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40 years in films: The indefatigable Anupam Kher

As he clocks 40 years in films, Anupam Kher insists that he does not carry the burden of who he is

40 years in films: The indefatigable Anupam Kher

Nonika Singh

540 films and still counting, 40 years in Bollywood and still going strong. That is the indefatigable and irrepressible Anupam Kher, Padma Bhushan recipient and two-time National Award-winner, who abhors titles like living legend, thespian and veteran. “These epithets,” he asserts, “are indirect ways of telling people that they should retire.”

Kher played Bradley Cooper’s therapist in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (2012).

The gifted actor, whom audiences are currently seeing in ‘Kaagaz 2’, would rather let people know him as a newcomer. He works with the same spirit. Thus, even today, he has no hesitation in asking for work. Not to say that he is undermining his sterling achievements. Apart from international honours such as a BAFTA nomination (for supporting role) in the British sitcom ‘The Boy With the Topknot’, he has held exalted positions such as chairperson of the National School of Drama and the Film Training Institute of India as well as penned bestsellers.

In ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ (1995), the actor played an indulgent father to Shah Rukh Khan

Only, the actor, who made a mark with his very first film, Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Saaransh’, does not take himself seriously and does not carry the burden of who Anupam Kher is.

In ‘Saaransh’ (1984),

27-year-old Anupam Kher essayed the role of a 65-year-old man unable to come to terms with the death of his only son.

With his debut film itself, however, we woke up to his immense talent. Did he ever feel that he had set the bar rather high with ‘Saaransh’? He agrees, “‘Saaransh’ was the best thing that happened to me. A 27-year-old playing the part of a 65-year-old man — not many would have thought they can pull it off.” The stellar role might have been an acid test, but he never thought of bettering himself. He qualifies, “I am not competing with myself. I am not here to create any record. Life is 20 per cent excitement and 80 per cent monotony. You just have to go out and work.” Thus, every film of his can’t be brilliant, he observes. “You are only a small part of a film. There is a director, producer and so many other variables. You only work to the best of your ability. Just as a painter can’t paint a masterpiece every time and a writer can’t come up with a classic each time he picks up a pen, every film can’t be exceptional. In my filmography, too, I know that only 50-odd films matter.”

Among his best, he counts films like ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, ‘A Wednesday’, Golden Globe-nominated ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and the Academy Award-winning ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. As for his searing role in ‘The Kashmir Files’, he dubs it as “soulful”, the closest to his heart, a leaf out of the lived experience of a Kashmiri Pandit.

On the tribe of critics who often view cinema through a political lens, he quips, “Well, there are critics and then there are doers. I belong to the latter category.” Of course, critics have rarely been critical of his acting. He laughs, “Well, they can’t be.” But this confidence does not stem from arrogance. What has made him survive in the industry is not just talent, but his never-say-die attitude. “No one makes it without failing,” insists Anupam. His fascinating and uphill journey has been documented in his autobiography ‘Lessons Life Taught Me, Unknowingly’ and the play ‘Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’, which has been running for the last 18 years.

That failure can be a stepping stone to success is a lesson he learnt early in life when he flunked in Class IX and his father told him, “Failure is an event, not a person.” Similar sentiments were played out in ‘DDLJ’, where he played an indulgent father to Shah Rukh Khan, a memorable part in an equally memorable film. But he is equally grateful to the not-so-great films as each taught him something significant. Indeed, it’s difficult to survive in the cut-throat film industry where millions come and go and only a miniscule number make a solid headway. He adds, “Why single out the film industry, no field of life is easy.”

While his alma maters, the Department of Indian Theatre, Chandigarh, and the National School of Drama, New Delhi, gave him solid grounding, three years spent on the streets of Mumbai further firmed up the actor in Anupam. “I understood human vulnerability, lack of dignity and many other human foibles.” To aspiring actors and his son Sikander, whom he rates as a very fine actor, his advice is simple, “There is no substitute to hard work and honesty.”

Bollywood, he feels, has mostly changed for the better and it now functions like a corporate, as in the West, where he has had an opportunity to work time and again. Earlier, he laughs and shares, “An actor’s hairstyle was more important than anything else. And there I was, not a perfect baldhead you see today but a youngster losing hair left, right and centre, and wanting to become an actor.”

Overcoming all challenges, he did become one, an excellent one at that, irreplaceable and pitch perfect each time, mastering every nuance, be it comic or somber. He is still an ambitious actor whom you will see in ‘Metro in Dino’ and in the titular role in ‘Vijay 69’. And he is likely to once again wield the directorial baton he had picked up for his not-so-successful ‘Om Jai Jagadish’. Restless but content, his journey is the stuff dreams are made of. Who could have known that a small-town Shimla boy would one day become a famous actor?

Four decades on, he views the present juncture only as an interval point. Picture abhi baaki hai, as Anupam Kher the actor prepares for yet another innings.

#Anupam Kher #Bollywood

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