Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saraansh was a gift from heaven: Kher

Anupam Kher has come a long way from his roots in Himachal Pradesh to his branching out and flowering as one of the most versatile and gifted actors in Bollywood today. He has taken the brunt of public censure during his tenure as director of the Central Board of Film Certification. He has been given the charge of director of the National School of Drama, and has produced some meaningful films during his span in the film industry. For one who made his debut as an old man in Saraansh when he was 27, with around 320 films under his belt, Anupam has few peers. Looking back on his years in filmdom, he picks five of his favourite films.

Saraansh: This was a gift from heaven for a new actor like me. It offered all possibilities and shades to be explored by a debut-making graduate from the National School of Drama. In theatre, we were used to doing larger-than-life roles. But here was a man of principles who gave me not only the best opportunity as an actor but also a new direction to my life – as an actor, and more importantly, as a human being. Somehow or the other, unknowingly, I seem to emulate many of his characteristics and his values even today. His fearlessness, the guts to say exactly what you think and feel openly, and so on. At that time, as a struggling actor, I had no place to stay in Mumbai, so the film was a life-and-death question for me. I modelled the character on my grandfather who was alive at the time the film was being made. He was a man of principles. He was inclined to spiritualism. In my opinion, this is Mahesh Bhatt’s best film till date.

Daddy: This was a film designed for television. It marked the debut of Pooja Bhatt as an actress. In terms of performance, I think I rate myself better in Daddy than in Saraansh, not in terms of character but in terms of performance. The character of Daddy was a challenge because he was a man of several shortcomings, a failure in life and in work. I found it extremely challenging to portray failure with dignity. It was more difficult because at the time, I was shooting for three films in a day and Daddy demanded high points of concentration. I needed to actually feel that I was a failure to get under the skin of the character. I was just beginning to work with stalwarts like Ashok Kumar, which was a thrilling experience. Mahesh had everything very clearly etched out in his mind and this helped us in essaying our roles. The emotions in the film were direct and were based on the cinematic viabilities of the characters.

Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara: The problem when I began this film was that unlike Saraansh, I was a very familiar face on the Hindi screen. All knew the name and face of actor Anupam Kher. So began research on how I should look in order to do away with Anupam and begin to look like the character. I had no ‘image’ to break when I was doing Saraansh. For this film, Jahnu and I discussed everything about how I ought to look – whether I should have a beard, whether I should not have a beard, how I should look, everything. Jahnu had written a brilliant script. I read up a lot on Alzheimer’s, talked to psychoanalysts, went to mental homes to meet patients. There was one man who thought he was a postman. Another imagined that his wife was his sister. A third would suddenly get up from his seat and begin to walk very fast. Based on this, we began to add some distinguishing physical features to the character – such as my twitching my hair when I was getting into the amnesiac mode. All this led to tremendous emotional drainage. The shooting was over within 40 days. Above everything else, I did not want MGKNM to be an art film. I wished the film to exude the feelings of a thriller with heightened suspense to create the thrill. We did some rehearsals before going into shooting. As producer, I began to visualise the film as the audience would – if I felt bored, the audience would feel bored too.

Sansar: This film was a remake of an earlier film from the South. Made by T. Rama Rao of Andhra Pradesh, Sansar was a family melodrama, which I fondly look back to because of the principled character of the patriarch I played in the film. It is a sort of logical extension of the character in Saraansh. I was not at all happy with the way my adult children were growing up. But my daughter-in-law opened my eyes to the importance of relationships within the family and my ego surrendered to emotion. The film threw up an unusual message about the importance of togetherness within the family even when the members do not share the same roof and the same kitchen.

Karma: I have picked this among my favourites because it marks several ‘firsts’ in my career as an actor. Firstly, I was working under the directorial baton of Subhash Ghai for the first time. I was cast opposite a great actor like Dilip Kumar for the first time. And finally, I was playing a terrorist for the first time during a time when the terrorist was relatively unknown in Bollywood cinema. The credit for whatever got into the character of Dr Dang goes to Subhash Ghai alone. He gave a massive build-up to the character, which comes across lucidly on the screen. Looking back, Dr Dang looks more comical than scary but at the time the film was made and released, he was made to appear a very stylish villain. Subhash gave an international edge to the character much before Dr Dang makes his appearance on screen for the first time and at times, I feel that it was Dr Dang who was the real hero of the film because of the importance his character assumed as the film rolled on. — As told to Shoma A. Chatterji