After almost four decades in Bollywood, Anupam Kher has come to terms with life’s absurdities by embracing them and portraying them on the screen.
We recently caught up with Anupam and found him in a candid mood, ready to chat about life, acting and his latest film, Uunchai, where the veteran actor has shared screen space with Amitabh Bachchan, Boman Irani, Danny Denzongpa, Neena Gupta, Sarika and Parineeti Chopra.
You have worked with Rajshri Productions in so many films. Is there still room for any surprises while working with them?
Anupam Kher: As long as there’s room for surprises in life, there’s room for everything in the world. Of course, Sooraj R. Barjatya will make another film after Uunchai. His son will make another film. I have requested him to cast me in that film too. I told him that I will audition for it. There’s always a possibility. Who would have thought that one day I will work with Robert De Niro? But it happened. My play is called Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai — it defines everything. That’s the motto of my life.
What keeps you hungry for the new?
Anupam Kher: Life itself keeps me hungry for more. Life is so beautiful. If you don’t take yourself seriously, there’s no end to your creativity. If you’re not scared of failure and if you’re optimistic, it’s a lethal combination. If I take the burden of being Anupam Kher who has done so many films, then there’s no scope for progress. When you shed that burden, you feel lighter and can fly higher.
While doing a film, you’re not bigger than the film. But after doing so many films, you have become bigger than your filmography. How do you process this?
Anupam Kher: I make it exciting for me. As an actor, I should not do a film as just another job. Saying that, I did that for a long time when I was trying to be rich and famous. And I still want to do that, but now I make my job difficult. I feel that anything that I do should involve a lot of love and care. Most of the characters are similar and emotions are the same all over the world. How you plan to get those emotions out in your performance is what makes it exciting.
As an actor, how important is conviction for you?
Anupam Kher: I am a product of the drama school. Drama school products take themselves very seriously because they have learnt acting. But they get burdened by that too. My first film was Saaransh, a so-called parallel cinema. But it worked. I had thought that I would do anything that comes my way.
In a scene of the movie Coolie, Mr Bachchan is seen in a railway compartment and two programmes on the radio are getting mixed. One is telling you how to make an omelette, while the other is telling you how to do yoga. It’s a ridiculous kind of situation but Mr Bachchan did it with so much conviction.
You can only convince the audience when you portray a role with conviction. We do the most impossible things in our films, but 1.3 billion people still believe in us. That’s why I think Indian actors are far superior to actors all over the world because we don’t ask what’s my motivation to do this film. In Dil (1990), there’s a scene where I pick a fly fallen into a cup of tea and suck it before throwing it away (to not waste any tea whatsoever). I wondered what I was doing. But the audience loved it. That is the joy of being an actor in India — you do things that you personally may not find convincing. But you have to convince yourself so that the audience gets convinced.
I have only one rule — an actor should be ready to make an ass of himself anytime. It boils down to the same thing I said in the beginning: I don’t take myself seriously.
How do you approach a film that you’ve decided to do?
Anupam Kher: I try to do my job as well as I can. I don’t take things for granted. I must put in my hundred per cent. I am working less now. There was a time when I was doing 57 films at the same time. Now, I want to put my everything into the one film that I am doing. I have set standards high for myself. I want to impress myself. I have made my job difficult. When you make your job difficult, you put in that extra effort.
You are politically aware and vocal. Does it ever become awkward or discomforting between artists who have different political ideologies?
Anupam Kher: I’m sure it does. It was not there earlier and has surfaced in the last few years. I think anybody who votes has an ideology. Till the time people don’t know whom the other person is voting for, they can be friends. Once they know, it can become problematic. And this thing started in 2014. Before that nobody bothered about it. And if some people feel discomfort, what can we do about it? It’s my fundamental right to choose what I want to think. But that should not affect the friendship. As an actor, it has never come in the way of two actors of different political ideologies.
Do you think films that show Indian culture are being better received by the audience in recent times?
Anupam Kher: No, that is not the case. These films are made well. Otherwise, Samrat Prithviraj would also have done amazingly well. My friend Karan Razdan made Hindutva and it did not do well. It’s the film that matters. People don’t like to see fake things, whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy.
What are your upcoming projects?
Anupam Kher: I am doing Kangana Ranaut’s Emergency. I am also doing a Telugu film called Tiger Nageshwar Rao. Then there’s a Tamil film — Connect. I will also be doing Sankalp Reddy’s IB71 with Vidyut Jammwal. I recently produced a film with K.C. Bokadia with the working title Signature. And then there’s Satish Kaushik’s film Kaagaz 2.