Anupam Kher: An arrogant man, in his own words
“I am an arrogant man,” proclaims Indian actor Anupam Kher. “But I’m arrogant because I am a self-made man. Nobody helped me to get to where I am today.”
It’s not big talk. Kher, whose career spans more than 30 years, started off the hard way. Migrating to Mumbai from Delhi in the hopes of making it big in the 80s, he slept in train stations and on the street for days before he was given his first break. And despite not having the looks of a typical Hindi film hero, he’s managed to build one of the most impressive CVs in Bollywood with a repertoire of more than 400 films.
With Silver Linings Playbook, which releases this week in the UAE, Kher is marking the next chapter in his career.
“I would have been an idiot if I didn’t do this film,” he said on Monday, the day of its premiere at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. “With such a A-list cast, I am glad it came my way and it’s been a great journey for me.”
Although Hollywood has not been entirely foreign to him, thanks to roles in Bend It Like Beckham (2001), Bride and Prejudice (2003) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), for the first time, Kher says, he’s playing a “substantial” role. Directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter), the romantic comedy also stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.
“David’s a delight to work with. I know he has a reputation of being volatile. But he is a very passionate director. He puts actors on an emotional edge, especially in this film and that’s the quality you will see when you see the film.
“He is one of the finest directors I’ve worked with. Everybody is excellent in the film and that’s because of the director. I would give my leg and arm to work with him again.”
Kher plays Dr Patel, the therapist of Cooper’s character Pat in the film. Having almost always played an Asian character in his Hollywood outings, he says he has been very careful to pick roles that are not mere caricatures of Indian people.
“I do not want to do anything that will make me smaller in my own country or in my eyes,” he said. “When I work abroad, I represent my country. And I am a bad mimic anyway.
“Also I think things are different now. Ten years ago there were caricatures of Indian or Middle Eastern people. Today, you don’t need to do stereotypes. You can be an Indian like this therapist and yet don’t need to peak in a particular manner to convey the character.”
The work culture in Hollywood is starkly different from Bollywood, he said.
“In India, 80 per cent of the films I have done I had to convince myself that that’s the truth. You do things you are not convinced about and then you try to convince 1.4 billion people what you’re saying. When you work abroad, everything is believable, unless it is a larger-than-life script.
“Also in the West, people are more professional. They do a lot of pre-production work. In India, you made movies like a family trip, like a picnic. I think also abroad when you work you have this fear of being fired any time. In India, when you make a mistake, they will say, ‘Why did you do this, don’t do it again tomorrow.’
“But also that kind of camaraderie is something I miss when I work outside. But it is too small a price to pay for the kind of work that one gets [in Hollywood].”
Kher, who also dabbles in theatre and runs his own acting school, recently launched his book, The Best Thing About You Is You! Writing a self help-style book and playing a therapist were just coincidences, he said.
“I am surprised and shocked that in its tenth month since publication we have had ten editions. [The book] is my understanding of life, the way I have lived my life and how I look at it,” he says.
“A therapist gives a feeling of understanding other people’s problems. But I think my experiences of life, the way I have lived it, also helped me with the role.”
Kher also spoke about the late director Yash Chopra, with whom he worked on many Bollywood films and whom the festival was honouring with a special screening of his films. Kher has a cameo in Chopra’s last film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, currently showing in cinemas.
“Yashji’s loss is a very personal loss to me. We were very close friends I was called his breakfast friend because at least three times a week, I used to have breakfast with him.
“He should be called King of Life rather than Romance because his cinema was like him. He was passionate about food, about seasons and about people. To have a career span of 60 years of cinema and keep changing with the different generations, I think that was most fascinating about him.”
A vocal supporter of India’s controversial anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare, Kher said he did so because he felt it was important to speak out about causes he believed in.
“You have to sometimes stick your neck out and take the risk of not being popular to talk about issues which are bothering you,” he says.
Responding to a question about celebrities using Hazare for their own publicity, he was quick to answer:
“I’ve been doing this [acting] for the last 27-30 years. I don’t need popularity for sticking my neck out.”