In Conversation with Anupam Kher on Theatre and Hollywood

Anupam Kher is clearly a fan of the double-double. Laughing loudly he asks whether there’s any ‘cheeni’ in his coffee in the middle of his press interviews. Kher is deeply funny and self-deprecating about everything from his career to his designer suit, which gives a sense that he doesn’t want to be treated like the national treasure he really is.

Anupam Kher Indian Summer Festival Vancouver

Photography by Tom Delamere/Indian Summer Festival.

Whether he’s a 29-year old aging up to a 62-year in his first role in Saraansh, or the supportive father in Bend It Like Beckham, Kher was one of the first actors, along with Om Puri, to navigate international cinema with an ease and finesse that’s paved the way for other Indian actors like Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra.

Kicking off the Indian Summer Festival with big laughs, Kher riffed on his childhood, waxed lyrical about his adversities, and his fateful meeting with De Niro, all the while giving everyone in the theatre a motivational pep talk about being yourself. We caught up with Kher to chat about his love for theatre, his TV show, and his favourite roles.

 

How do you feel when you see the relative ease that Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra enter Hollywood?

I feel wonderful with the response I’m getting from Sense8. It’s been superb. I’m very happy for Priyanka and Irrfan, and it’s wonderful to get recognition as an Indian actor globally.

How important is theatre in renewing the acting bug?

Theatre is everything. It keeps you alive as an actor. It keeps you reinventing as an actor. When I feel I’m rusting as an actor, I do a play, and I discover that, “No. I still have life.” Especially being from the theatre, so for me to go back to theatre is joy. Theatre also allows me to meet [people] from all over the world. I’m coming with a play on August 30 in Vancouver. To meet the audience, and to be able to interact with them on a regular basis is fabulous. Had I not been a theatre actor, I don’t think I would have survived so many years.

You’ve talked about how influential your first role in Saraansh was. What other roles have matched that same energy for you?

I think so, yes. Films like Khosla Ka Ghosla, Special 26, A Wednesday, Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, they all required a certain amount of finesse and maturity, not only as an actor, but also as a person. Sometimes you need to have the capability of understanding the role, so in certain roles I don’t show too many histrionics, just the way the character is feeling, and for that you need to live life. And I would like to believe that I live life.

You’ve played lots of fathers in many of the movies that we’ve all grown up on. Is there more freedom in the theatre? 

There is much more fame in films. I also do a show on television called The Anupam Kher Show: Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta. It’s like theatre is mother’s cooking. The rest of all is best chefs, best restaurants, but when you feel the urge – even if it’s the simplest food, that can only come when your mother cooks for you. I don’t think I could describe it any other way.

How’s it been doing your show as you’re in the opposite chair and interviewing friends?

Anupam Kher Indian Summer Festival Vancouver

Indian Summer Festival Artistic Director Sirish Rao, Anupam Kher and Chef Vikram Vij. Photograph by Tom Delamer.

I don’t use cue sheets (laughs). It’s important they’re my friends. I know them so I also don’t want them to feel that, “Okay, now let’s talk about this.” My research team does tell me certain things, which I hadn’t known about them. So it’s like a chat, and that is the reason of its success, because we’re just chatting.

Who are your guests on the new season?

I have Gulzar, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan Khan, Boman Irani, Paresh Rawal, Sania Mirza, Suresh Raina, Sonu Nigam, Waheeda Rehman, and Asha Parekh.

With your wife Kirron Kher busy with politics and you with acting, how do you both find downtime?

We don’t have time with each other, and maybe that’s the success of our marriage. We’ll complete 30 years this year on the August 26. Today’s her birthday, by the way, and here I am giving interviews! The best part is that we’re from the same profession and we understand. I respect her for her being a member of parliament and the kind of work she’s doing as a politician is fantastic.

Your school just completed 10 years, how did that come about? You’ve mentioned that you were bankrupt before creating it.

It’s super. I was very happy when one of the French television shows called it one of the twenty-two most amazing schools in the world. So the school is doing well, the play is going well, so I’m a happy man. I just decided I wanted to open a school, because I saw a lot of newcomers who were petrified of acting. I’m a drama school product and my first job was as a teacher, so we started in a small room. I’m happy today that we’re doing so well.

How was it working with Robert De Niro on Silver Lining’s Playbook?

I was completely star-struck when meeting Mr. De Niro. It was amazing, and I had so much fun during the shooting of that film.

Indian Summer Festival takes place July 9-18 in Vancouver.