INTERVIEW: As Gutthi becomes Chutki, Sunil Grover speaks to Anuj Kumar on the making of the character that has become a rage

He knows her. That is the feeling most get when Sunil Grover gets into the avatar of a girl from a small town. Be it in her way of introducing people or bringing out the sound of a snake by tapping her neck, Sunil made his way into the hearts of not only the male audience, who are usually considered consumers of such drag queens, but also the female audience.

There were two more men dressed up as female characters in Comedy Nights With Kapil but it was Gutthi who got the pulse of the audience. She has got a fan page on Facebook and is visited by people of all age groups. “I have not been able to decipher the success of Gutthi. The only thing is that people, irrespective of age and gender, have been able to relate with her. It is a combination of slapstick and innocence, which is perhaps new for television. And yes, I know her and that’s why I have been able to convey her feelings,” says Sunil who has turned Gutthi into Chutki for Mad In India on Star Plus.

A post graduate in theatre, Sunil comes from a small place called Dabwali in Haryana. “It falls where the borders of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan meet. I have built the character around the girls I grew up observing. Most boys feel that they are born to stare at girls but as an actor you get a sort of moral licence. I have observed the eye movement and body language of many such girls, who feel they know everything there is to know but cannot express it because of the conservative atmosphere they grow up in. When they get an opportunity to express themselves, it often leads to hilarious situations,” says Sunil.

Isn’t it elitist to laugh at people who don’t belong to your world? “As it is a comedy show I cannot make it too real but I try to ensure that even if the girls on whom the character is based watch the show they should not feel offended,” he adds.

On the controversy that erupted when he left Comedy Nights With Kapil, Sunil responds, “The way the channel got the notices published in newspapers restraining me to take the character to some other channel was not in good faith. There cannot be a copyright over characters in this format. It is not like a fiction series. And even if that is the case, I first played a character like Gutthi/Chutki in Hans Baliye which was telecast on Star One, which was part of the Star group.” He doesn’t mind acting on a script but he comes with his own inputs and improvisation. “That is crucial. I should be allowed to intervene when I feel the character is not behaving according to her basic spirit,” he says, hinting at the root of the issue.

These are early days but Mad In India seems very similar to Comedy Nights With Kapil. “We are not indulging in any competition. Had we been we would have opted for the same time slot. It is just a new dish in the same format. Earlier when Laughter Challenge emerged on the scene, every channel came up with its own version,” explains Sunil.

As an actor, it must be getting repetitive for him. Sunil agrees. “I will sign off before it becomes a laboured attempt and people start getting bored of it. But right now I don’t see it happening anytime soon. A few years back I was known as the guy who does good mimicry of Shah Rukh Khan. I have outgrown that image. Now nobody even remembers me as a copy of Shah Rukh. Then I did a show on SAB where I played a silent character. After that I voiced Sud, a character who used to read jokes in a stupid way on Radio Mirchi. Voice modulation is something I learnt during my days in theatre and I want to experiment with it. Similarly I hope one day I will outgrow Chutki.”

Last year he was seen in Zilla Ghaziabad, where he was the only actor who got the pulse of the city’s dialect and body language. “The performance went unnoticed because the film failed but I have a couple of films in hand and they have little to do with comedy.”

Do actors feel the characters when they are not on stage? Sunil admits they do. “There is a danger in playing this character. I have noticed that I have started taking note of female outfits a lot more. Earlier, during shopping I had no interest in the print of a salwar-kameez but it is no longer the case and it makes me conscious,” signs off Sunil with a meaningful smile.