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Gulshan Grover opens up on the changing face of Bollywood villains, from Kesariya Vilayati to Usmani Bhai

Gulshan Grover, who is known for playing a variety of villains on the silver screen, talks about the evolution of negative characters in Hindi cinema.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
December 17, 2021 8:12:28 am
gulshan groverGulshan Grover opened up about the evolution of villains in Hindi cinema. (Photo: Express Archives)

Until a few years ago, one of the most popular award shows in the country had a category for the Best Villain of the Year. That category disappeared a few years ago because with the changing trends, not every film had a villain, and even the ones who had a villain, could not just be classified into plain bad guys as now they were starting to gain some nuance. Way before the streaming space revolutionised the content that is now easily available to us, Hindi cinema often had its characters classified in two categories – the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys were your traditional heroes and the bad guys were wretched characters who were the meanest people that one could imagine watching on screen. Of those long line of villains that are embedded in our minds, Bad Man, popularised by Gulshan Grover, was just plain evil. Grover, who played a bunch of negative roles in the 1980s and 1990s, had a certain aura when he appeared on screen. So much so that his characters did not necessarily require a backstory. The audience just knew that he was here to cause trouble.

In 2021, Gulshan Grover is still on with his villainous game but his negative roles have risen above the thinly sketched characters of the old days. “If you don’t find something new as an actor, if you are not constantly evolving, if you are not updating your craft, even in real life, you are done,” shared Grover in a chat with indianexpress.com as he spoke about the evolution of negative characters in the content space in the last couple of decades. He recently played a villain in Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi. The film, which is credited for bringing the audience back to the theatres, was loved thoroughly and Grover saw some of that love first hand. He shared that he went to watch the film in a cinema hall on a Friday when within minutes, he was surrounded by a mob of people who were yelling out ‘Usmani Bhai!’

 

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“The security of the cinema had to escort me after I waved to the people by climbing on my car. They made way with difficulty for my car and took me from there,” he recalled with a smile on his face. This isn’t his first brush with fame but even today, it gives him a sense of validation. “I felt, on a personal level, that it’s a validation of audience’s love for me that even today, they gather in large numbers to speak to me, or shoot a video, or take a picture or scream to show their affection. It was really the satisfaction of having worked in a Rohit Shetty film that connects you with large audiences, with the satisfaction of knowing that your and your craft is still loved by people,” he shared.

In the same week that Sooryavanshi was running to packed houses, Gulshan Grover made his OTT debut with the Sony LIV series Your Honor Season 2. When asked how he feels about still having firsts in his career, the actor recalled that he has had an “interesting career” but there is still a “long long way to go.” At a time when actors are exploring various characters on streaming platforms, Gulshan shared that he chose Your Honor 2 because of its universal connection. “The story of a father who is trying to save his son, who has got into trouble, to do everything possible, that connected to me. I’m a parent. It’s an emotion that is universal. We all strongly feel for our loved ones, if they get into trouble, you will go to any extent to save them. That was my reason to agree to do the first OTT series of my career,” he said.

gulshan grover Gulshan Grover with Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Yes Boss. (Photo: Express Archives)

Gulshan Grover has had a career where he has worked with many legends and another legend added to that list is Shankar. Grover is working with him on the upcoming Kamal Haasan film Indian 2 and from what he described, this again, sounds like a role of a lifetime. “One of the most expensive songs ever shot on a villain has been picturised on me in multiple locations outside of India. A very very different kind of experience,” he said. This marks another chapter in his on-screen journey of exploring different shades of a villain.

Gulshan famously played Kesariya Vilayati in the 1989 film Ram Lakhan. Kesariya belonged to a time where villains had especially unique names, and they were meant to be pure evil. Talking about the evolution of villains since those days, Gulshan explained that villains like Shakaal, Mogambo, Master Gogo, or even Kesariya Vilayati had vague origin stories. “Who were they? Where did they come from? It was easier to play them because they did not represent anybody. They were just weird names for weird people.” He also mentioned that much like how trends like bell-bottoms come back in style, these kinds of villains might also come back in movies. He pointed out that it is the vagueness of their origin that could force filmmakers to bring them back since they don’t represent any particular set of people.

gulshan grover Grover is still presenting different shades of villains on screen. (Photo: Express Archives)

Villains aren’t just evil anymore. In fact, these too, are nuanced characters that are written with grey shades. “See, a filmmaker, a writer, a director presents on-screen what’s happening in real life. When all those characters were written, people like those probably existed, not in our neighbourhood, but at least somewhere in India. Today, a large part of the bad guys are sort of merged. The good and bad are so merged that we can’t really figure out who is good and who is bad. So, therefore the characters of the villain are also grey shades and are written watching reality,” he shared.

Gulshan Grover is working in films across the globe. “All my social media bio says, ‘Actor across continents’. I work in German, French, Italian, Australian, Polish, Malaysian, Iranian, Nepalese films and Hollywood. I have learnt from there, I have learnt from life,” he shared. And the secret sauce to all of this is just evolving with the times.

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