By ANAND PILLAI
Although difficult to describe him in a few words, his is a story where you can say with great authority that if he can make it, then in life “Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai” (anything is possible).
He is someone who made it big in Bollywood on his own – by sheer merit, grit, and never-say-die attitude. The last trait, in fact, has stood him in good stead, especially during the bad times – be it the initial rejections or for that matter, overcoming the petrifying facial paralysis episode. This small-town Shimla lad, full of dreams, had to be famous given what he accomplished against the odds. Neither he had any filmy connections nor had the conventional good looks to get a break in Bollywood. But he persisted. And his day came with Mahesh Bhatt’s classic Saaransh in the early 1980s and the rest, as they say, is history. Yes, you guessed it right. We are talking about the bald and beautiful Anupam Kher. Well, he may be bald, but he also brought beauty to baldness. His boldness and his body of work is what makes him beautiful. A veteran of more than 500 films, including Daddy, Karma, Bend It Like Beckham, and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi, to name a few, today the 62-year-old thespian is regarded as a walking dictionary on acting, the craft that he nurtured over the years which helped him to carve a niche for himself in the industry.
Not only that, this multi-faceted personality is a past master at reinventing himself – be it hosting talk shows on TV or running acting schools or giving motivational speeches, you name it, he is there and everywhere.
In a crowd Anupam Kher stands out – because he is out-standing. In an exclusive one-on-one, as part of the promotions for his latest film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, the Padma Bhushan awardee opened up to Asian Style at The Bentley, London.
The film has superstar Akshay Kumar and the inspiring Bhumi Pednekar in the lead.
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, co-produced by Akshay Kumar and the talented Neeraj Pandey, is a satirical and light-hearted take on open defecation in India, and the fundamental need to provide households across the nation with a functioning toilet. The movie, based on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, is presented by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, KriArj Entertainment and Neeraj Pandey, in association with Plan C Studios and Cape of Good Films LLP. The film, directed by Shree Narayan Singh, is set for release on August 11, 2017.
Anand: We last saw you in the film Naam Shabana in 2015, also a Neeraj Pandey-produced film and featuring Akshay, of whom it’s your 20th film. Now your winning team is back with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. Tell us more about your relationship with Akshay and Neeraj.
Anupam Kher: I did Neeraj’s film A Wednesday. I have done all his films – Special 26, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Baby. I am also part of Aiyaary now. It’s a great relationship. I have great respect for him for the kind of films he makes, for the kind of writer that he is, for the kind of director he is. With Akshay this is my 21st film. We have grown together. Even though he is younger to me, I am so proud of his growth as a person and as an actor. It is very very rare in today’s time to see such a transformation.
The film tackles the issue of defecation in India. Do you think the film can make a difference on this issue?
Oh yes, absolutely. I think it does make a difference. When the prime minister (Narendra Modi) spoke about cleanliness, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it had yielded results, sometimes not necessarily in statistics as much as in awareness. Today you throw a trash can on the road, you will see five people giving you a dirty look – so that makes a difference. Also, this film will make a difference because it’s done by Akshay Kumar and is being made on a popular format with all the comedy and love story in it. When Akshay does a film on such a subject it reaches millions of people. Already 20 million people have seen the trailer of this film.
What more can you tell us about your role in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha?
I play Bhumi Pednekar’s grandfather. He is the only person who is a little educated in the village. There’s a contrast between my character and Akshay Kumar’s father’s character. Akshay’s father’s character is very very conservative and religious.
That dialogue was not in the original script. I told the writers that since my character is that of an educated guy, he should speak English also. Every scene of mine has an English dialogue. And those English dialogues are basically proverbs and quotations. I always quote quotations. This is a quotation which is very relevant, not only to the country or to the society but to your own self. That is if you don’t change, if you change nothing, nothing will change about yourself also.
Do you feel more movies should be made to tackle social issues?
It’s happening. Recently there was Pink. Khosla Ka Ghosla too was one such film. But that was on a different level – land grabbing, etc. Real India lives in smaller towns. I have co-produced a film called Ranchi Diaries. And that’s about small town place, the problems over there and the dreams of this younger generation. And there is one girl played by Soundarya Sharma and four boys Taaha, Himansh and other people. So today you can think of these subjects. You can make them commercially viable also. I am very happy about it.
There is some controversy doing rounds about a producer duo from Rajasthan dragging the Toilet: Ek Prem Katha producers to court over copyright infringement. What’s your take on it?
Well, I don’t want to say that that person is not right. That he or she has to deal with the producers, etc. Today it’s important to know that, although I am not talking in this context or any context, people become known by bringing up something like this and the moment that happens the media also pick
up because for them that is news.
But I am sure the producer and director will have their own fight or battle with this person. As far as I am concerned I was given the script and I became part of this film based on that script.
Do you think such controversies help in the success of the film, especially just before the release?
I think a film like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha with Akshay Kumar being part of this film does not need a controversy to become popular. And maybe controversy helps the first day first show, but afterwards it’s the film that speaks. And it’s not a love story where you are releasing quietly a sort of MMS clip of the heroine, of a deleted scene, the heroine in a bikini or something like that – leading people to think that there must be something more than that in the film. This film is about women’s privacy being invaded because they have to go in the open to defecate and to relieve themselves. It’s so sad that for so many years we did not notice this. I am glad that this film has come now and it will reach a lot of people. I think people will go and watch it because a cause like “toilet” is related to it, not because there is a controversy.
They say a good artiste is always a good human being. Do you endorse that?
Well, it helps if you are a good human being. Because at the end of it you are first a human being then an artiste, then a journalist, then a dentist, then a carpenter. It’s always good to be a good human being. You see the good side of characters also. Even if it’s a bad character, you have to be a good person to understand how well to play that. So I believe in the goodness. I believe in being a good human being. But at the end of the day it’s a craft. How well you use that craft has nothing to do with what kind of person are you. So you can be a third-rate person, yet play a good man very easily. So it’s not necessary, but I believe in the theory of goodness.
There are many films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha that delivers a message. Do you not think some audiences may not want to be preached and just entertained?
This is an entertaining film. The message is inherent. The message has already reached the audiences in the form of its title Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. And it’s a love story. In a love story usually there is a boy and a girl. They love each other. The villain walks in or the father is rich, or the other parents are not rich. In this film the problem is, after the love affair and after the couple get married, the boy’s home does not have a toilet. And the story is about how the boy wins over the girl. Why Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge became a cult film because the boy says to the girl that “No, I will only take you with me if your father agrees.” And in this film the girl says, “I will come back to your house only if there’s a toilet.” It’s a very very genuine demand.
There is lot of talk about nepotism in the film world. What’s your take on it? I know you are an exception who made it big without any support.
No, there are a lot of people who are an exception. And nepotism is there. Let’s just face that. And it should be there. Why not people whose parents are in films or in this profession help them? But that does not mean those who don’t have such relatives don’t make it. From Shah Rukh Khan to Akshay Kumar to Anupam Kher to Madhuri Dixit to Sridevi – they didn’t have any godfathers. They made it on their own. I think this debate should end. I think Kangana Ranaut is a fabulous actress. She has come from a small town and she has made it very big on her own and I salute her courage.
You have done more than 500 films till date. Any dream role that you want to do?
You can ask this question after 30 years. It’s too early to ask that question.