'Likes or dislikes do not decide who you are': Sunil Grover on social media and 'United Kacche', streaming now in UAE

The ZEE5 Global series is a light-hearted take on the plight of Asian immigrants living illegally in the United Kingdom


Enid Grace Parker

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Published: Tue 4 Apr 2023, 12:27 PM

Last updated: Tue 4 Apr 2023, 12:47 PM

Sunil Grover is among several contemporary comedians in India who made a name for themselves through hilarious sketches and memorable alter-egos on television, way before social media reached the pinnacle of its popularity.

He describes himself as a ‘visitor’ on his Instagram bio, a modicum of self-deprecation that is refreshing amidst the often inflated egos of celebrities built up by seemingly endless exposure.

Conversations with Grover, seen lately in Bollywood films Bharat and Goodbye, have always proved interesting, his self-professed attachment to the performing arts constantly at play. “Even if someone rejects me, they cannot take away my love for performing,” he said in a recent interview with City Times, joking that he loved it so much, he would even “pay people to sit down and watch him perform.”

This passion for theatrics is evident in Grover’s latest project, the 8-episode ZEE5 Global series United Kacche, a light-hearted take on the plight of Asian immigrants living illegally in the United Kingdom. Grover plays ‘Tango’ Gill, a Punjabi who harbours big dreams of settling down abroad. However, once he mortgages his ancestral land and relocates to the UK as a 'kaccha' (euphemism for illegal immigrant), subsequently encountering others of his ilk, Tango discovers that things aren’t as rosy as he imagined they would be.

Relatable and funny

The novelty of the concept, said Grover, was what drew him to United Kacche. “It’s a sitcom, a kind of slice-of-life show set in the UK. It’s not an easy thing to make. So I thought, why not?”

Grover hopes his third web series, featuring a talented ensemble cast that includes veteran actor Satish Shah as penny-pinching landlord Jogu Chimanlal Patel, strikes a chord with its comically exaggerated yet relatable immigrant life situations - the banter between house mates from different Asian countries, a shrewd tenant secretly sub-letting his home, job hunts, police crackdowns…

Grover said that being a Punjabi, he could relate to Tango’s journey in the sense that he too, eventually took flight from his native town of Mandi Dabwali to Chandigarh, and then to Bombay to “make a mark for himself.”

“There are many people who want to go abroad (Canada, the UK, and other countries) and get settled there. I could relate to (some of) Tango’s challenges, barring a few that he faced as an illegal immigrant - not being able to avail of medical facilities, or have a bank account; he can’t break traffic rules and other things, once he’s caught he will be deported, because he doesn’t have a legal identity. So these guys have different challenges altogether which I have not experienced, but yeah, as an actor you have to imagine…”

“I loved being part of it,” he emphasized, adding that United Kacche was ultimately “a situational comedy, sometimes a little away from reality, that is meant to make people smile.”

While the actor has excelled in diverse roles on OTT (political drama Tandav and black comedy Sunflower), United Kacche brings back Grover’s irreverent sense of humour in a feel-good space that has always been a big draw for fans.

“I’ve always been in the comedy space, more or less. But I’m enjoying this fictional set-up where I get to play various characters; if it is comedy, I’ll make a little caricature out of them, otherwise keep it normal. What I’m liking is to get into various mindsets and play those characters. Each project comes with an amount of freshness; the journey of doing it becomes pleasant because you are approaching every day, every project, in a new mindset, and that’s something I love. Thanks to the Almighty, I’m very lucky that people accepted me in different genres of my performing arts, along with the very strong image I have in comedy.”

Once a comedian…

Grover’s attempts at improvising on the sets of United Kacche were not always welcome, he shared, commenting dryly, “I would improvise every day. But most of the time the director would reject it. Sometimes he kept it also (laughs)! In a ‘funny’ set up, there are times when you’re asked, ‘can you do something here’, because the situation is such. When you’re reading the script, everything is fine. The moment you reach the set, you or the director/writer may want to alter something and you only realize that once you're shooting. So it happens; it’s a part of the process.”

Manu Rishi Chadha, Sunil Grover, and Nayani Dixit co-star in 'United Kacche'
Manu Rishi Chadha, Sunil Grover, and Nayani Dixit co-star in 'United Kacche'

But despite possibly every actor’s nagging urge to flip a script, he believes one should be cautious whilst adding input. “Sometimes improvising a scene can make it worse. If it is enhancing, and you can uplift a scene, then yes, of course. You suggest; the director takes the call.”

As someone who has made millions of people laugh with his sketches in the past, does he ever feel the pressure to be funny all the time?

“The best part of this profession and being a little known to the audience is that a smile comes on their faces automatically, when they see you. So, half the job is done. And it’s so beautiful that you are actually in this business of spreading smiles and happiness. If pressure (also) comes, I welcome it. It’s okay. But (sometimes), you’re not in a mindset, or you’re working, or your mind is somewhere else. If someone comes to me with a smile, then I reciprocate,” he said, adding that he had no time for “taunting” folk.

“There are moments when you are silent, angry, or sad; everything hits you. As an artist, and as a person also, you welcome those moments, those emotions. You experience them, and live them. The fact is, you can’t be funny all the time.”

Grover, who kicked off his career in the 90s with roles in satirical comedy show Full Tension and Bollywood film Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, has spoken candidly about his industry struggles to media in the past, revealing he was even once replaced on a show.

Grover calls 'United Kacche' a situational comedy a little away from reality, that is meant to make people smile
Grover calls 'United Kacche' a situational comedy a little away from reality, that is meant to make people smile

(Dheet) or stubbornness, Grover told City Times, is what drives him most, apart from a great love of his work. “It’s a shortcoming (as well) - I cannot do anything else. I can’t be dependent on anything else. Whatever I know, is this. So I had to get back to it, for the love and (because of) majboori (compulsion). I love what I do, so that inspires me. Even if somebody doesn’t accept me, they cannot take away that love. I will make sure that I keep performing, in the future also; I want to experience different roles and characters.”

Social media and hype

It’s obvious that Grover is ambitious, despite the pleasant demeanour and somewhat easy-going attitude peppered with humour. And yet, after building up a significant fan base as well as an Instagram following, he knows better than to take the business of fame too seriously.

“It (social media) cannot decide your worth! ‘Is that girl more beautiful than me; she is getting so many likes. Is he more entertaining than me?’ People start doubting their self-worth.”

There is insecurity amongst his peers as well, clearly, as he detailed an incident where a friend and colleague messaged him about someone he was following on social media.

He paraphrased, “Is that person more entertaining on social media that you’re following that person and not me?”

Calling the comments “not just funny, but sarcastic”, he cautioned people against obsessing over digital popularity. “Decide for yourself what you think is correct; social media and those likes or dislikes do not decide who you are.”

In parting, Grover gave a shout out to UAE fans to “stay happy, stay healthy, sleep on time, get up on time, and respect elders.”

“Being respectful is very cool,” he quipped, perhaps in a veiled dig at past detractors.

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