Known for making people laugh their hearts out with his comedy, mimicry, and sometimes just his presence, Sunil Grover is now breaking free from his funny image to play one of those love-to-hate reel personalities, and winning hearts all over again.
When one starts out in showbiz, One works hard to build an image, and as years pass by, one builds on that image. Only a handful dare to break away from that image, and succeed in doing something totally diverse. Sunil Grover, known for his comedic characters, Gutthi and Dr Mashoor Gulati, recently portrayed an intense character in Amazon Prime Video’s Tandav. His character, Gurpal, was cold, sinister, and very effective.
The actor is currently revelling in a sea of compliments. Some of those compliments say, “Pehle hassa rahe the. Ab darra rahe ho.” (You made us laugh before, but you are scaring us, now).
When director-producer Ali Abbas Zafar approached Grover for Gurpal’s role, Grover was not entirely sure of saying yes. “I was scared, and that is not because I won’t be able to portray the role, but given my comedic image, I didn’t want people to laugh during an intense scene. Security guards at the airport have often told me, “Sir, aapko dekh kar hassi aa hi jaati hai“. You have the kind of face that makes us laugh,” he says, asserting, “I had never thought of a character like Gurpal. One fine day, Ali Sir called me to his office, and I thought we would chit-chat to catch up, but he offered me Tandav. I immensely enjoyed portraying Gurpal’s character because it was so powerful. I could feel that power while performing. It was Ali Sir’s faith in me that made this character work. Gurpal does all sorts of immoral things, thinking he’s just doing his job.”
Every father likes to be his child’s hero. Grover often shares articles raving about his performances to impress his son, Mohan. Did Mohan and his friends see Tandav? Grover laughs and says, “Mohan hasn’t seen the show, yet. I don’t think it’s age-appropriate for him. I did show him a couple of scenes. His friends told him that their parents liked the show. Many people have told me that I should do more roles like these. Kids these days are very smart. Mohan knows I’m just doing my job. Whether it’s portraying a character in drag or an intense role like Gurpal, I play different roles to show my versatility,” he explains.
How can any conversation with Grover be complete without the mention of Comedy Nights with Kapil? The two of them created history together. There has been
a lot of press since their fallout. Has he seen the show after he left? “I’ve seen only a few snippets on social media. One Sunday, while surfing channels, I watched one of my episodes. Otherwise, I’ve not seen much,” he matter-of-factly says.
Grover has recently completed 10 years in television and films. Looking back, he feels it has been a beautiful journey. He says, “When I moved to Mumbai, I thought work would flow in. I lived with my friend at his Juhu apartment, and I partied for an entire year. When I ran out of money, I had to move out from Juhu to Goregaon East, and that is when I began working. I didn’t even know that being a voiceover artist was a job. I did voice overs for five to seven years. I worked in radio, and did a couple of films before television happened in a big way.”
Today, people know of Grover’s excellent comedic performances, though only a few know that he has
a Master’s degree in Indian Theatre from Punjab University. He has played many intense characters from classic tragedies, like Hamlet and Oedipus, on stage. His brush with comedy happened when he worked with the late legendary satirist Jaspal Bhatti. “I hail from a small town, and the exposure was very limited at the time. It was because of Jaspal Sir that I got a lot of exposure. I got to travel extensively, and learnt to form sentences and punch lines while enacting comedy roles,” he recalls.
Mimicry is one of Grover’s strengths. He has mimicked various celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan and Kapil Dev, and usually in their presence, making it a precarious situation sometimes. Grover clarifies, “Mimicry is the best form of flattery, and you mimic only well-known personalities. So, one needs to gauge the situation. Personally, I love self-deprecating humour. But some people can take a joke, and some can’t. For instance, when I mimicked Kapil Dev, he really liked it. The important thing is if you are not saying anything offensive, then people don’t mind. Unfortunately, I have been in situations where it was not well received, but that is the risk you take.”
Everything has its pros and cons, and so does being famous. One of the downsides of being famous is you are always in the public eye. A lot is at stake, so you need to be cautious with your actions and comments. Grover explains, “The problem is that people think they are experts. If you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the situation, refrain from sharing your two bits. When I’m uncertain about something, I refrain from saying anything. But if I’m 100 per cent sure, I will voice my opinion, but I will also try and make sure that I don’t hurt anyone in the process.”
One of the notable films that Grover has been a part of, was Ghajini. He played Sampat, who Kalpana (Asin’s character) hires to impersonate Sanjay Singhania (Aamir’s character). The way Sunil holds his own before a seasoned actor like Khan displays his confidence in his acting skills. Reminiscing that specific scene, Grover says, “Aamir Khan is a massive star. It was the character Sampat’s confidence that shines in that scene. I’m most comfortable when I’m playing a character because, at the moment, I have no inhibitions. Otherwise, I’m
an extremely shy person who is not very vocal about his feelings.”
People who portray dramatic or serious roles are considered real actors. In contrast, actors who portray comedic roles don’t get the same respect. Commenting on this, Grover says, “People need to go and check
a comedian’s bank balance (laughs). They would understand the kind of acceptance we receive from
the audience. Comedy is an art form. Comedic timing and awareness are talents that comedians possess,
that helps them entertain the audience. I genuinely feel that making people laugh is bhalaayi ka kaam. You are reducing the viewer’s stress. I think people’s perception of comedians will change over time. One of the most significant changes I’ve seen is the variety of roles
Sunil Grover is wrapping up his upcoming project, Sunflower. The film is a blend of comedy and crime. Henceforth, he will only take on roles that give him joy and satisfaction as an artist. And we think he’s on the right track with that already.