse him of seeking attention or flouting tradition. He has seen your small-minded criticism before you made it, and has raised you a romper and a pair of gladiator sandals. With joy rather than arrogance or anger, Ranveer has said, loud and clear, that he has no time to conform to the whims of a sexist society.

Ranveer has frequently worn traditionally feminine garb, from skirts to patialas.

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for DIFF

Paradoxically, in doing so Ranveer has become the ultimate mard – a guy who knows himself and makes his own decisions from a place of such security, that to then express himself is second nature. So genuinely masculine is Ranveer, that he rejects outright the shame and stigma attached to any supposed performance of femininity, as well as the idea that he is feminine at all. Instead, he insists on being Ranveer Singh: a persona far too large to be contained in a box marked “M” or “F”.

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