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Badman Gulshan Grover doing good roles

Now a not-so-bad-man, Gulshan Grover, talks about moving ahead from old school villain roles, about his international projects, his struglling days and the role of villains in Bollywood.

entertainment Updated: Apr 19, 2010 14:25 IST
Serena Menon

Gulshan GroverNow a not-so-bad-man, Gulshan Grover, talks about moving ahead from old school villain roles.

How have you been and what are you currently working on?

I’ve been great, and I just came back from a shoot for Knock Out, starring Sanjay Dutt, Irrfan Khan and Kangana Ranaut. It’s directed by Mani Shankar, who made 16th December.

The ‘Bollywood bad guy’ has today become rather grey. How has that changed things for you as a trained negative actor?
Society evolves and film writers write what is relevant. Many years ago, smuggling gold was the biggest thing that a villain could plan to do. You remember Ajit saab saying, ‘mera sona Versova beach par hain’ (my gold is lying at Versova beach). Prior to that, the Zamindars (land owners) were the villains; the hero was a common man. Later came dacoits on horseback.

Now it’s politicians, policemen, dons and hit men. Villains have become mainstream — media heads, journalists, channel executives, entrepreneurs, sophisticated lawyers or the lovable person living next to you.

The villain’s shape started to change and the era of specialised villain actors ended. Prem Chopraji, Dannyji, Sanjeevji, there were so many. In a way, this will end with me, because now scripts don’t need us anymore.

Do you think it’s because Bollywood has become less dramatic?
Bollywood is definitely less dramatic now. You also don’t see people like those villains in real life anymore. Where do you see guys jumping out of a van, with 12 men running beside him with machine guns? The villain has become redundant.

What has this era brought to specialised villains?
In my earlier roles, my character couldn’t be out on the street, he’d better not be. Over the years, the villain is blending in. Earlier it was clear: ‘look, I am a bad person.’

Guess the redundancy of the villain has worked to your advantage in that case.
I was never worried. I’ve been in the business for a while, I started with Rocky with Sanjay Dutt. Anil Kapoor was my batch mate, and we are all here, still doing fantastic work.

Your earlier roles would require so much make up, that some actually look funny today. Did you ever find it funny enacting those roles?
If you are uncomfortable, it shows on screen. That’s why many films sound funny and awkward. I come from a belief of work being worship. I travelled from Delhi, leaving behind a lucrative career after completing my M Com from SRCC with 96 and 97 per cent, and came here. I do not think highly of actors who say they miss the normal way of life. Get out then!
My family prayed at temples and mosques. I have fasted, learnt my lines, changed my appearance and I’m blessed to do what I’m doing.

Was there a moment when you took that call to step into the villain roles?
When I started acting, I was clear that I wanted to play a villain. But when I just came to Mumbai, I wasn’t sure. I joined the acting school along with Anil Kapoor, Mazhar Khan and Madan Jain. Under Professor Roshan Taneja, I understood that you have to find a slot. You can’t say, I am an actor and I will do everything.

Anil Kapoor and I struggled together. We would meet at Bandra, he would come from Chembur, and we would do various things to get roles. It was clear during then that he was going to be a hero and I was going to be a villain.

Was there any specific training to be evil?
There were no heroes or villains in our acting class. We were asked to do everything; we discovered our strengths and weaknesses. I was an awkward dancer and uncomfortable about being explicit about romance. So, I decided to stick to being a villain. Also, I wanted a longer shelf life. I didn’t worry about getting different roles, only weak actors worry about audience acceptance.

You’ve done a lot of international work. Cliché, but how different is it?
(Laughs) They are far more systematic. Last minute script changes don’t happen, but dialogue may change a bit. The costume person is given the entire script and allowed to discuss with the director. They lock important decisions like budgets. If they’re hiring me for three weeks, the fourth week will cost extra. Any changes can be held up to the contract.

It’s nearly impossible to get a role in Hollywood without representation. How did you get noticed over there?
I was at a restaurant with a friend, and the director met me. (Laughs) It was quite filmy. Usually, you need an agent.

