A few weeks ago, when an NRI bride turned up in a pair of Nike shorts and a choli for her wedding, Ranveer Singh turned into a popular meme on Indian Twitter. No, there's no typo in the preceding sentence. In fact, if you spend your days and nights trawling social media, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Ranveer Singh has become synonymous with everything that doesn't fit into the conventional, familiar spectacles of fashion in India.
When I interviewed Ranveer — still relatively new to Bollywood then — several years ago, I had not expected in the least that that he'd stun the fashion police and laymen alike, and turn out to be the fashion wild child that Bollywood hasn't witnessed in very, very long.
You can't imagine that being "dressed like a condom" could ever mean good things for a person, but Ranveer Singh is no longer someone you can apply these rules to.
In 2012, the Ranveer I met was floppy-haired, clean-shaven, and came for the interview dressed in tatty old jeans, a simple t-shirt and chappals. At the time, I had also not imagined that Bollywood, with its obsession with perfect grooming and safe styling would produce someone who would go on to so cheekily dismantle fashion's many mores. Ranveer Singh has the unique distinction of being thoroughly unfashionable on more than a few occasions, and yet being one of our most stylish.
In an industry where leading men anxiously cling to traditional ideas of masculinity, Ranveer has worn shiny shirts, crazy prints, florals, skirts, dhoti pants, and outfits that even the most accomplished fashion bloggers struggle to find names for or put in a box. Also, when was the last time we saw a leading male Bollywood star sporting kohl-lined eyes at a public event?
When you type 'Ranveer Singh' and 'fashion' into Google, you come across listicle after listicle on his "crazy", "whacky", "shocking" sartorial choices. You can't imagine a scenario where being "dressed like a condom" could ever mean good things for a person, but Ranveer Singh is no longer someone you can apply these rules to.
Ranveer Singh and his clothes, both on and off the red carpet, have provided fodder for more Internet jokes than any one person should be credited for, and kept the fashion police in business, single-handedly. And yet, like his t-shirt at GQs Best Dressed event in 2015 said, he has 'No Fucks To Give'. Or maybe he does, and the chaos that he seems to leave in his wake is all a part of a carefully orchestrated exercise in branding and image management.
Style expert and long-time fashion journalist Varun Rana, certainly thinks so. "We need to get rid of this notion that there is something called personal style for celebrities. There isn't. It's a decision — who do I want to be perceived as? And then there is a battery of stylists doing what needs to be done to reinforce that story."
Pablo Chaterji, editor of Man's World, agrees. "Ranveer Singh is a construct. He knows that the more out there he is, the more press he is going to get. It helps him a lot that none of his peers are doing anything remotely similar. It helps him stand out even more."
But Ranveer's stylist of more than five years, Nitasha Gaurav, vehemently disagrees. "If you look at Ranveer's childhood photos, he was a very flamboyant child. What we see him doing now is not him trying to be something he's not; it's him coming into his own. And him enjoying himself with his clothes. If that makes people take notice, good for him."
Even if it's a construct, it seems to be a particularly intelligent one. How often do you see a person's fashion so in sync with his style? But opinions are divided on this front as well. Nitasha, for one, believes that Ranveer's personality is what makes his style work for him. "Fundamentally, Ranveer is not someone who toes the line. He's not a people-pleaser. And he understands that no matter what you wear, people will have an opinion and you'll be forced to hear everyone's opinion. But at the end of the day, it's just that, an opinion. For him, the most important thing is having fun with his clothes."
He can't be wearing a tophat and pyjamas and sitting quietly in a coffee shop. He has no choice now but to perform to the image.
Pablo, on the other hand, thinks his personality and fashion are co-dependent. "I don't think he'd either be dressing this way, or bouncing off walls, if it wasn't for the image he's created for himself. It drives both his behaviour and his fashion choices. They feed off of each other. The more outlandish his "costume", his behaviour has to justify it. He can't be wearing a top hat and pyjamas and sitting quietly in a coffee shop. He has no choice now but to perform to the image."
Celebrity stylist, Ami Patel, treads the middle path. "I'm sure he's evolved, both fashion-wise as well as a person," she says. "Why not? Your personality has to change after you become a star. And even if he wasn't like this always, what matters is what he is now. He's created an image, cultivated it and it's a part of him. When you see Ranveer wear these clothes, he doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. You just go "wow", because only he could have pulled it off."
The whole blurring of gender lines, wearing skirts... It seemed very carefully timed to create ripples because feminism is a hot topic. I find it very deliberate and put together.
Varun, however, finds Ranveer's anti-fashion approach bordering on tokenism. "There are two kinds of celebrities: the Lady Gagas and the Taylor Swifts. No matter what Lady Gaga wears, her personality — who she is, what her art stands for, her opinions — they will always overpower her clothes. She will always be an iconoclast, no matter what she wears. Which is why, only a Lady Gaga can wear a meat, or a blown up condom dress. And then there are the Taylor Swifts, whose personalities are subservient to their clothes. Like her sweet, innocent, good girl image in the past, and her sheer dresses now to project a sexier image."
And Ranveer Singh is.... "A Taylor Swift," says Varun. "The whole blurring of gender lines, wearing skirts... It seemed very carefully timed to create ripples because feminism is a hot topic. There's nothing in his body of work or personality that suggests any of it is innate or natural. To me, it feels very micromanaged. I find it very deliberate and put together. It looks mad because nobody else is doing it. It is conspicuous because of lack of comparison. There is no consistency, except in the madness," he says. "But it works for him."
Everyone agrees that Ranveer has an important place to occupy for the sheer courage of choice.
How it works is difficult to define, though. It might get him the publicity and keeps him a constant point of conversation, but Ranveer finds himself on an awful number of worst dressed lists. The Internet is a vicious place and he seems to have as many hits and misses. And yet, everyone agrees that Ranveer has an important place to occupy for the sheer courage of choice. His disruption may not always be appreciated, but the world of fashion is a better place for it.
"He's definitely breaking through the clutter. His fashion might not be for everyone, but at least it's not boring," laughs Pablo.
"Ranveer's style creates a very strong visual memory of him for people of Ranveer. I wouldn't say it's negative or positive, but it's in a space where it stuns you. It leaves a mark," says Ami.
"I may not find it in the best of fashion taste, but at least it's interesting. It helps get a certain message across to his wide, wide following, that there is another way of dressing," says Varun. "Men's fashion is not particularly experimental. But he's pushing boundaries by showing that you can explore colour, print and pattern. And you can have some sort of personality injected into the way you choose to wear things or what you choose to wear."
Ranveer doesn't understand why clothes have a gender. When I put him in skirts, his only concern is how he feels in it.
But Nitasha has the final word on this. "When you ask people what's your style, everyone will say clichéd things like "be true to yourself" and "wear clothes you're actually comfortable in". But Ranveer is one of those few people who live by it. He marches to his own beat. I have never looked for a trend to put on him. Like me, he doesn't understand why clothes have a gender. So when I put him in skirts, his only concern is how he feels in it. He doesn't think of whether it makes him less of a man. Or even more of a man. There have been so many times when I've bought things from him from the women's section. And that's okay with him."
For every opinion, there is a countering one with equal merit. One could say that it would be impossible to carry on the way he has for so long without the strength of conviction. And one could play the devil's advocate and say that if you keep doing something long enough and become known for it, you become slave to it anyway. But if 'No Fucks To Give' is Ranveer's story and he's sticking to it, he's definitely saying it in a great way.