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Want some offbeat OTT fare to binge-watch? Check out Sunflower, where oddballs from a typical middle-class Indian housing society in Mumbai get caught up in a murder mystery investigation, but there is more to the story than meets the eye! Starring Ranvir Shorey and Sunil Grover in pivotal roles, the trailer of this original series from the ZEE5 Global platform showcases comedian and actor Grover moving even further away from what he’s best known for (hilarious television sketches and stand-up). In his darkly comic turn as Sonu Singh, a resident of ‘Sunflower’ housing society who catches the eye of a police inspector (Shorey) in charge of a murder investigation, Grover’s performance is both engaging and disturbing, leaving you regarding him as both innocent and suspicious. Did he do it? If not, why is he behaving so strangely?
Meanwhile, Shorey’s severe-looking bespectacled cop with slicked back hair, and a robotic, deadpan style of interrogation is sure to raise eyebrows; the actor has played a policeman twice earlier - in Rangbaaz and Lootcase - but insists this was a new direction for him.
City Times caught up with the talented duo over Zoom for a chat about Sunflower.
Grover reveals he had decided to sign on for the show after reading the “interesting” script by director Vikas Bahl, upon whose instructions he even shed a bit of weight (8 kilos) for the quirky role, and took part in readings, a workshop and discussions in order to approach playing Sonu in the required manner.
As someone who is renowned for his comic talent, how different was this role from anything he had done before?
“Sonu displays streaks of comedy. But it’s a character’s point of view; it is not about creating a caricature or sketches, which I am mostly known for. The approach was for the character to be in the real space. Actually the difficult part was to be innocent. With time I have lost my innocence. So it was about getting back to that innocence and not in a pretentious way, to understand it in the real sense.
Grover admits he had to “go back” to channel certain emotions into the character. “I enjoyed the process of playing Sonu, and there were a few things I could associate with - that he’s a wannabe, he’s a little vulnerable. Sometimes I felt that I am also like that; you know, you feel alone and you don’t have anyone to share things with. So I have been through that phase a little bit. But for a couple of emotions like innocence, I had to do a little work and to get there took me some time.”
Down the ‘rabbit hole’
Shorey, who most recently made an impact in powerful films like Sonchiriya and Angrezi Medium, says he loved the script of Sunflower for its motley crew of oddball characters and the chaos that ensues during a murder investigation.
“What drew me to the role is that when I read the script I felt it had got a very Alice In Wonderland vibe to it. It was like this typical housing society where you just go in - and you kind of go down the rabbit hole, and find these oddball characters. Into that mix comes this investigator, for the cat-and-mouse game between all the characters and the police. He is a bit of an oddball himself, and adds to the chaos that is 'Sunflower', basically.”
The residents of the society are out to make Sunflower “the best society” - Ashish Vidyarthi’s character makes this declaration in the trailer - an endeavour which obviously grinds to a halt once the murder investigation sets in.
Grover believes this aspect of the show reflects reality in a way - how living in a housing society entails kowtowing to many rules and regulations, some of which are irrelevant, prejudiced or just downright odd. “The idea is to make Sunflower into a typical ‘cultural’ Indian society, the kind in which we have all faced difficulties (in real life). When I moved to Mumbai I had to face a few problems; I was asked if I was single, or an actor, or an aspiring actor! They don’t allow people in easily, and there are many problems that potential residents face. So they keep an eye on each and every thing happening in the society and it is these assumptions of how a society can function best which are very nicely portrayed in the show.”
A different kind of cop
Grover displays a great sense of comic timing even off screen, his self-deprecation a refreshing change from many other stars. It was interesting to note the banter between the two actors during our interview.
When Shorey said that one of the reasons why he took up the role in Sunflower was Sunil’s involvement, the latter jokingly replied, “All these reasons are secondary reasons, the prime reason is that he was paid very nicely for the show.”
Shorey expanded on his role of a cop in Sunflower and why this character was unlike his previous two portrayals of a man in uniform. “It becomes a bit of a challenge also because I have played a policeman before on another series for ZEE5 called Rangbaaz, I did another film which did quite well recently called Lootcase, so what you see is the tendency to make the policeman’s character either a very generic one, or a caricature. The challenge is to make the policeman bit incidental. He can be a policeman but they (over different roles) are different human beings, in a different time and space. Sunflower is about creating a cop who is native to this story rather than the other ones I played before.”
A murder mystery that is something more than just a thriller, laced with elements of dark humour, is not always an easy scenario to portray. What have both actors learned from the experience, as far as their craft is concerned?
Shorey says the biggest lesson he has put to practice is to “trust the director.”
“Over time you realise that as an actor you are selfish and your focus remains on your own character but it’s the director who is telling the story and has the overall picture. And like in Sunflower, many stories have a very nuanced flavour to them, so what Vikas Bahl is trying to create in Sunflower is again a very nuanced thing - like I mentioned there is this madcap world where there is a slight subtext of surrealism going on along with the murder mystery. So I think when you are trying to achieve something like that you have to learn to trust the director, more than your interpretation of the writing.”
Grover believes the biggest takeaway is to do with people. “You should ask yourself this question: Will I be excited to go to the set the next morning? I think that is something that is going to stay with me - the amount of fun I had with the people I was working with; they know their job well, they are passionate about what they are doing and they all are working towards one objective - doing the show well and happily and creating a good atmosphere on set. So this is something that I learned from the show - that you have to work with a team that you’re comfortable with.”
He hopes the audience derives both entertainment and “a few messages here and there” from Sunflower. “It should be worth people’s time and there is a bit of freshness in storytelling; if you think it’s just a whodunit, there’s a twist to it. You’ll know when you watch the show.”
Shorey signs off with, “I think Sunflower is like a trip down the rabbit hole. I hope that people enjoy the ride!”
Sunflower is streaming now on ZEE5.
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