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Kher is special

Anupam Kher was recently in Calcutta to promote his February 8 release Special 26. t2 caught up with the actor on Bolly, Holly and... life.

450 films later, what makes Special 26 special?

First, it’s Neeraj’s (Pandey) film. After A Wednesday!, I am sure the world is looking forward to his next. Second, it’s a great role. Any film which allows me to experiment as an actor becomes special and Special 26 is that kind of a film. Neeraj is not the kind of director who would create a role just to have me in the film. Luckily, the role in Special 26 was there and I fitted in well.

Tell us about your role.

L.N. Sharma lives with his family in Punjab. He has seven children and his “justification” for that is ‘Humare zamaaney mein TV nahin tha and this was the only entertainment!’ In direct contrast is the other side of the man who is a trickster, a man who poses as a CBI chief and income-tax officer and cons people. It’s almost a Jekyll and Hyde scenario. When he is the family man, he is actually extremely shy and intimidated and then he suddenly gets a burst of confidence when he becomes the other person. I loved playing two different personalities. The treatment of the film is very cat-and-mouse between the fake and real CBI... very edge of the seat. The best thing about Neeraj’s films is that what you read in the script is what you will see on screen.

In an industry where everyone is talking 100-crore all the time, I feel it will be a triumph only when a film makes those numbers purely on the basis of content and not because it’s piggybacking on a star. Special 26 is that kind of a film.

What kind of research did you do for the role?

In most cases, I make a back story for my character. I think of details like this person must have been born here; at the age of five, he must have been like this; these must have been his favourite subjects in school; he must have fallen in love for the first time at this age…. I start from his birth and build his background till the age I am portraying. So, by the time I go on set, I have already worked backwards and I know exactly what the man is all about. That’s what I also did for Sharma. I worked on nuances like how the family man walks with a slouch because he wants to blend into the crowd while the conman has a confident look and feel to his personality. Also, while we were shooting one of the 26 people involved in the real-life raid (in 1987) that the film focuses on called me up. It was interesting to get a first-person perspective and that helped me immensely.

How was it shooting for the film?

The film gave me the opportunity to work with Akshay (Kumar) after a long time and it was such a pleasure because he has reinvented himself as an actor. It’s very easy to work with Akshay because he is easygoing and unbelievably disciplined, something that is such a welcome break in Bollywood. Neeraj made the whole process of shooting very smooth. My time in films has taught me that if you don’t enjoy yourself while making a film, then the audience would rarely enjoy watching it.

Neeraj Pandey. A Wednesday! vs Special 26?

He’s much more relaxed. Five years is sufficient time to grow as a person and also a creative person. He is sharper, he is a perfectionist. Iss film mein humour bahut hai and unlike A Wednesday, I saw the humorous side to Neeraj.

Your Hollywood film Silver Linings Playbook is doing very well on the awards circuit.

I am very thrilled because these things don’t happen everyday. Millions come to Bombay each day to make it and only a few do. I am one of them. I never thought that I would get to be in the same frame as Robert De Niro.… I never thought that one day I would win a Critics’ Choice Award (earlier this month) for Best Ensemble cast. It was wonderful when Bradley Cooper mentioned my name while accepting the award. I attended the Screen Actors Guild Awards (in Los Angeles on January 27). Just the opportunity to sit in the same ballroom as so many acting legends is a huge thing for me.

After all these years, what motivates you to wake up and go to work with the same enthusiasm?

Life! Not only my own, but all that I see around me. There is so much to get inspired from. It’s important to reinvent yourself all the time and make your own life interesting. In the last 19 years, I have consciously not said ‘I am not in the mood’ and ‘I am bored’. I sleep four-five hours a day because I want to be awake to a lot more things in life.

Acting is all about associations that you draw from real life. There is a beautiful line in my film Daddy (1989): ‘Yaad karne se beeta hua sukh bhi dukh deta hai.’ I have lived life, I haven’t just existed. Even 10 years from now, I will remember the lights in this room and this conversation because I am living the moment. I make a bank of memories and associations and I tap into it whenever I am before a camera.

How are you enjoying your new role as an author (The Best Thing About You Is YOU!)?

I love it…11 editions in 12 months is a publishing record. I love it when I am introduced as a best-selling author and not just an actor. A friend read it recently and told me, ‘Thank you for telling me in such a wonderful way what I have known all along.’