“I am not even the most funny one in my family. My cousins and extended family would get together on festivals, holidays and such, I would just soak it all up — their sharp repartee, quick observations and comments. We would constantly be in splits, and I would often be at the receiving end of their jokes. I think that’s where this all started, this need to make people laugh. But I think yeh wahan ki hawa main hi kuch hai, uss jagah ki,” shares television’s favourite funnyman, Sunil Grover, whose characters Dr Mashoor Gulati, Gutthi and Rinku Bhabhi on The Kapil Sharma Show made him a household name.
Grover has now finally had his first big break as he transitions from the small screen to a film — Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha, which has received rave reviews. He plays Dipper Naradmuni — the catalyst of many a fights between the two sisters. Staying true to the Naradmuni name, we wonder? “Usko mazaa aata hai ladwane main inn dono ko, uska priye khel hai yeh. And he changes his jobs with such ease, but his goal is always to tease and have a laugh, which I think hit home with me. It is a welcome break from the usual presentation of sisters; they are at each others’s throat, literally and metaphorically, unlike the sedate, lovey-dovey kinds we have been shown in the past,” says Grover, who is now busy shooting for Salman Khan’s Bharat.
For Grover, it was relatively easy to get into the skin of Dipper, as it was a throwback to his childhood days growing up in the town of Mandi Dabwali, near Sirsa, Haryana. He maintains that it’s his connection to the hinterland and his community that has helped him with humour. “I grew up in a simple Punjabi family and used to mimic my teachers and famous people. I would get applauded, but I had never thought I would become an actor. Soch hi nahin thi. I used to think if I tell people, they would laugh at me,” says the 41-year-old.
Post schooling, Grover moved to Chandigarh, where he joined a theatre school after graduation. He went on to complete a masters degree in theatre. The ensuing years were spent doing comedy acts, plays and capitalising on every acting opportunity that came his way. It was while he was doing his masters that he got a brief part in Ajay Devgn-starrer Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha. “Actors can’t be made or taught, they can only be groomed. Acting is an aptitude, more than just talent. The thrill of performance, reading the cues of the audience — what is working or not — it all boiled into one for me,” he adds.
Proverbially, as for most small-town actors, the next destination is always Mumbai and Grover, too, landed in Mumbai, in August 2000 on a 5.40 am train, and the struggle began. “I somewhere knew this was just temporary. I started staying in Juhu, but after I finished all my money, I moved to Goregaon, and lived in a building without a lift — which was good for my physique. But whatever I had planned, destiny took a completely different path,” he says, adding, “I somehow got involved into the world of voice-overs — and Sud — the character I created for Hassi ke Phuware on a radio channel, became a hit. For the longest time, I kept doing voice-overs.”
Over the next decade, Grover made a name for himself with his rooted humour and ability to spoof anyone and everyone. His shows — Kya Aap Paanchvi Fail Champu Hain and Kaun Banega Champu, where he played Ruk Ruk Khan, became popular, paving the way for his most successful outing till date — Comedy Nights with Kapil, and subsequently, The Kapil Sharma Show. “I was in the right place at the right time. And there was no one else doing what I did. Stand-up comedy and the internet had not exploded yet. Also, people related to my comedy because they also had one relative who had the same quirks as my characters. I just brought to the fore what I had lived and experienced,” he adds.
After a collaboration of about six years with Kapil Sharma, Grover parted ways owing to a mid-air altercation. He wishes Sharma well and is thankful for the laughs they created together. However, Grover is optimistic about the current trend in Indian comedy, which, he believes, is in an auto-correct mode. “I will have to keep upgrading the software — or it will stop working. Simple. And what’s the point of zabardasti giving labels. Agar kissi ko hassi nahin aa rahi hai, that joke is not working. For the rest, laughter is self-explanatory. Ab hum koi coaching classes to khol ke nahin baithe hain, where we need to explain comedy,” he adds.