Were you playing the villain internationally as well?
Not really. I played emotional roles as well. I played the love interest of an actress in a French film. Though, in the latest one, Nephilim, I will be playing an over-the-top comic book villain.

You have been open to experimenting abroad, then why not here?
Now I am. In Knock Out, I play a good politician who eventually turns into a not-so-good politician. In Virsa, I play a grandfather, an old man. In Chaloo Movie, directed by Vinod Pandey, I play a guy who is obsessed with making his girlfriend a super star in Bollywood.

What are the most random roles you’ve been offered?
In Six River, I play a university professor who is out to revolutionise education. He lives alone in India, while his family has gone to the US. In Pooja Bhatt’s Kajrare, I am playing the head of Scotland Yard, an honest man who is protecting someone.

What is the Indo-Pak film, Virsa, about?
It’s about these immigrant families who tend to forget their cultural heritage in foreign countries. Their kids grow up differently in the West. I play a Sikh granddad.

Your son is working in MGM in Hollywood. Hasn’t he tried to lure you into moving there?
(Laughs) Yes, he is working there. And no, he would never ask me to shift. He’d rather have his dad away.

Describe Gulshan Grover the man…
I’m a normal guy, with regular traits and shortcomings. I work hard and was lucky to have become an actor. I am not stunning, nor six-feet tall. I am not extraordinarily talented, I am the average person who really wanted to cross a line and did. I am nothing of the persona I portray on screen.

At least, tell us that you’re an angry man. Hasn’t all the villainy rubbed off?
I am not aggressive, but a bit of a perfectionist. I also get very angry if major chunks of my role have been cut (laughs).

After all that make-up for hours during a shoot, how do you manage your skin?
(Laughs) I think my skin is getting better with age. But the secret lies in loving what you do, and as long as you do, everything else starts looking better. Including my skin!

Can you recollect an interesting moment from your struggling days?
(Laughs) Will my entire life story fit on one page? Well... I struggled a lot. For instance, I, Anil Kapoor and Mazhar Khan — each had a different way of doing it. Mazhar had a house in Worli, his parents had a car. Anil Kapoor had one broken Ambassador, whose passenger seat would never open from the inside, so someone had to run out of the driver’s seat all the way to the other door to open it. I had nothing. We would often go to Mazhar’s house to have a proper meal. It taught us a lot.

Wasn’t Arun Jaitley one of your classmates at the Sri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi?
The other day I met the CEO of Raymonds, and he told me that we were in the same class. Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, a big shot in Reliance, was also in the same college. Arun Jaitley was my senior, Rajat Kapoor was also there. The college is not embarrassed of me, but they are confused about where to place me. The alumni association invited me and they were like ‘SRCC se Masters kar ke, yeh toh actor ban gaya’ (He did his Masters from SRCC, and then went ahead to become an actor) (laughs).

You’ve done over 300 films in 30 years. Are you not tired?
I have begun getting worthy roles now. Filmmakers have more faith in my versatility; they are offering me challenging parts. I have done a film called I Am Kalam, funded by the Smile Foundation. The film has been inspired by Dr Abdul Kalam’s beliefs. It’s an Indo-French film in rural Hindi and I am the protagonist. An actor does so much to get where he is… how can he get tired or bored of doing it? I can’t and I won’t.

You’ve played roles in film industries around the world. Today, any news of an Indian actor in a Hollywood film makes headlines. Why haven’t you ever spoken about your achievements?
I had my first international role over 10 years ago. I have worked for films in industries like Hollywood, France, Italy, Germany, UK and Canada. People in the business find out eventually. But in the last four to five years, it started working against me. People would imagine that I am not in India and that I wouldn’t be available. I would meet someone and he’d say, ‘Where on earth were you for the last few weeks,’ and I’d answer, ‘I was right here.’ Then I’d find out that there was a role for me, which was given away. The impression was that I live in LA and might not be interested in earning rupees (laughs).