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An Interview with Actor Anupam Kher

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February 2011
An Interview with Actor Anupam Kher
Anupam Kher is without a doubt one of Bollywood’s most talented and seasoned actors—for starters he has nearly 350 films and 100 plays to his credit, not to mention eight Filmfare Awards and two National Awards. His performance in many films, including Saaransh, Daddy, Lamhe, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, 1942: A Love Story, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Chaahat, Saat Rang Ke Sapne, Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, Doli Saja Ke Rakhna, Bend It Like Beckham, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Jaan-E-Mann, Victoria No. 203: Diamonds Are Forever, A Wednesday, Sankat City and Wake Up Sid will always be remembered.

In the following interview, Anupam Kher discusses the New York launch of his academy Actor Prepares, how he has seen himself evolve as an actor, the importance, for an actor, of not having inhibitions, his most challenging role thus far, and much more.

You have had an illustrious career in Bollywood. How have you seen yourself evolve as an actor?

I’m like wine. The older I get, the better I perform.

But as an actor, you must always be learning, too. Do you see room for improvement?

Of course there is room for improvement. If I was what I was 26 years back then I’m one of the biggest idiots on earth. Every day you improve, and acting has to do with life. When you become richer in life in terms of experiences, you become better as an actor. Acting has no syllabus; it has no course. You just keep reinventing yourself.

What would you consider some of the major milestones in your career as an actor?

I am proud of my work in films like Saaransh (my first film), Daddy, Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, A Wednesday, Khosla Ka Ghosla? but my best is yet to come, I think. Also, when you teach, you learn a lot. That is the best part of opening an acting academy. When you are in touch with today’s generation, your ideas, your mind is not rusted. There is a learning process that goes on and on.

After doing 350 plus films, when you are approached with various roles do you still feel excited?

Yes, of course. I’m greedy as an actor. I want to do more and more roles. It’s fascinating to be able to work on a different sort of character (every time). That’s why I’ve cut down on my work. Before, I used to do lots and lots of films. Now because I run schools I want to do fewer films. So, I can work on them and give my best to each film.

You recently wrote an article for a newspaper about inhibitions. What are your own inhibitions as an actor?

I feel that actors need to work hard. And, the first thing is they need to shed inhibitions. So, I as a person may have inhibitions, but as an actor I don’t have any because I don’t worry about making an ass out of myself. I think the first lesson I teach my students is that as actors they should be ready to make a complete ass of themselves. Inhibitions have no place in an actor’s life.

In an interview, you had said that after doing so many films sometimes arrogance slips in when a director suggests, “Oh, why don’t you try doing this scene this way instead?”

I’ve been through that stage of being idiotically arrogant. I’m beyond that stage now. But, yes, when you are successful constantly you take things for granted. So, I think it is good to get out of it rather than getting stuck. A few years back I was arrogant. I’m talking about it because I am reflective, because only when you reflect on your life is there scope for improvement and scope for learning. If you don’t reflect on your life you don’t change anything, and if you don’t change anything in life it means you’re stagnant.

What have been some of the most difficult and some of the most enriching phases in your career?

I don’t look at life from that point of view. There have been some amazing things and some very difficult things. To give a clichéd answer, there is a very famous saying that goes ‘I have built my castle by the stones thrown at me.’ So that’s it. You can make it in life by your attitude, not talent?That comes second.

Speaking of clichés, when you get approached with a role similar to one you’ve done before, such as the role of a father or that of a villain, do you get sick of it?

It’s a job. Acting, like any other thing, is a job. I feel that 80 percent of life is monotony and 20 percent is excitement. I do it as a job. Because people talk about it, write about it and take photos actors tend to exaggerate, but basically I have to get up in the morning. I don’t take myself so seriously that I (think I) have to change the history of Indian cinema. It is a job and I want to do it to the best of my abilities. Many past actors and actresses are not remembered, so it’s not going to happen that if I’m not there the world will come to an end and Indian cinema will die and things like that. So, the journey is much more important than the destination. What is the fun of reaching the destination if you don’t remember the journey? So, I’m very proud of my brilliant performances and I’m equally happy with my idiotic performances because that was me. I still enjoy the process of going and sitting in my car and going to the sets and meeting other people. In Bombay every day 300-400 people come to make it and .001 percent of those make it, and I am one of those .001 percent. I am thankful to God that He has given me that opportunity. That is of course God’s grace. I am not going to get into this nonsense that I would have actually liked to do the hero’s role but got the father’s role. I am not insecure about it. I think I’m a brilliant actor and part of the shit work I have done is also a part of that. I own that, and I am happy to.

There are not many futuristic or mythological films made in Hindi. Do you feel there is a need for more experimentation?

The film industry is like any other industry. People want to put in money so that they can get money back. So, it’s important that they make what they think will work. It depends on each producer. Ashutosh Gowariker is very happy to make Jodhaa Akbar and Neeraj Pandey is very happy to make A Wednesday. The vastness of cinema is its excitement. If we take away that, then there is no fun. So people make their films about what they get excited about. We don’t have animation films, but animation films do well here. So, it’s okay?The Incredibles, Superman release here and they are happy, so it’s a personal choice for everybody basically.

Like you said, you feel your best as an actor is yet to come. But so far which has been your most challenging role?

I produced a film called Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara in which I played an Alzheimer’s patient. I had no knowledge of Alzheimer’s. Movies were made about cancer and TB and AIDS, but Alzheimer’s has to do with loss of memory. I had never met someone with Alzheimer’s. When I researched for it I felt the most difficult thing is to portray someone who has lost his memory completely. I think that was the most difficult thing. And, because I did so much research I sometimes feel that I’ve majored in Alzheimer’s. If I forget something I say, ‘Oh in that book it was written that this is the first sign.’ So? (laughs). But, I remember your name is Amanda!

Any parting words for our readers?

One should always dream. I’m an eternal optimist. Kuch bhi ho sakta hai.

[Amanda Sodhi is a Bollywood journalist, lyricist, screenwriter, and PR/marketing practitioner based in Washington, D.C.]

Anupam Kher’s Acting School in New York

“This is not a Bollywood acting school. It is an international school. I want to make that very clear. Acting is global these days,” says Kher about Actor Prepares, his recently launched acting academy in New York. The academy’s Mumbai location already enjoys a good reputation, having featured guest lectures by reputed directors like Danny Boyle and Shekhar Kapur. Actor Prepares offers three-month courses. Classes begin in May 2011. For course syllabus and details, go to www.actorprepares.net.

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