Anupam Kher: I’m one of the pioneers in breaking this myth of typecasting
“I would like to believe I have another 25 years to work here,” says Anupam Kher, as he looks back at his journey of 40 years in the film industry. With over 500 films to his credit, he feels “thankful and humbled” for the chances he got, and glad that he went through his share of hardships, too. Though the past year was hard on everyone, more so for Kher when his entire family contracted the virus, he didn’t hope and let the eternal optimist within him take charge. Even on the work front, he kept himself occupied — he wrote a book, Your Best Day Is Today, wrapped up the shooting of his next, Kashmir Files, and is currently spreading smiles on social media through his new initiative AntarAkt and Are You Fine challenge. In a candid conversation, Kher talks about his career, the hits and misses and things that he’s extremely proud of.
You’ve been constantly on the go last year writing and then promoting your book, shooting in Kashmir, social media campaigns et al... How has it all been for you?
I actually took a break when I came back from New York to Mumbai in March last year. I didn’t do anything shooting wise for at least eight months, but did a lot of work from home. I wrote a book. I made two films — Last Show and Kashmir Files. You need to create work but you also need a lot of time with my own self. This lockdown gave me time to take a breather, take a pause, reflect and try to reinvent myself. When you’re at eternal optimist, someway or the other, you find positive in everything. So, the whole idea of writing the book — Your Best Day Is Today — came from the fact that I was fearful when this pandemic and lockdown started and I had never seen Mumbai the way I saw when I landed here... not a soul on the streets, people being scared, my friends not meeting me, for the first 15 days I had to quarantine and then you start looking for silver lining in these dark clouds. And when you’re looking for happiness, you find them — in people, environment, surroundings but you do find them. You find what you’re looking for.
It’s going to be 40 years in June since you came to Mumbai to become an actor. Looking back at 500 plus films you’ve been a part of, what kind of emotions run through your mind?
I’m thankful to life and to almighty, to people. I’m humbled. Millions of people come to this city to try their luck not only in movies but in business, sports etc. This is a city with a large heart, which gives everybody one chance and out of those millions of people, I’m a part of those very few who’ve created something. I’m not saying I’m the most talented person but I’m not dissatisfied with life, I’m thankful for life. I can be very unhappy thinking some people are doing better than me but I’m happy and I have gratitude. I’m proud of my own self because I’ve believed in hard work and honesty. I’m thankful to all those producers, directors, technicians, junior artists on the sets, and public who’ve loved me for the last 37 years. I’m here for 40 years but for the first 3 years, I was looking for work. And I’m also thankful to my attitude towards life which is of kuch na kuch toh hoga. If you put in efforts and if you’re honest and optimistic, nothing can stop you from realising your dreams.
You’ve played a variety of characters onscreen — a doting dad, a villain, a comic man etc — is there any role or genre of film that you wish will come your way one day, which didn’t happen in the last 37 years?
Well, I’d like to believe I have another 25 years to work here; may god give me good health and mental stability. I don’t look back and I feel grateful for what I’m getting and not sulk about what I’m not getting. And going forward, work is only going to get better because I feel it’s now that I’ve learnt acting properly and I’m not trying to be modest about it. Now I feel comfortable as an actor, and I don’t have to approach everything with a sense of proving myself. In the first 15-20 years of my career, I only wanted to prove to people how good an actor I was and that I knew a lot. But now I don’t feel that need, not because people know my art, I just feel now I know the craft a little better that I knew earlier. I mean, how many people can boast of a filmography that includes Saaransh, Daddy, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Silver Linings Playbook, Mene Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara, Bend It Like Beckham, Wednesday, Special 26. So, I am a rich man, maybe not with bank balance but with the kind of work I’ve done.
Late Rishi Kapoor also said that it’s in his second innings he was getting great roles and scripts. You’ve not really taken a break that one can divide your journey into innings but are you also hoping for better parts going forward?
Rishi ji felt so because for a long time he did one kind of films and he was very good at that, but I was 28 when I played a 65-year-old man. I approached my life from an actor’s point of view. I didn’t have good looks like him (laughs). Also, audience today is ready to accept people for their performance not necessarily how they appear. I broke that stereotype. I’m a trained actor, that’s I believe in training people and education of an actor because for many years I’ve worked here, there was this whole concept that you should have hair on your head, you should look a certain way and get a photoshoot by a certain photographer, that’s it. But acting aani chahiye ya nahi?. So, I had that faith that the day I get work, I’d be able to play different kind of roles. I feel very happy to say that I’m one of the pioneers of breaking this myth of typecasting.
Would you say the journey was smooth?
I believe in the journey being difficult. What’s the idea of travelling on a journey which wasn’t difficult? When I look back at my career, I’m so happy that it had its ups and downs, that it had roadblocks because that’s where you find your horizons. So, only in a situation of difficulty, sadness and hardship, you discover what you’re made of and that gives you a great feeling of self belief.
So, no regrets on missing out any opportunity?
I don’t believe in regrets because they only give you further heartaches. For instance, I auditioned for the role of Mogambo in Mr. India and it was almost final but at the last minute, makers felt Amrish (Puri) ji should do it. When I saw the film, I was happy that producers were right. The way he had approached the film and Mogambo’s role, I would have done it in differently but if this is how they wanted it, so be it. So, what’s there to feel bad about? You can feel happy about so many things, which are happening in your life. I’m the generation which has worked on stage, on cinema, television and would be working on OTT platforms. So, people who’re born in late 50s and early 60s are the luckiest. I’ve had a great time in the time when actors used to sit together, eat together, sit under a shade and have chats, that’s why we are the best of friends because we believed in human communication. I’m also from the time when people are only on their phones, they have managers and bodyguards; I don’t believe in all that, but that’s the way life has to change.
You’ve just wrapped up for Kashmir Files, a film based on the exodus of Kashmir Pandits. How was the journey filming it since it’s based on an event that you’ve witnessed closely.
What was pent up for 30 years, I think the catharsis happened during the shooting. I’ve done fairly good amount of work in movies but there are certain shots where I didn’t feel about it yet the craft was there. But I’ve not given a single shot in Kashmir Files which wasn’t felt. There were so many breakdowns during the sequences. I’m glad that Vivek Agnihotri decided to put a film together which is truthful to what exactly happened. We’re not putting in interpretations. Let people decide that. Unfortunately, what was made earlier — I’ve not seen Ashoke Pandit’s Sheen in totality and I’ve also not seen Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Shikara because somebody told me it’s not a great representation of what happened during the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. But I can certainly say, Kashmir Files is about what exactly happened on January 19, 1990 and how more than four lakhs of Kashmiris had to flee from there. Before every shot, I thought of millions of people who suffered because of that exodus, so it’s my tribute to their tragedy and I’ve tried my level best to be as honest with my emotions and sincerity.
With the ongoing farmer’s protests and unrest on social media, Bollywood also came under the radar with the debate around whether celerities should speak up or not. What’s your take on this?
It’s important to speak up about issues if you’re convinced about them. But you should also learn to detach yourselves. Because you’re a known person and people listen to you, you cannot make statements which are irresponsible. We should not forget that with power comes a sense of responsibility. But to speak up is very important, how long one can hide for. Also, it depends on the topic because everything these days has multiple interpretations.
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