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Anupam Kher: "The most difficult thing in acting is playing an ordinary person"

This interview was first published in The Telegraph Online by the same author.


Anupam Kher has turned producer with the film Shiv Shastri Balboa, in which he stars alongside Neena Gupta, Nargis Fakhri and Sharib Hashmi. Kher, who calls it a ‘spice’-of-life film, gets candid about his new role as producer, his relationship with Rocky Balboa’s philosophy and being a global actor.


Are you enjoying donning the producer’s hat?

It’s a little tiring but it’s very productive. It keeps you on your toes. It also gives you stress but what’s life without ups and downs? I get to learn something new.


Why did you decide to turn producer with Shiv Shastri Balboa?


I wanted to give all my might to it. That can happen only when you put your dollar where it is needed. I knew that it was an important story to tell. I knew that it would be made very well because the director was very good. And we’re getting into production with more films. My next film Signature is ready and we are trying to make some more movies. So, I thought that this would be a good exercise and a learning experience. I am happy that it has generated a certain amount of interest and we will see how it translates to the audiences walking in.


Shiv Shastri Balboa derives its philosophy from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. What is your relationship with that philosophy?


I totally believe in that philosophy. My play Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai is based on that philosophy. Every time I have failed, I have stood up stronger, bigger and happier. The line in our film says, ‘Sawaal yeh nahin hai ke tum kitni baar girte ho. Sawaal yeh hai ke tum gir ke uthte ho ya nahin.’ Another dialogue from our film says, ‘Aaj ke pehle main sirf zinda tha. Ab main jeene laga hoon.’


So, I think this should be a formula for all of us in life. Today’s generation is afraid of failure. But we are the sum total of our failures. I had gone to a beach cleaning drive. When I do any kind of social work, I don’t like to travel in my air-conditioned car. So, I go by auto-rickshaw. So, while returning from the drive, my rickshaw driver was a 78-year-old named Abdullah. I asked him since when he had been driving an auto. He said, ‘Three-four years.’ I asked him why. He said, ‘I just wanted to do something new.’ I was amazed. This is the theme of Shiv Shastri Balboa that you have to keep on reinventing yourself.


You had earlier mentioned that you try to make it difficult and interesting for yourself in every film. What did you do in this one?


The most difficult thing in acting is playing an ordinary person. Because when you have done 534 films in a 38-year-long career, you know a little bit about acting. So, you want to put acting into everything. I did not want to act in this role. I wanted to be that person. It is very difficult because he is an ordinary man without any special things attributed to him. That’s how I made it difficult. It was very tempting because the film is about an adventure. My character almost elopes with Neena Gupta’s character so that she could go back to India. Despite those heroics, I have remained that ordinary man on the street. I had to remind myself before every shot to do that. That was the toughest thing to do.


Adding to that, what did you give to Shiv Shastri Balboa and what did he give you?


I gave complete sincerity to Shiv Shastri Balboa, and he gave me courage and the philosophy of never giving up. The whole thing has been done in an entertaining manner. The film makes you laugh and cry. It’s not a slice-of-life film. It’s a spice-of-life film.


In the film, we see a part of USA which we are not used to seeing in mainstream Hindi films. What was the shooting experience like?


Anupam Kher: First of all, we shot during Covid, so there was a lot of protocol. It was very hot there. But we had the love and coolness of a lot of Indians around us. Most of my shooting with Neena was on the streets. It was tough but it was also gratifying because we got to meet so many Indians. They showed great love and offered us food and beverages – cold drinks, nimbu paani, chhaas, sab mila apne ko [laughs].


Do you think people are jumping to conclusions that a slice-of-life film or a relationship drama is now meant only for OTT and not a theatrical experience?


I think people have a habit of making everything into a stereotype. They want to understand everything immediately and put everything into slots of theatre or OTT. But they forget that the story is the most important factor. A big-budget film without a story will not necessarily resonate with the audience. At the same time, a smaller film might resonate with the audience. The joy of watching a film in a theatre is that you’re directly exported to that world. Although OTT has given great talent and work to many people, the viewer might pause the film/show on the laptop and say, ‘Arey zara chai lana.’ That concerns me sometimes. But no big deal, because you can rewind. But when you pay for something, you respect it. That’s what I feel.


We talk about crossover films and crossover stars these days but you have been a crossover actor for many years, having worked in Hollywood and many industries in India. Your film’s director Ajayan Venugopalan called you the face of Indian cinema abroad. How does that feel?


It feels great. When I am referred to as a global actor, it’s a big achievement for me as an Indian. Actors don’t get to represent their countries officially like sportspersons get to do. But we do represent our countries. I feel that I am an unofficial brand ambassador of my country culturally.


I have learnt a lot from these experiences. I think in Hindi. When I do an English film, I have to work harder. Acting abroad gave me the opportunity to meet some of my idols. Forget about acting with him, I never thought that Robert De Niro would become my friend. I feel very proud that I got to work with artists like Robert De Niro and Woody Allen. It’s a feeling of gratitude and humbleness.


You have worked with all types of filmmakers. Would you like to share the screen space with a filmmaker?


Clint Eastwood. He is 91 years old and still making films. I would love to shake hands with him.

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