I have come to terms with my failures, now only compete with myself: Anupam Kher to TNM

On the sidelines of the Bengaluru premiere of ‘Naam Shabana’, Anupam Kher talks about Neeraj Pandey, cinema and being a vocal citizen.
I have come to terms with my failures, now only compete with myself: Anupam Kher to TNM
I have come to terms with my failures, now only compete with myself: Anupam Kher to TNM

Anupam Kher is on a roll of a different kind. It is the quiet confidence of a person who has seen success and failure and calls life his best teacher. With over 500 films in his pocket he says he approaches every new film with the attitude of a newcomer, with trepidation and devotion to the métier. He spoke to TNM's Chitra Subramaniam on a range of issues on the sidelines of the Bengaluru premiere of Naam Shabana, written and produced by Neeraj Pandey. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Who is Anupam Kher re-invented?

Reinvention is a continuous process that happens at various levels. It is a constant process to understand life and its many influences. Earlier I used to feel very happy with what I had done. But the moment you understand that you are not going to create history and nobody will even remember you after you are no more and come to terms with it, you are free to be who you are. You are no longer desperate. Now I want more fame and more recognition with a difference - I compete with myself. I have come to terms with my failures. 

Neeraj Pandey casts you in almost all his films. Has said that from you he has learnt the 'never say die' attitude. What have you learnt from him? 

Clarity of thought. I think he has great clarity of thought and that too at such a young age. He is phenomenal. He is the quintessential story-teller who has the knack of combining modern techniques with normal human emotions. And he is a master at underplaying - what you would call a regular guy. He underplays his genius naturally, without pretending to do so. When you are in his company, you are not tired. We have worked together for some years now. There is an interesting 'arrogance' about him and I use that word very, very carefully. Even if you do a small role in his film, you feel you've done something new, something interesting. As a contrast if you take a Sooraj Barjatya film, it's like going on a pilgrimage and a catharsis. Different styles, but Neeraj is clearly a modern-day story teller. 

It is common for top actors in South India to take political positions, engage locally, regionally. Barring a few, Bollywood is seen as a laggard. Why is this so?

Tradition of politics in the south is very strong because many top actors have gone on to become top politicians whether it be NTR, MGR, Rajkumar or Jayalalithaa. The other thing which stands out is there is much more togetherness in the south. There is much more discipline and much more solidarity. A stand taken by a producers or a directors association will not be broken. There are rules and all abide by the rules. It also shows in the work ethic. If a car is to pick you up at nine, it will show up on the dot of 9. Everybody will be on time. I remember even for Rajinikanth before he became the phenomenon he is, the rules were the same and he respected them. Akshay Kumar is always on time, for example. However, in the last 7-8 years, things have started to change in Mumbai as well and I suppose it has to do with more professionalism coming in across the board. 

There is a strong move now from actors in the southern film industry to call out misogyny and other practices that put women down. Taapsee Pannu recently called it Ab Samjhauta Nahin.  What is your view on this? 

I speak as an actor and as the UN Women Champion for Gender Equality where we are looking at gender parity everywhere. There are goals (50/50) and a conscious effort has to be made so all of us pull in the same direction. Let us not forget that this industry is also a market place (and I say this in a positive way) with all the complexities that come with it. Even in their time actors like Nutan, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi for example, held their own. A lot depends also on the choices actors make because that is what makes them. Five years ago Taapsee Pannu was in a different place and she has worked hard to be where she is today by not accepting work that does not suit her. Things are changing. PinkNaam ShabanaKahaaniMardaani are all films which bear testimony to this changing role of women in society. 

You are working in quite a few international productions. What is the biggest difference between how films are made in India and others? 

The major difference is professionalism. I am a trained actor and I can see this clearly. Their paperwork is perfect and pre-production work is superb. When I do an international film I remain on alert all the time.  I am not a chess player, I am an actor and an Indian actor. Films made in Hollywood, for example, have phenomenal audiences and I never lose sight of the fact that I am representing my country. I may have acted in 500 films and have millions of followers on Twitter, but till I reach the set and perform, my work remains limited to the immediate people around me and beyond. I know the body of work of international actors inside out, but the reverse does not apply. When I speak in English, I have an accent, but it is mine, there is no put on. I think in Hindi and I speak in English - that's the way it is and there is no compromise. The Big Sick, for example is being very well received and we have got rave reviews and I am very pleased with my performance in it... All this is possible because I no longer have the fear of failure. 

With Indian films being released internationally (like Naam Shabana), is it a case of the world doesn't come to us, we'll create our own world and take it across? In other words, should Indian films establish their own footprint globally?

We need to make modern Indian films. Not continue to make films about snake charmers, slums and elephants but films that tell Indian stories. And there films should be top class. An autobiographical film about Narendra Modi for example would do very well internationally. Or about Sonia Gandhi, but that was not allowed. We need to change perceptions. If an Akira Kurosawa or a Gerard Depardieu can become international names, why can't we? 

You are active on Twitter. You call out narratives in the media you deem unfair/hypocritical, take on politicians, comment on national issues. Where does the actor end and the activist begin or is that separation false?

Acting is part of my life. It is not my life. I am a person first and an Indian person. I react to pseudo intellectuals as a person, not as an actor. Life is about taking positions, it is about getting unpopular, life is about truth. I am brave enough to stand up and say who I am. It's people's fears that push them to compromise. I am past all that.  

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