I’ve been typecast as an honest man, and this is the only kind of typecasting I don’t mind,” says Anupam Kher, getting ready to, therefore, give some straight, honest answers.
This is in reference to his upcoming film Ekkees Toppon Ki Salaami, in which he plays a scrupulously honest municipal worker who gets embroiled in a corruption case, which kills him — and that’s just where things begin. Otherwise, says Anupam, honesty is what he lives by, since he finds it “exhausting” to be dishonest or fake — and he’s quite honest about his political beliefs. “I feel honesty has to have a face. If Modiji (PM Narendra Modi) at this stage is the face of aspiration, similarly in cinema, Balraj Sahni was associated with honesty… There is so much corruption, but when they want a symbol of an honest man, without sounding boastful, they think Anupam ko le lete hain, aaram ho jayega,” he says. Excerpts from the ensuing thrust and parry:
In this typecasting as an honest man, aren’t you often cast as a helplessly honest man?
An honest man is always helpless, because it’s been cool to be dishonest. But I always say, it’s cool to be honest today. I believe in it — a triumph is always about a weak, honest man who triumphs in the end. Honesty does not have a majority.
Speaking of honesty and majority, why didn’t you contest the elections (his wife Kirron did for the BJP and became the Chandigarh MP)?
I’m very happy doing what I’m doing; I don’t think I’m prepared to devote my time to politics. When I am, I’d like to give it 100%. I’m not in the frame of mind, and I’m too greedy an actor to do that. In my own way, if I go for a debate, I speak the common man’s point of view, even though I’m seen as a high-profile actor. I’m also an eternal optimist. I’m not an escapist — I do understand a situation, so I always feel there’s a possibility of goodness in life. I’m not a cribber, or someone who criticises. People who criticise are not doers. I’m a doer. Therefore, I’m proud of a PM who comes across as a doer. Within these 150 days, people can go to town saying, ‘yeh nahin hua, woh nahin hua’, etc, but I have great hope.
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You say you’re an optimist, a realist, a doer. Then why not get into politics to effect the change you want to see?
When I feel I have the time, I’d like to give 365 days to it, (do) what Kirron has done — she’s almost settled there now. But I’m mentally greedy as an actor. I have just discovered, in the last three-four years, what kind of person I am. I think when men and women reach their early 50s — and this is my own theory — you either like yourself or you don’t. I like myself.
You’ve discovered yourself now, after all these years?
Because I have a great sense of wonder about life. I don’t take it for granted. I’m not a stereotype who has set answers. That’s why I have no set answer for your politics question — what I’m saying is the truth. I’m too excited about wanting to direct, writing a film. I have discovered now that I can relax as an actor. I don’t have to constantly prove ki kuch kar ke dikha deta hoon. I now have the security of an actor. Initially, mujhe lagta tha yeh bhi kar leta hoon, woh bhi kar leta hoon — I was walking fast nowhere. Now, I’m walking slowly somewhere. If you like yourself, there are so many things to be done, and you take your own time. I’m just at the interval of my life. I have many years yet to do politics. But the joy of being in politics and acting is that there is no age limit — you should just have the intention of doing things. Actors in the film industry are usually wary of expressing their opinions on the issues of the day, politics especially.
Is it a function of this newfound security that you’ve been speaking out and getting involved?
That’s not true — it’s not just now. I’ve always been the most vocal person socially about things that I feel are important. I was one of the only actors who stuck his neck out for Anna’s andolan, or when I felt Kejriwal was wrong about certain things. The best thing about life is that you can be yourself — it’s the easiest and the most difficult thing. Maybe I grew up in a family where people said what they felt. That doesn’t mean I have to hurt somebody, but I think the burden of camouflaging is too much. (You keep thinking) ‘What do I want to say? But I shouldn’t say it, but no…’ Why no? It’s perfect, it’s alright. People who pretend, don’t like themselves. That’s why, they want to be somebody else.
Is this confidence the reason why you engage now in a public debate?
No, it’s because I’m not afraid of failure. That’s my biggest strength. Only fear of failure makes you do things you don’t want to do. Ten years back, I did a play based on the disasters of my life, called Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai. That play took away the fear of failure from me, because I was telling the world what was wrong with my life. You’re telling the world my left leg is thicker than my right, I’m bald, or I can’t speak English as fluently or with the correct pronunciation — then people have nothing to frighten you with. Your shortcomings are shortcomings only if you feel they’re shortcomings. But this doesn’t happen consciously. I’ve been able to analyse it over the years and can talk to you about it. The fact that I was 28 and did a 65-year-old man’s role (in Saaransh), apart from the necessity of getting work, means that many years later, people say, ‘He was 28 when he played a 65-year-old man’s role!’ Strangely, they tell me, ‘Aap toh same lagte ho itne saare saalon se’. Same lagoonga na, main toh reversal mein jaa raha hoon. Log 28 se 65 pe jaate hain, main toh 65 se peechhe ja raha hoon! Famous people are frightened people.
Of what, losing fame?
That is always there. In this profession, failure and success are very public and visible. You’re very fragile, insecure, and I don’t blame people for it. But I came from a lower middle-class family, and I’m giving an interview to a big paper in a car and the AC’s working and I’m talking about what a success I’ve made of my life — what else does one want? Life is beautiful! It’s a lethal combination of being optimistic and not having a fear of failure. I’m at the top of the world.
How does being famous change a person’s political outlook?
First of all, I love to be famous — to be recognised, I love people’s love, giving autographs, photos, seeing my pictures in the paper, etc. That excitement is always there and remains. But that does not change my political outlook — I react from my heart. If at some stage, I feel the ruling government is doing something wrong, I will speak about it. I spoke about it when Congress was in power, when I joined Anna’s movement. It’s not easy to be in the profession I am and take on the government. The fear of vindictiveness is there — a raid… Uss waqt mere ghar pe pathrav bhi hua tha. But it was so comical. Those 60 people who came to throw stones at my house — I sent my manager and my team to shoot them (on film) and at some stage, I will screen this — the main leader was saying, ‘Anupam Kher zindabad! Anupam Kher zindabad!’ Suddenly someone from behind shouted, ‘Arre ullu ke patthe, murdabad bolna hai.’ It was then that he said, ‘Anupam Kher murdabad!’ That was the most amazing thing. That’s why I also look at the comic side of every situation in life. Things can change and I’m passionately vocal about it. I’m not a cribber, but I’m also a teacher somewhere — and teachers are also givers. I was very happy Modiji talked about how teaching is the most thankless job, apart from a mother’s job. But in my profession, when you teach, you learn the most, because you discover what you know, and what you don’t.
Practically, is there any scope for honesty in politics?
There is a possibility. The system has become so corrupt in the last 60 years. I say this without blaming anybody in particular… A friend was telling me, ‘Yaar, log tang aa gaye hain Modiji se, time pe bulata hai’. It should be a good thing! ‘Tang aa gaye hain, bahut honest aadmi hai’ — yeh hamara pattern ho gaya hai. There is always hope that you can be honest, a doer, make things happen. Dishonesty is a shortcut. You should be known for the person you are.