Anupam Kher: The ‘small town guy’ behind the successful actor

New Delhi: If there is one man in the Hindi film industry who can claim to have ‘been there, done that’, it has to be Anupam Kher, a veteran of over 450 films and character actor extraordinaire. Kher has seen the gradual expansion of the film industry into a self-sustaining global behemoth since his ‘Saransh’ days in the gaudy 80s. But when I asked him what he saw when he looked back at his 27 years in the profession, he said he felt incredibly lucky for a small town man whose father was a clerk in the forest department.

If you did the math, you would be stumped. On an average, Kher appeared in 15 films a year over the past three decades, which effectively meant that he must have worked throughout the year. Just talking about the diverse roles he had played in his acting career was exhausting. He is the pin-up boy for character artistes. The obsessive uncle, the buffoonish company head, the cool dad, the despairing father, the lecherous neighbour, the funky college principal, the police inspector – you name the role, he’s played it.

“I don’t allow any person to decide whether I have got my dues in the industry, I will decide that myself,” Kher said during an interview. “Where I am concerned, I think I am the luckiest man on earth. There are millions of people who come to the city to make it in cinema, only 0.0001 per cent make it and I’m one of them. I have 27 years, more than 450 films and all the awards you can think about. I have acted not only in movies in India but with directors abroad such as Gurinder Chadha and Woody Allen,” he said. Kher has also worked with Paul Mayeda Berges, Ang Lee and James Dodson.

A handful of thespians including Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Irrfan have had the opportunity to represent Indian cinema abroad and Kher said he was proud to belong to the exclusive club.

The actor’s Twitter feed was an extension of his off-screen persona. He tweeted motivational quotes to his 700000 plus followers, wrote his first book, still devoted a lot of time to theatre and took active interest in his acting school. He said he was not ready to hang up his boots yet, far from it.

But did his hunger for work lead him to compromise on the quality of the films he signed and promoted? Some of his early character roles were not only loud, but did gross injustice to his training as a stage actor well conversant with technique and style.

“If I had thought of my training, I would not have gone beyond ‘Saransh’. But the fact is, I cannot be in India and think what I could have done in Hollywood or in European cinema. My dreams were to be working with Sharmila Tagore, Moushumi Chatterjee, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan; I had not seen any art film at that time. When I meet Mr Dilip Kumar or Mr Bachchan today, the small town man who admires them will always be there (in me),” Kher said.

“I have done the worst films on earth, but you will also remember my good work. The point is, as a professional you have seen good days and bad days. As a person it’s important to keep growing and your profession is not in your hands. There is no end to cribbing. The bad work that I have done, the movies you think I should not be enthusiastic about, I’m still enthusiastic about them because I have taken up that job and it’s very important for me to promote it and see it through.”

The long-overdue explosion of cinema that merged the lines dividing the arthouse and the commercial has given space to a solid bank of method actors to grow and flourish. But are method actors given the respect that commercially bankable actors, such as the Khans or the Kapoors, command in the industry? For most filmmakers Kher is an invaluable asset to have when the plot falters and they know the actor has the ability to see a scene, intended as a comic break, through. He is a contemporary of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan, having started his career about the same time.

“I am Anupam Kher and I am happy to be Anupam Kher. You judge your life from the point of view of where you have come from and what you made of it. Shah Rukh Khan may not have the 20 films that I have done. He will have millions of rupees more than I have, but Shah Rukh Khan will not have ‘Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara’ or ‘Saransh’. I do not do comparative studies in life because there is no end of wanting to be someone else. But for a small town man whose father was a clerk in the forest department, I have got more than my dues,” he said.

The man who motivated thousands with his inspirational quotes on life, resorted to a simple philosophy of his grandfather’s when he had to describe his own.

“I may lie to the whole world but I can’t lie to myself. I am happy with what I have done. It’s so wonderful to have an acting school churning out actors. How many actors get to do that? My grandfather used to say that happiness and sadness is in your hands. You can feel sad by thinking how many people are better than you but you can feel happy by thinking how many people are worse than you.

“I love life, energy comes from life, and if you do something you like, you don’t get tired. Bad work is part of good work. To me life is a journey, and what’s more important than the destination?”

  1. sputnik 9 years ago

    “He is a contemporary of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan, having started his career about the same time.”

    What nonsense. Saaransh came in 1984 and Deewana came 8 years later in 1992. So 8 years later is the same time?

    Anupam Kher is a good actor no doubt but he did mostly crap movies and gave crap performances. Liked him in Saaransh (his career best), Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Maara, WUS and A Wednesday.

  2. Ritz 9 years ago

    Aamir Khan came in 85 😀

    Agree that he gave crap movies and crap performances mostly in 90s post his comedy image became famous.

    • sputnik 9 years ago

      That’s why I did not mention Aamir/Salman 😉

  3. John Galt 9 years ago

    “What nonsense. Saaransh came in 1984 and Deewana came 8 years later in 1992. So 8 years later is the same time? ”

    No Its not the same time. I think the author of this article drew the analogy of Dharamendra-Amitabh, or Amitabh-Mithun or Shahrukh- Hrithik who had similar year differences and were considered contemprories or competitors.

    • sputnik 9 years ago

      Amitabh Bachchan can be said to be a contemporary of Arjun Kapoor too because they are acting at the same time.

      But saying Anupam Kher and SRK started their career about the same time is wrong. Saying Anupam Kher started his career about the same time as Sunny Deol (1983) would be perfectly all right.

      I have not seen anyone say that Sunny Deol started his career at the same time as SRK or for that matter even Aamir/Salman. I don’t remember reading anywhere that Dharmendra-Amitabh or Amitabh-Mithun or Shahrukh- Hrithik started their career at the same time.

      • John Galt 9 years ago


        As I said, its not the same time, but I am just giving you an idea as to how and why the author may have written what he wrote.

  4. Baba Ji 9 years ago

    Well Anupam Kher is a very good actor but why he is talking about himself in the same breath as srk and other stars? It takes more than just good acting to be a superstar in bollywood,as was shown precisely in LBC.It is not a game.

    • John Galt 9 years ago

      Baba Ji,

      I agree. LBC was indeed a good portrayal of this situation.

  5. Serenzy 9 years ago

    He is a Lovely Actor wid Terrfic Screen Presence IMO.

    Loved his ‘Say na Something to Anupam Uncle’ back when I was a Small Kiddo in Half-Pants.

    His confrontation scene with Ranbir in WUS will remain with me till I die and shud be etched as One of the Best Scenes ever in Indian Film Industry.

  6. Ritz 9 years ago

    He was talented – Yes…

    But he always lacked in

    Spontaniety – comapred to Johnny lever

    Dialogue Delivery – compared to Kader Kan

    Expertise of Hindi/Urdu in comic timing – compared to Kader Khan

    Timing in Comedy (timing and spontenity are different things I can explain later) – compared to Kader Khan

    Emoting serious roles – lacked in comparison to Paresh Rawal or Kader Khan (in brief stints in some films)

    Enacting cheap and vulgur roles – has tough competition with Om Puri who has lost his charm and enthusiam for acting long back and only here for some easy money….

    That was I can sum up Anupam Kher.

    I am glad that Kader Khan/Naseer and Pankaj didnt end up this way.
    Or even for that matter Johnny Lever.

Leave a reply

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?