Gulshan Grover opens up about his life, his films and how villains have changed over the years
The living room of Gulshan Grover’s Versova pad is a picture of calm with everything, including the upholstery done in white. On one side of the white wall hang black and white portraits of the star with eminent Hollywood personalities like Goldie Hawn, Ben Kingsley, Al Pachino and the likes. The other side of the wall in adorned with framed posters of his films. The room is devoid of any over-the-top furnishing with only one enormous couch holding the center of attention. Very functional indeed.
Grover walks into the room, dressed impeccably in formals. One look at him and it is difficult to imagine this courteous, soft-spoken man is the same man as his 'bad' on-screen persona. As he takes a seat opposite me and strikes the yogic pose with one dangling limb, one couldn’t help imagining that the real Grover is going to take over and mouth ‘I am a bad man’, his famous dialogue from Ram Lakhan.
But this is the real Grover who is sitting opposite me, barreling through the conversation articulately and grins like a child every time he is being a bit politically incorrect. “The audience worships reel heroes, but I take pride in my 'bad man' image. This is something, which I have achieved after a lot of hard work. I have four films releasing in the span of a month and a half and I am playing different shades in each,” he says.
'I am the bad man'
Grover is happy with the ‘evil’ tag, not that he aspired to be anything else in Bollywood. His is not a failed actor-turned-villain story; he always wanted to be the bad guy in the film. Having a degree in commerce made sure that he understood the dynamics of it well. “When I decided to take up acting I was sure about one thing- that my career shouldn’t be dependent on my looks and my body, something that’s a prerogative of a Bollywood hero. I can’t dance and didn’t have a perfect body, so this decision made sense. I wanted to create a brand people could associate with and became a specialized villain,” he says matter-of-factly and narrates how he ran away from the sets when he was pressurized into playing the hero. “In ‘Nache Mayuri’ and ‘Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye’, I ran away after my costumes were ready. I couldn’t do it.”
Watch: Ek Jaan Hain Hum
Since the inception of the Indian Cinema, villain as a character has been in a state of flux. While the films in 50s had the circumstances (rich-poor divide) to blame for, the bad man emerged as a strong character somewhere in the 60s. From the usual lot of wicked village zamindars and money-lenders (Mother India), they soon graduated to smugglers in the 70s(Shaan) to gangsters in the 90s. The turn of the century witnessed the eradication of that demarcation between good and bad with the rise of the anti-hero, made popular by Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Darr’ and ‘Baazigar’. “SRK was responsible for snatching away the award from the villains and turning it into best actor in a negative role award,” he laughs. “Today, there is no clear-cut in real life which is why it seems implausible to show that on the screen. Even the audience will not believe why you cannot catch the guy for 14 reels and in the last two reels, you finally manage.”
After having worked in nearly 400 films in the last three decades, he seems to have mastered the art of playing villain. He vehemently refutes it when you point that out. “I have played the same roles in different clothes but I am yet to do a lot. There is much more interesting work available today. When I look at some of my earlier work, I can’t even associate with them. What was I thinking when I did them?,” he says. For someone who came to the film industry without a godfather, Grover has come a long way. “ After graduating from Sreeram College of Commerce, I wanted to try my luck in the film Industry and left home with a promise to my parents that I would return in two months. In Bombay, I stayed in dormitories and verandahs. There were days when I went without food. I joined Roshan Tarneja’s institute and had Anil Kapoor and Mazhar Khan as my batch-mates.” After finishing his course, he got a job in the same acting school where Govinda and Sanjay Dutt were his students. After work, he would team up with Anil Kapoor and go to the producers’ office looking for roles. “Sunil Dutt saab had seen me at the acting school and he offered me ‘Rocky’. Anil’s father Surinder Kapoor got me ‘Hum Paanch’ and Shabana Azmi, after seeing me in ‘Hum Paanch’ got me a role in Mohan Kumar's Avtaar. Through Surinderji, I was introduced to the Mehras, who gave me ‘Ek Jahan Hain Hum’ but my big break as a villain came with ‘Sohni Mahiwal’ which established me as the negative guy,” he adds.
'Hum Sirf Khelne Ke Liye Nahin, Jeetne Ke Liye Aaye Hain'
One of the first imports to Hollywood, Gulshan Grover has worked with several Hollywood biggies. But in the process, he lost out on meaty roles in Bollywood. “In the whole confusion of whether I am a part of Bollywood or Hollywood, I have lost many significant roles in the Indian film industry. I have lost out on a lot by being away in Los Angeles. Some people also assumed that I would be expensive since I am doing Hollywood films,” he laments.
Watch: Bollywood's Iconic Villains
Now that he has four films ready for release, Grover is quite upbeat about this phase in his life. “The specialized villain in back on celluloid and I will surprise you in each one,” he concludes. Fingers crossed for that.
Excerpts from the interview:
You didn’t have a filmi background, how difficult was it to convince your parents that you wanted to take up acting?
My parents were skeptical about my decision and my mother was quite clear that she doesn’t want her son to go away to Mumbai. I wanted to try my luck in Bombay and promised my parents that I would return in two months. The two months became six months with lot of struggle.
Do you remember your days of struggle?
During my years of struggle, whenever I was out of money, I would head to my friend Vinay Shukla’s house to grab a bite. Once, just as I was about to enter his home, I saw Shabana Azmi sitting there. My socks were ragged and torn and I almost felt like returning rather than taking off my shoes in front of her. But my hunger was greater than my embarrassment, so I stayed on.
Which has been the most challenging role for you?
I think ‘Sir’ was challenging because I had replaced another actor. Earlier I was playing a smaller part in the film. When I see my earlier films, I feel flabbergasted as to why the audience liked it so much. I think the most challenging role is yet to come as I have matured and bettered myself as an actor.
Do you rehearse a lot before a scene?
I like to go prepared to the sets. I feel uneasy if I go to the sets without knowing anything about the shoot.
How has the villain evolved over the years?
There is no clear-cut hero or villain in real life now. Earlier, hero was accused of coming first in every field, be it dance or fight. The hero could do no wrong but now the line between good and bad is very thin.
How are the workings of Hollywood different from Bollywood?
The entire system of working is completely different. A lot of information is shared based on the responsibility and discussions take place before the shoot. For example, the Head of Costume can stall a shoot if she feels that the extra’s costume is jarring.
Oh yes! While I was shooting in Srilanka for ‘Jungle Book’, we were working on two schedules. To show the progress of days, we had to shoot with a fresh look in the morning and in the afternoon, the make-up man would work on our face to show the progress of time. One day, he caught hold of the director and told him that his way of shooting is not right. He said, ‘Why can’t you have the stubble scene in the morning so that the actors won’t have to shave?’. If it was in India, probably the director would’ve thrown a plate at him. But here, the director patiently explained that the lights are better in the morning so they have that schedule. That was inspiring.
When you watch a film, can you leave the actor out in you?
Of course not. When I watch a film, I feel ‘this is me’. I feel that I would have done so much better.
Here's a look at some hard-core 'filmy' fighting: