Sunil Grover, post-Bharat: “I can smell people’s love and success in the air. So, whatever will happen henceforth can only be good.”
The comedian-actor is on a high after the success of Ali Abbas Zafar’s remake of the Korean movie Ode to My Father, which, according to trade sources, has earned a little over Rs 151 crore since its release on June 5. In a story that spans seven decades, Grover’s Vilayati is a constant. Vilayati is the best friend forever of Salman Khan’s eponymous hero, and accompanies Bharat on all his adventures, whether to oil rigs in the Arab desert or a commercial liner on the high seas.
Grover’s performance is among the movie’s highlights, and he steals the thunder ever so often, such as when he mimics former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and caresses a rose in his pocket. “I could not stop laughing when I had to do that,” Grover told Scroll.in.
In another memorable scene in Bharat, Vilayati loses his underwear and has to retrieve it without embarrassing Katrina Kaif’s character Kumud. “That scene was on paper, but I improvised by hugging and kissing the underwear,” Grover revealed.
Grover’s favourite scene in the film has nothing to do with the comedy that seems to come so easily to him: it’s the moment when Vilayati gives Bharat much-needed life lessons.
“Ali sir told me not to do too much comedy and bring the character out from the pain that he and Bharat feels,” the 41-year-old actor said. “I am grateful that the audience liked what I did.”
While being famous on television for his extensive comedy work, Grover has expanded his resume in recent years by taking on dramatic roles in films, including Gabbar is Back (2015), in which he plays an honest police constable determined to catch Akshay Kumar’s vigilante, and Baaghi (2016), in which he is a greedy father willing to sacrifice his daughter.
“I can perform according to the story and what the director wants,” Grover said. “I can make the interview funny also, if you want to entertain people with my answers. But if I start being funny, I won’t be respectful to the nature of the conversation. Also, people need to realise that a comedian can have other dimensions to his personality.”
Grover was born in Mandi Dabwali town on the Punjab-Haryana border. An early indication of his talent was his ability to mimic his classmates at school. “My father worked in a bank, but he could sing and perform music, and he trained me to sing for school and local functions,” Grover recalled.
An interest in the performing arts drew Grover to theatre while at college. Auditioning for Jaspal Bhatti’s television comedy show Full Tension for Doordarshan was an early life-changer. “I learned all about crafting humour in front of the camera or a live audience from Jaspal Bhatti,” Grover said. “From doing small roles on his show, I began touring with him as well.”
In the early 2000s, Grover hosted the popular radio show Hansi Ke Phuware. He began headlining a series of comedy shows on television. He considers the spoof shows Kya Aap Paanchvi Fail Champu Hain? and Kaun Banega Champu, in which he mimicked Shah Rukh Khan, as career highlights. “These shows established me on television for the first time properly,” he said.
His next stint was Indian television’s first silent comedy show, Gutur Gu. Stardom followed with Comedy Nights With Kapil, for which Grover created and enacted a bunch of characters that became iconic over time.
One of the earliest and most popular ones was Gutthi, a small-town woman from the Punjab-Haryana region “who is shy outside but has aspirations for the high life inside”, as Grover explained. As Gutthi, Grover dressed up in a salwar kameez and wore a wig with braids encased in ribbons. Gutthi also had peculiar mannerisms, “like holding on to the handkerchief tightly and talking, which I found funny”.
Rinku Devi, a forthright woman who complains about her inattentive husband, and loudmouth doctor Mashoor Gulati, were other popular Grover creations. Meanwhile, he stacked up the film credits. His first movie role was as the talkative barber Totaram in Anees Bazmee’s Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (1998). In one scene, Totaram accidentally shaves off the moustache of Ajay Devgn’s hero.
Grover’s subsequent roles include a short comic part in AR Murugadoss’s Ghajini (2008) and the supporting role of constable Sadhuram in Gabbar Is Back. His single lead role in this period was for Vishal Mishra’s Coffee With D (2017), in which his character interviews a Dawood Ibrahim-like gangster.
“That was one atrocious film,” Grover recalled. “What was written on script was not shot at all. It was so bad that I just promoted it for one day.”
The film tanked, but soon enough, Grover found himself on the sets of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha (2018), in which he plays the mischievous travelling salesman Dipper, who gets his kicks from meddling in the affairs of warring sisters Badki and Chutki.
“Vishal sir’s script was so loaded and described everything so well, I found my character in that itself,” Grover said. “Vishal sir allowed me to interpret the character in my own way. He would only fine-tune my acting a couple of times during the shoot.”
Would Grover prefer independent-minded productions such as Pataakha or big-ticket wholesome packages like Bharat in the future?
“It’s all good as long as the story is good and my character has something to do,” he said. “Working with good directors is what I want. Vishal sir is individualistic, Ali sir wants his whistle-worthy mass moments, but both are so assured, it’s a joy to work with them.”
While all has turned out well for Grover with Bharat, he wishes that his dance moves had made it to the final cut. Grover can, however, be seen shaking his hips in the making of the Slow Motion sequence released by the makers of Bharat, his “first experience of dancing to choreography”. It’s all good: “I will dance at Ali sir’s wedding,” Grover promised.