Sunil Grover might have become serious on screen, but his sense of humour is as effervescent as ever

Nonika Singh

If wishes were horses, would Sunil Grover aka Mashoor Gulati aka Gutthi turn back the clock? And ensure his last series Tandav was not mired in controversy, his film Pataakha was a super-hit and the industry had woken up to the serious actor in him earlier than they did? Actually, a firm believer of the Gita’s philosophy which deems much in life is pre-ordained, Sunil has no regrets, not even a twinge. As his web series Sunflower is ready to stream on Zee5, we meet him in a reflective mood, ready to jog down the memory lanes of City Beautiful and more than ready to answer all our queries.

In an exclusive Zoom interaction, his trademark funny side comes alive and so does an agile mind ticking and tickling.

Your fame as Dr Mashoor Gulati is almost legendary, but as an actor ‘actor’, do you think it has taken the industry a long time to wake up to your talent?

I think it’s my destiny. I was happy doing comedy. Earlier, I made caricatures out of characters, now I cut out the caricature part and try to get as close to the character. Yes, as a student of the Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University, Chandigarh, I did act in a whole lot of tragedies, so I would often wonder will I be able to use what I learnt in the drama department and get to play those parts. Luckily, I am doing that now and the audience too has been receptive.

For a man who tasted success on television, how do you compare television with OTT platform?

I love being on television where I got immense amount of love. Then came a lull and Vishal Bhardwaj offered me Pataakha and the trajectory of my journey changed. More recently OTT has come to my rescue.

Sunflower is a thriller, do you think we are done with this genre or there is place for more and more?

See, we have enough humour around us, so are we done with it? Emotions and subjects are only a handful. What makes a film or a series different is your take on it. What fresh angle you can bring to it. Sunflower is a thriller within a thriller and it turns the whole idea of whodunnit upside down.

Is your character of Sonu Singh in Sunflower more like Gurpal of Tandav or a bit of Mashoor Gulati?

Neither. There are layers to it. Sonu thinks he is very smart, which he is.

You were discovered by Jaspal Bhatti, what did you learn from him apart from the fact that you both carry humour with dead-pan expression?

I learnt so much from Jaspaljee. From him I came to know what crafted humour means, what comedy with purpose is, how it can show a mirror to society? He had a prophetic vision. He could foresee that Modijee will become the Prime Minister of the country. Personally, he would tell me I could achieve great success if I ‘played’ characters, which turned true as well.

How do you look back at your alma mater and do you think we owe a lot to our teachers?

I hate the term self-made, it’s so pompous and egoistic. It undermines the part played by so many significant others in one’s life. Yes, I remember my teachers be it Mohan Maharishi, Mahendra sir, Kumar Varma, Rani Balbir Kaur, Neelam maam and others with a deep sense of gratitude.

You have worked with different directors from Vishal Bhardwaj to Ali Abbas Zafar to Vikas Bahl; do you have to redefine your craft according to a director?

Yes, that is why we are called the cast. We dovetail ourselves according to the mould they want us to be cast into. Ali Abbas brings aesthetics, glamour and commerce together. Vishal jee makes it more artistic, closer to reality and gives an earthy feel to his projects. Vikas sir is passionate and tends to keep adding layers. Even when the project is on the paper, you can feel its vibration. So, different directors have different approaches and the beauty is you learn to adapt to others’ creative processes which is a lesson I imbibed when I was doing voiceovers.

Do you think comic actors are not taken seriously?

(Laughs) Look at how seriously we take humour in our country. Each time I make a statement or crack a joke I am more concerned about the reaction rather than action and how this particular gag might be interpreted. Yes, this consternation does affect creativity.

Mashoor Gulati made you a national figure, but is there a minus of playing the character over and over?

None. To bring a smile on someone’s face is the greatest blessing. I have been blessed with the ability to make people laugh and connect at the same time.

And it’s this livewire connection that will be once again on ample display in Vikas Bahl’s Sunflower which streams on June 11.

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