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Anupam Kher: My father taught me that failure is an event, never a person

Bollywood’s go-to actor for daddy roles says ‘I am what I am because of an uneducated, but brilliant, father’

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri Calcutta Published 17.06.24, 05:32 PM
Anupam Kher with Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Anupam Kher with Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Yash Raj Films

From the time that Anupam Kher played the grieving father in Saaransh at the ripe young age of 27, his first outing as an actor in films, he has owned the character of the dad like few others in Hindi cinema. Like Nirupa Roy, the quintessential mother in Hindi, Anupam Kher has defined the father in contemporary Hindi cinema.

Following the heartrending portrayal in Saaransh came two typically Mahesh Bhatt-driven father characters in Janam and Daddy. Tezaab offered another variation to his father roles, this time as one who is willing to pimp his daughter’s talents! Then there was Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, one of the actor’s finest hours, and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge which in many ways became emblematic of the millennial father.


And if these performances all showcased one aspect of Anupam Kher, he offset that with his portrayal in films like Ram Lakhan, or in his outrageously comic take in Dil, where he gave a literal demonstration of the word ‘makkhi choos’ in a sequence that, according to the actor, remains a favourite of many of his young fans.

However, as iconic as these performances have become in the annals of Hindi cinema, what is really fascinating is the actor’s experiences with his own father and his influence on Anupam Kher. Here, in his own words, he describes two incidents that have had a remarkable influence on the way the actor has approached his life.

“I am what I am because of an uneducated father, but a brilliant father. He was a clerk in the forest department. But I think his approach towards life was amazing. He was the most carefree person in the world. He was my best friend. We were a lower middle-class family of 14 people living in a small room. My father earned ninety rupees a month, and my grandfather, grandmother, my Taiji, their children, we used to all live together and we were happy.

I was in ninth grade. I got very poor marks. I used to wait for my father to start preparing to leave the house for work so that he would sign whatever I gave him without looking at it. I gave him the report card when he was in a hurry to leave. One day, he was about to sign when he remembered that he had forgotten his storeroom key.

So, now, he had the time to look at the report card. He said, ‘You have come 58th in your class?’ I said, yeah. He asked, ‘How many students are there in your class?’ I said, about 60.

I was sure he was going to get upset. But he took a long pause and said, ‘A person who comes first in his class or in sports will always have this tension that he has to come first. Even if he comes second, he is demoted. But a person who has come 58th in this class can always come 48th, 37th, 25th, 19th. So, do me a favour, next time come 48th.’

It was unbelievable. And then he told me, failure is an event, never a person.

The second incident happened when I was in my 10th grade. I had given my board exams. In Shimla, the board exams results came two months after the exams but you were promoted to 11th grade. So, you are sitting in the 11th grade for two months. And then if you have failed, you have to go back to 10th grade, which was a most humiliating experience.

There was a happening restaurant called Alfa in Shimla, on Mall Road. Of the 14 people in my family, four of us – my father, my mother, my brother and I – used to go to this restaurant once every six months. For me that day was bigger than Diwali or Holi or New Year’s or birthdays because we four were sitting together for those two hours. We used to order the same thing every time: mutton samosa, pineapple pastry and espresso coffee. And every time my father would tip the waiter 50 paise.

It was like clockwork. This one time, I remember, we had just been to Alfa two months back. So, I knew that we would go only after four months now. However, one day, my teacher told me that my father had come to the school in the afternoon and met my teacher. I was a little apprehensive and then my father surprised me even more, saying, ‘Want to go to a restaurant?’ I knew I couldn’t ask to go to Alfa, so I said, Nathu Sweets? But he surprised me again: ‘Alfa?’ I said, Yes!

He ordered mutton samosa, pineapple pastry and espresso coffee for himself and for me. I asked if he had won a lottery or been promoted. When the bill came, he tipped the waiter one rupee instead of the 50 paise. Now I was worried. Did he have a fight with Mother? Was he planning to leave us? I asked him what had come over him, what was he doing?

He said, ‘I had gone to the education board for your results. You have failed.’ So, what are you doing! I exclaimed.

He said, ‘I am celebrating your failure. So that if you ever fail, remember that failure can be celebrated. You can always order mutton samosa, pineapple pastry and espresso coffee.’

That was the most amazing lesson a father could give to his son at the age of 14. He liberated me from the fear of failure. Every time I tell this story to students, to everybody in my motivational lectures, I remind them that it came from a clerk in the forest department.

That’s why I do not fear failure. I run an acting school. I write books which become bestsellers. I do English films because I have no fear. I am a Hindi-medium guy and I do not bother what critics say about me because failure is an event, never a person.”

(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is a film and music buff, editor, publisher, film critic and writer.)

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