As “Bullett Raja” gets ready for release, Gulshan Grover talks about the fine arts of food and villainy

In Bollywood’s diminishing tribe of specialist villains, Gulshan Grover must count as a survivor. Having earned the epithet of Bad Man for his portrayal of Kesariya Vilayati in Ram Lakhan, Grover built on his reputation with a string of negative roles through the 90s and early 2000s. Several detours later, he returns to his roots in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s upcoming Bullett Raja, starring Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha.

“It is a reinvention of the villain, of how he should be in present times,” says Grover, as we settle down for lunch in Yellow Brick Road, Taj Vivanta’s quiet and colourful diner. Without spending too much time on the diner’s tabloid form menu, Grover orders the fried fish in tartar sauce.

After a quick few sips of the accompanying watermelon juice, he explains his role further. “In the young director’s vision, the present-day villain has gained respectability and social access. He is smarter, dressed better than Saif, and the heroine is very friendly towards him…My villains have been extremely heavy dramatically, they have had wigs and accessories. Bullett Raja takes my years of experience as a villain, but takes away the larger-than-life brand that I have created,” he says.

Coming from a background in commerce, Grover understand the significance of creating a brand early. “When I went to Bombay to make it in movies, I knew what would truly be successful is to create a brand, a certain audience familiarity…I understood in the teaching of SRCC what longevity means and that, apart from poetry and art, things diminish with repeated use. I wanted to use all this in my work.”

With time though, he has also diversified his portfolio, notably in the acclaimed I Am Kalam, and has also, by choice and circumstance, lent his weight to smaller films. He is now working on another film with I Am Kalam director Nila Madhab Panda. “I have realised that every authentic cuisine is not necessarily available at five stars. It takes courage to go to those streets, sit down and eat where it’s uncomfortable, and have one of the most exotic dishes ever cooked,” he says, metaphorically.

When it comes to favourites though, Grover’s sympathies lie in Los Angeles. “I have had some of the most fantastic food there. It has some of the most wonderfully exotic restaurants. Every cuisine is available everywhere, like it is happening now in India. There are the favourite Hollywood hangouts, and then there are Indian restaurants where I take my friends to eat.” He also obliges them when they ask for tea and omelettes. “In hotels, each omelette looks the same. When I make them each plate will look different.”

He calls himself a foodie with a mission and measure. “I am not kicked about eating fried fish, but the very fact that it’s fish has compensated it in my mind. I sacrifice many foods of many kinds. In this film, my waist is thinner than Saif’s and Jimmy Shergill’s,” he says, brandishing a photograph from the sets. “But I am now playing an ex-wrestler, so I can let loose a little.”

Asked for his favourite performances, he says, with a rare candour, “I am grateful to people for having liked and enjoyed my work. But I find there are too many rough edges. I feel lucky that I got away. It was just decent. Good has not yet come.”