Sunil Grover

Sunil Grover (right) with Salman Khan in a still from “Bharat” in which he plays a lifelong companion to Khan. Grover told India-West that Salman Khan made him feel like a family member on the sets. (photo provided)

MUMBAI—He’s not the typical funnyman, because he’s not just a funnyman. In the movies, he’s played radically different roles – the focused havaldar (cop) in “Gabbar…Is Back,” the gray parent in “Baaghi,” and now “Bharat.”

However, Sunil Grover’s prime identity is of the comic who played both Dr. Gulati and the woman Gutthi in “Comedy Nights With Kapil.” And Grover’s super-comfortable in all his avatars. “I feel I am lucky that I have been able to experience everything, for such experience enriches you both as a human being and actor,” he told India-West. “If you do not experience all this, how can you be fulfilled, and how can you see maturity in my work?”

His latest release, “Bharat,” in which he plays a lifelong companion to hero Salman Khan, was a new kind of journey, and like all of Grover’s life, totally unplanned. As he put it, “When I came to Mumbai after doing my Masters in Drama from Chandigarh, I only wanted to see myself on screen. I had no clue where I was going, and what would happen, but I never lacked in confidence.”

Obviously, Grover would love to do different roles, even something he has not imagined or thought of until now. Said the actor, “I could never believe that I am going to work with Salman Khan in 'Bharat,' whose big fan I have been. And he made me so comfortable because I was so nervous for the first two or three days. Atul Agnihotri, the producer and Ali Abbas Zafar, the director, and Salman, in fact, made me feel like a family member. And Salman has a big family! I have enjoyed doing this film so much.”

Grover thanks his filmmakers for seeing him differently when his identity was that of a comic on Sharma’s show. “Shabinaa-ji (producer Shabina Khan) and Krish (director) offered me the ‘Gabbar…Is Back’ role, and I am thankful to them as well as the audience for accepting me in it. The same is true for my other films.”

Grover opines that since an actor gets to play diverse characters in movies, he believes in doing every role with the same amount of dedication. “People ask me how my nuances were perfectly feminine as Gutthi, but for me, it was just another character that I had to do well. She just happened to be a woman. You have to keep working, learning on the job, and you can do it.”

Grover firmly believes that the female sex is stronger than the male. “A woman is a multi-tasker, and it was a privilege to play one!” he declared. “It is a mother that shapes every child. My mom would tell me, ‘You have to make the family proud of you, you have to work hard, be the best in what you do!’ and somewhere, my brain was programmed towards that.”

Grover’s secret is his passion for observation. “The first thing you told me when we were introduced is that you had to leave for a meeting that had already been planned before my interview was set up,” he told me. “I could now see the relief in you that you could get to meet me before the time came to leave. Then look at that girl on her mobile phone. I have been observing her for a while now, even as I talk to you. Look at her expression and body language, and you realize it’s a casual conversation with a friend. She is certainly not talking to either her boss or parents!”

Grover loves doing all these things. “It’s like a video game for me!” he smiled. “I am not judgmental about the people I observe, for everyone has his own story. But I keep guessing about them, and what must be going on in their minds. And to a good extent, most of my observations are subconscious, for then they run at a deeper level and become more enjoyable! If it is done too calculatedly, it tends to be superficial.”

It is said that the best comedians are always serious people. Grover is a mix of both, as we have seen when he was cracking jokes for a channel interview. What is he like? “I don’t know so much, sir!” he told me humbly. “Every person has his own mechanism. Some comedians are physical, others tell their own story, some tell others’ stories, and for a few it may be something else. But all that is fine, because individual expression has to be there.”

Grover’s comic touch continues to hold sway through his varied repertoire. Dos he somewhere resent the limited branding? “No. Mera ghar chalta hai because of it, and I get the chance to make so many people smile,” he replied simply. “Maybe God has given me a duty to de-stress people!”

Having covered the three mediums of theater, television and films, does he need ideals among actors at whom to look up? “I don’t think so!” he mused. “I learn from all; I admire all. But as an actor, you have to listen to yourself, make sure there is no influence on you when acting, and so keep your own expression, which is more beautiful!”

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