One of the highlights from next month’s BFI London Film Festival is Canadian gangster drama Beeba Boys.
Based on real-life events, the Deepa Mehta-directed film is set within Vancouver’s Sikh immigrant community and weighs up crime against family values. Bollywood stars Randeep Hooda and Gulshan Grover play warring criminals in the stylish, fast-paced English-language film.
Eastern Eye caught up with legendary Bollywood baddie Gulshan Grover in London recently to talk about Beeba Boys, the art of playing a villain, his love for the UK, inspirations and more.
Do you still get the same thrill playing a villain as you did at the beginning of your career?
Absolutely, and even more so now because the role of a villain has become more difficult. Earlier your brand was selling and whatever you did people loved it. Now times have changed, so one has to add characteristics in a villain that are far more subtle, far more real and yet very interesting.
How do you select the projects you get involved with now?
There must be something exciting in the film. Either it has to be an extraordinarily exciting role or the project itself has to have something that is interesting. Or it could need my support because it has great material, but if someone like me doesn’t come into it, the film wouldn’t have a recognised face. Or if the story is very interesting or the director is excellent or I want to support a younger technician who has struggled to make a particular project.
What did you like about Beeba Boys?
It is the director Deepa Mehta. I had worked with her in 1947: Earth. Everything was so fantastic and she had given me a great role. I liked the director so much that I did Beeba Boys. Although the film is about Canadian youth, guns, crime, fast cars, power and bullets being fired, I thought a sensitive director like Deepa would bring a different kind of resonance to it. I thought it would have an emotional impact on people as opposed to someone firing a bullet and someone dying, like say a Quentin Tarantino movie.
She also gave you a great role in this film?
Yes, on top of all that, she offered me a very good role of the opposition to the Beeba Boys, that of Grewal the kingpin. My character is the mafia don and runs the entire business until these young boys want to mess with him. When Grewal gets angry things become extremely hot for these boys to handle.
How did you decide Grewal’s look?
It’s nothing I decided, honestly. I have enormous faith in Deepa and she decided the look. I just went along with her vision.
How much does having a completely different look help you get into character?
Each person looks different. I can’t understand how an actor can look the same in every role or film – then they are just playing it very superficially.
Initially when I used to do different looks not many people were doing it because it was time consuming, energy sapping and tough work. But now look at it, everybody is doing it or at least trying to. Every hero wants to try a new look. Having a different look and feel fascinates the audience. No two people look alike, so how can every character? If you look the same, you are only just changing the name.
Do you have a favourite moment in the film?
The last scene, but I can’t tell you what it is, for obvious reasons.
Who is the villain actually, your character or the Beeba boys?
For me, it is the Beeba boys and for them it is Grewal. Ultimately it is for the audience to decide. Although it’s a commercial, stylish Punjabi gangster film, it deals with a serious problem. As Deepa says, she didn’t make it up. This is real.
Is the film based on real-life gangsters?
I am the wrong person to answer this. But yes, I do know it is based on some real people.
You must be very proud of the fact that Beeba Boys was selected for the Toronto and London Film Festivals?
I am very happy and excited that the film has been selected for such prestigious festivals. I am hopefully going to be coming to London to be at the UK premiere of the film next month. I am absolutely looking forward to it because I have a very special bond with London and the UK. I get enormous love and affection from my fans here, so I don’t want to miss that moment.
How important is the London film festival for Indian-centric movies like this?
I think it’s very important because at the festival, we are walking shoulder to shoulder with Hollywood. We are no less than any other filmmaking country in the world. Bollywood is the largest filmmaking country in the world and we have the largest number of eyeballs. More people view our films than ones made by any other country. Although Beeba Boys is a Canadian film, it deals with an Indian subject and characters.
Are you hoping that this film will attract a strong non-Asian audience?
Absolutely. It will, definitely. I think this is the future of cinema – to make films that are not for just one culture, but for everyone. I also think directors will make a film for a certain strong audience and then release it globally. For example, Beeba Boys will first be released in Canada and then the rest of the world. Canada will make it successful and that success will translate to other countries. Similarly, I have another film called UNindian, which is Australian. Now that film will first come out in Australia because fast bowler Brett Lee, who plays the lead in it, is very popular there.
What is Brett Lee like as an actor?
He is very hardworking and eager to learn. He would come up to me apologetically and ask if he was doing it right. I said, ‘if I was going to be a fast bowler, I would be doing the same to you because you’re an expert in that and I am expert at this’. He was very nice, charming, funny and jovial on set. He had thousands of incidents to tell. He could narrate so many stories on the set.
You have a special bond with London. What do you enjoy doing when you are here?
I seriously have to think about what I don’t like. Everything about London is so fantastic and I love doing so many things. I have discovered that when I come to London there is so much to do. I love everything, including just sitting in a cafe in the street like this. Although I’m recognised, I can do everything. The warmth and love I get from the people of the UK is fantastic.
Great actors draw upon personal experiences, but you are a nice guy. What do you draw upon to play nasty villains?
The experiences don’t have to be your own. You can draw from emotional memories and from people, situations and circumstances you have observed. So I draw from a whole lot of things. Also, it requires a certain ability to amplify an emotion – let’s say feeling angry and wanting to possess something. You can feel that even being a nice guy; you want to possess a woman, car, money or an Oscar. You can translate this feeling into a bad way when you play a villain.
What inspires you today?
Acting is my passion. It is everything to me. So everything about acting and the craft of cinema inspires me. When you are in a profession that you really love, struggled and worked hard for success in, why would you not be excited going to work? So I get extremely excited. I came from a very humble background and poor circumstances.
Your family must be proud?
The only strength we had was education. I struggled, worked really hard, my parents prayed in every temple and my sister fasted for me to be an actor. It was not just a dream of the family, but a dream of the community, the neighbourhood and of the small town I lived in. I owed it to everybody’s aspirations and hopes to be successful. I didn’t just stop there. When I became successful in India, I took the small-town, regular guy on the street to international cinema. I built a bridge between Hollywood and Bollywood.
Beeba Boys is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival, which will run from October 7-18. To book tickets and find out more, log onto www.bfi.org.uk/lff or call 020 7928 3232.