‘Hansal ji wanted to see the love in my eyes’

15 May,2022 07:31 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Phorum Pandya

Chef and television host Ranveer Brar on his acting debut as a gay man in the Hansal Mehta-directed short for the Mumbai chapter of US hit series, Modern Love

Chef and television host Ranveer Brar says before this, he was asked to play the villian in South Indian films. Pics/Atul Kamble

"This is not the first role I have been offered," Ranveer Brar says when we wonder when exactly did he decide he would become a celebrity of a different sort. "But most of them were for South Indian films. I was asked to play the stereotypical villain. I think I look khadoos."

We are meeting the chef at his Goregaon studio a day before the local chapter of original American anthology, Modern Love, releases on Amazon Prime Video. One of the six short stories is titled Baai and directed by Hansal Mehta. Brar plays the gay love interest of Pratik Gandhi. The short tells the story of Manzu (Gandhi), a man who belongs to a conservative household, and his struggle to tell his grandmother his truth.

Dressed in a quirky cartoon strip shirt and hair on point, Brar seems to have rolled out of bed but is ever ready to face the camera. His wide smile and energy gets the studio boys flitting around, setting up the kitchen with a samovar, pots, pans and achar barnis. His bartan stash is to envy. Brar is finicky about the lighting and quick to realise that the colour temperature of the soft box light needs adjusting so that it falls equally on his face.

We sit to chat over chai-bun-maska and he fills us in on how this happened. Food is the common denominator, of course. Brar got a call from casting director Mukesh Chhabra*s office, requesting an audition for Mehta. "Hansalji and his penchant for food is well known; he is the one who started Khana Khazana with chef Sanjeev Kapoor. So, we were acquainted earlier."

He was given an easy piece for the audition, with hardly any dialogue. "The powerful delivery was by the mother [Mansi Joshi Roy] who confesses to not understanding the culture where love can cross boundaries, and how she feels there is only one way of looking at love. "All I had to do was, ‘hmmm* and ‘haan*. I was sold," he remembers.

Once Brar gave his nod, he expected a call for a workshop or script reading. When neither happened, he panicked. "This meant Hansal ji expected the world from me. ‘Teri ankhon mein kuch hai. That is all that matters,* he told me."

What Brar had to work on was curtail projecting himself, which is usually what he does when he speaks to his audience on social media or his YouTube channel. "I am speaking to my audience, and so, I project myself. That part had to be toned down. Interestingly, the parts where I was not donning a chef coat and cooking, came easier. When I would overdo the chef role, Hansal ji would say, ‘Namak jaise ban jao, you need it but you can*t overuse it*."

On day one, the scenes were most uncomfortable, which Brar says felt like being thrown in the deep pool. He admits he didn*t give much thought to the fact that he was playing a queer man. "He explained that I didn*t need to be a certain way to portray the character. I could think I was expressing love to a girl if I so wanted. He just wanted to see the love in my eyes," says Brar, who calls himself a hopeless romantic off camera. "Love should be unconditional and I don*t like compartmentalising it. Love goes wrong when you sketch a boundary around it. This concept makes me a misfit sometimes. For me, love is what I felt at Rumi*s tomb in Konya. How do I explain it? So, I keep it in a place inside," he says, tapping his heart.

That he was playing the character if a chef helped, day in and out because he cannot fake his love for cooking and food. "Modern Love is based on stories of love, and not on love stories; that sort of appealed to me. If you call me a method actor, I have been practicing for 25 years!"

In 2017, Brar signed up for a theatre workshop in Pondicherry by AdiShakti. Having been a face on camera by then, he wanted to use the learnings to let go of inhibitions. "I realised that I was being the same guy in front of the camera with my recipes, day in day out. It was stifling me. The workshop helped me challenge my inhibitions. Now, I can break into a song on camera or crack silly jokes. It is the conditioning that guards our fears. We have so many character within us; we only have to shed the fear of playing them."

Now that the series is set to release, he can go back to doing what he does best: A recipe-driven series featuring heirloom dishes from across the country is on the anvil. "In the lockdown, I learnt that if people connect to a dish, they will find a way to cook it. I want to present dishes I believe the audience needs to interact with. Soon, I will also launch an online learning course for students to hone their cooking skills," says Brar, who becomes a bit pensive as we speak about the future.

"Although I am a guy who goes with the flow, the one thing I am sure about is that I*ll move on from this public life at a time I decide, earlier than expected and gracefully while having given back most of what I have taken. My relationship with food is everlasting, but I think we all need to decide when we can reach a point when we switch off our phones for as long as we want. God has been kind and it*s fair that I pass down the kindness instead of holding onto it longer than
I should."

But for now, all he can think about is how the audience will react to his first shot at acting. "It would be good to be known as an actor who can act, instead of a chef who can act."

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