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20 years of Hera Pheri: Gulshan Grover aka Kabira shares fond and not-so-fond memories

The film, starring Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty and Paresh Rawal, was fun to shoot, but the team also faced a few unusual challenges.

Keyur Seta

Along with Andaz Apna Apna (1994), if there is one comedy film that has achieved cult status over the years among lovers of Hindi cinema, it is Priyadarshan’s Hera Pheri (2000). The film had a long cast list, including Akshay Kumar, Paresh Rawal, Suniel Shetty, Tabu, Gulshan Grover, Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Dinesh Hingoo.

Based on director duo Siddique-Lal’s 1989 Malayalam cult hit Ramji Rao Speaking, Hera Pheri was primarily about the down-on-his-luck garage owner Baburao Ganpatrao Apte (Rawal) and his two tenants Raju (Akshay Kumar) and Ghanshyam aka Shyam (Shetty). One day, they receive a call, by mistake, from the gangster Kabira (Grover) who has kidnapped the granddaughter of the millionaire Deviprasad (Kharbanda) and is seeking a hefty ransom. (Those were still the days of the good old landline connection which often saw wrong numbers being connected.)

The trio of Baburao, Raju and Shyam decides to make the most of the opportunity by posing as Kabira and his gang and seeking double the amount as ransom from Deviprasad so that they can take half and pass on the rest to Kabira and also rescue the child. But, of course, you know what the poet said about the best-laid plans of mice and men. So nothing goes according to plan and the scheme leads to hilarious mix-ups.

Among the many memorable parts of Hera Pheri was Grover’s character and his way of announcing on the phone, ‘Kabira speaking!’ So, on the twentieth anniversary of the film's release, Kabira spoke to Cinestaan.com on the phone as Gulshan Grover and recalled some fond memories of the project. 

Kabira, speaking!

Of course, the actor is well aware how 20 years on Hera Pheri is very much a part of pop culture. “It is so good to know that people still remember the film, its characters and dialogues,” said Grover, also popularly known as Bad Man. “Also, this film is regularly discussed on social media. This is an achievement. It is because of the contribution of the makers and all those associated with this film.”

Grover has acted in a very long list of films, but Hera Pheri remains an important part of his filmography. “It is one of the very important films of my career because of how it is remembered and how my dialogue ['Kabira speaking'] was appreciated. It was an original dialogue. I didn’t have any contribution in it. It was all because of Priyadarshanji and the late [dialogue writer] Neeraj Voraji,” he said.

Rewinding his memories, Grover said the shoot was as much fun as the film. “The atmosphere while shooting the scenes in the house between Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty was a laugh-riot," he said. "It’s because of the sweet relation each shared with the other. We used to enjoy shooting.”

But one challenge they faced was in the climax. It is a scene which involved over 100 artistes, including junior artistes, where Rawal’s Baburao accidentally starts firing bullets from a rifle, which leads to total chaos. “During the climax many of us were together, so it was like a madhouse,” said Grover. “It was very challenging, but the good thing was that Priyadarshan and his team had each and every gag and sequence worked out in their minds.”

However, along with such fun times, Grover has a bad memory attached with Hera Pheri. It was because of this film that he had to leave Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakhm (1998), which starred Ajay Devgn and Pooja Bhatt. Grover was supposed to play the character of Gurdayal Singh which was eventually played by Saurabh Shukla.

It so happened that they were shooting the climax of Hera Pheri at Standard Mills in Mumbai. Priyadarshan and the rest of the unit were waiting for a shaft of natural light from the ceiling since the filmmaker liked that visual and also because the previous scenes had had the same natural lighting.

But it wasn’t possible for Grover to wait long as he had to start shooting for Zakhm from 2pm onwards that very day. The director and others were shocked when he told them he would have to leave at 1pm since it was impossible to shoot the scene without the character of Kabira. This led to a meeting between Hera Pheri producer Firoz Nadiadwala and Mahesh Bhatt.

“Eventually it was decided that as I had already shot for Hera Pheri and not shot at all for Zakhm, I would have to leave Zakhm. I always had this grief that I had to quit that film, which was Mahesh Bhatt’s last as a director,” Grover said.

Thankfully, that zakhm (wound) has healed for Grover after two decades. “Things have changed as I am doing Mahesh Bhatt’s return as a director, Sadak 2,” he said happily.

However, the unit of Hera Pheri faced another challenge when there was a disagreement between Nadiadwala and Priyadarshan regarding the shooting of the song ‘Chana Chan Chanana Nu’ featuring Akshay Kumar. The song was shot without the involvement of Priyadarshan, which lead to a rift.

At that time Grover had no idea that the film would go on to become such a cult classic. “I used to wonder what would happen to the film,” he said. Thankfully, things settled down and they went ahead and completed the film.

Grover still hasn’t seen the original film, Ramji Rao Speaking, because he has never found the time. “By the time I see one film, I can shoot two films,” he joked.

On a more serious note, he said there should be yet another Hera Pheri film with the same set of artistes and director. “I hope someday it is made and Kabira returns,” said Grover.

The sequel to Hera Pheri, titled Phir Hera Pheri, was released in 2006, but it only featured Akshay Kumar, Paresh Rawal and Suniel Shetty from the original leading cast and was directed by Neeraj Vora instead of Priyadarshan.