Stand-up comedian and writer Varun Grover can't wait for the release of Neeraj Ghaywan's film Masaan this Friday. After all, the two awards the film bagged at the Cannes Film Festival this year and the five-minute long standing ovation from the audience at a special screening, there was a measure of the ripples it was creating on the world stage. That Grover also wrote the screenplay of the film makes the recognition sweeter.
As an engineering student, Grover spent many years in Banaras, an experience that helped him a lot while researching for
, which traces the story of people who work at the city's ghats and help families burn the pyres of the dead.
Banaras, Grover says, now looks very different from the one he had seen during his college days. "I am very emotional about my college days and I still dream about going back….it is also disturbing since I know I cannot go back to that era. It was nostalgic and exciting as I was going back to Banaras after 9 years. Apart from that, I got to see a side of Banaras that I hadn’t seen before."
He continues: "Banaras has two kings, Kashi Naresh and Dom Raja, and they are actually treated like kings. We visited the house of Kallu Dom (the Dom Raja), whose people are responsible for helping the pyres burn at the ghats. The dom raja is supposed to be a king, but his house is dilapidated. It was once a flourishing haveli, but today poverty has taken a heavy toll on it. Too many people live in cluttered place."
Vicky Kaushal's character in Masaan in belongs to a family of 'dom raja'.
Grover also talks of the dichotomy of living in a conservative place like Banaras and being connected with the world on virtual platforms like Facebook and YouTube. "We wanted to know what the younger generation in these places think of watching porn, pre-marital sex, morality etc. I was surprised to hear young girls respond to our questions without any inhibitions. The Banaras I knew was very different. It was really conservative. Today’s Banaras is totally different, people have opened up a lot at least in their own spheres. Maybe they are still conservative in front of parents. This was one of the most inspirational experiences in the city."
This clash of ideologies forms the core of
Richa Chadha and Sanjay Mishra in a still from Masaan.
Cannes, Grover says, was another experience he'll never forget. Says he: "This was my second time in Cannes. Last time it was for Wasseypur (he wrote the lyrics for Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur). This time it was slightly upgraded version as I was treated better as the screenplay writer. But for me, the thrill was more in watching films that will reach India only months later."
Ask him how he straddles the two worlds of a comedian and the screenplay writer of a film as serious as Masaan, and you see a glint in his eyes. "As a comedian, the people of Delhi are my favourites. Maybe it's because there is no language issue here. I am a north Indian and I am most comfortable in Hindi. In south Bombay, I am insecure when I speak English."
A popular comedian on YouTube (he also does live shows like Aisi Taisi Democracy, with Rahul Ram and Sanjay Rajoura), Grover says he doesn't consider himself to be much of a celebrity. "I've never had a celeb moment in my life. Sometimes people recognise me. A guy who had seen some of my YouTube videos came up to me at an airport recently and told me that he recognises me. But he didn't ask for an autograph. Nowadays, the first trick to know whether you are a celeb or not is that people take selfies with you. People want to take photographs or selfies with me only in film festivals where I am introduced as a writer."
Watch: Varun Grover performs at a show of Aisi Taisi Democracy
"I also feel that comedians should not behave like celebs. Except for AIB and The Viral Fever, comedians prefer to stay like normal people as you cannot behave as a celeb and yet be connected with the audience..a Ranveer Singh or a Ranbir Kappoor trying to do a stand-up act will not work as much as a person who actually faces everyday experiences of the middle class and normal people that the audience is," he adds.
Holding forth on his connect with small towns and the culture of single screens, Grover says, "I am a very nostalgia driven person. I have grown up watching films in single screens. It may not be justifiable to say but jo mazaa single screen me ata tha wo multiplex me nahi, yaha bus comfort hai."
The writer also shares his pick of authors and books: "I think Uday Prakash is the most excellent comtemporary writer in India. I have read all his books. Manohar Shyam Joshi is also my one of favourites in long form. Manto is old but I go back to his works and read them again and again. I also love Kashi Ka Assi, a film was being made on one of its stories, Mohallas Assi, but I don’t think that film is coming out ever. I don’t think anybody will ever find out how the film has turned out to be as it may not ever release."
"I am writing a couple of films, and am also writing songs for several films. I am also working on Gurgaon by Shankar Raman," Varun says about his upcoming projects.
Love street food? Varun Grover's pick for your Banaras visit:
Lassi outside Ramnagar Fort
Rabri shop in Gopal Mandir near Thatheri Bazaar
The lyricist/writer says, "Thatheri Bazaar is one of the food treasures of Banaras."
The writer tweets @