Had he not stolen Rs100 (Dh5) from his mother’s place of worship at home and snuck out to audition in a drama school in Chandigarh, actor Anupam Kher would not have been in Bangkok to collect the Outstanding Achievement in Cinema in Bangkok on Sunday night at the International Indian Film Academy (Iifa) Awards 2018.
In an interview with Gulf News tabloid! on the sidelines of the awards function, the 63-year-old actor who has featured in 515 films in a career spanning 34 years, was refreshingly candid about his humble beginnings. Kher could easily be the gleaming poster boy for anti-nepotism in Bollywood, where his relevance and long-enduring career is pegged on his merit and not his connections to any acting dynasty.
“If I had not landed up in Mumbai on 3rd of June 1981, bald and thin then, wanting to be a Hindi film actor, I would not have been sitting here in a suit talking about my outstanding achievements… I am a small town boy from Shimla. My father was a forest department clerk. And to think from there, I am now in a suit giving you this interview,” said Kher.
Apart from being incredibly thrilled about his sharp-grey suit, the veteran who has been in crackling form for several decades is a walking testament to eternal optimism.
This man can roll out life lessons in a snap and put Hallmark card writers to shame. (“If you try, you risk failure and if you don’t, you ensure it”; “I am an eternal optimist, being a realist is being defensive”).
But what sets Kher apart is that he truly applies these inspiring gems to his daily life. He makes it crystal clear that his ‘Outstanding Contribution To Cinema’ honour isn’t the end of the road for him. Kher has only reached the interval of the movie called life, says the actor.
“The world or the people in it try to slot you into a place where they think it makes them comfortable… So my lifetime achievement is at least 30 years away. My lifetime achievement was my first film Saraansh. Nothing can beat that,” said Kher.
In the award-winning tragedy directed by Mahesh Bhatt, Kher was a 27-year-old actor hopeful who played a 67-year-old father grieving the death of his son. The film chronicled the trauma that a devastated parent goes through as he tries to fight red-tape to get his dead son’s ashes back home to India.
It was a spectacular debut that instantly catapulted Kher into a stellar character actor. Kher describes it as his “Benjamin Button moment” alluding to Brad Pitt’s film about a man who aged in reverse.
“But I don’t want to look back… I remember my journey well. I also remember my failures. I feel humbled and fantastic about it. Despite my failures, I am what I am… I feel winners should never look back. If I were running a 100-metre race, I shouldn’t look back, but just look at the winning post.”
True to his life philosophy, Kher who strengthened his Hollywood career with the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook will be soon see in films such as the politically charged biopic The Accidental Prime Minister in which he plays the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Hotel Mumbai with actors Dev Patel and Armie Hammer.
Kher, who was based in Bollywood’s epic-centre Mumbai until recently, told Gulf News tabloid! that he will be moving to New York soon for his international projects. He will soon be seen in NBC’s medical drama New Amsterdam as a neurologist, the filming for which has already been wrapped up, along with a series for BBC.
But it isn’t his career that’s inspiring when it comes to this self-made talent. Kher is also one of the few actors who have openly spoken about battling depression, joining the likes of actress Deepika Padukone. Kher wears his failures and his flaws like a badge of honour.
“It’s important to speak about mental health. I see a lot of young people who are depressed. I see a lot of suicides among young people. And I want to reach out to them. Loneliness is not attractive if it is affecting your mind,” said Kher, who released a video on mental health on YouTube this month.
While Kher remains a high-functioning individual battling mental issues, he claims he was surprised when he was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medicines to treat it. His first thought was how could a person who has written self-help books on tackling life ever be afflicted with mind troubles.
“I did not sleep for one year. I went to an eye specialist and asked him to give me a major eye drop for my dry eyes. Twenty minutes into our conversation, he said: ’sorry sir, but I don’t think you need an eye specialist, you need a psychiatrist,” said Kher recounting his days that led to his diagnosis.
“I am the most positive person and I thought he was joking… When I met my psychiatrist I asked him if he gone through my bestseller and to tell me his problems. But just as I was leaving, he started writing my medications and told me that I was depressed and that I push my problems at the back of my mind. He spoke about happy juices… That was the first time I had my brush with the technical word ‘depression’,” said Kher.
He added that he wasn’t speaking up to be brave, but to normalise mental health issues which are considered a taboo in many parts of the world. Talking about his shortcomings makes him feel like the tallest man in the world, claims Kher.
“You don’t have to be brave, just be human,” said Kher.
According to the actor, it was his sense of optimism that has helped him survive the fickle and addictive world of entertainment.
“Even after 515 films, my sense of wonder hasn’t changed… Actors have changed, but I am still excited about life… I don’t carry the burden of being a genius. I am just happy for myself… I carry my bald, sexy look on my shoulders.”