A versatile film and stage actor who has appeared in over 400 films and dozens of plays, Anupam Kher was born on 7 March 1955 in Shimla in a Kashmiri Pandit family. He studied at the city’s DAV School and later enrolled at the National School of Drama,Delhi.
He struggled in Bombay (now Mumbai) before landing a role in the Hindi film industry.
In an interview to the Indian Express in January 2009, recalling his early days in Mumbai and how his grandfather gave him courage, he said: “In the days when I was still a struggling actor in Mumbai, I used to write letters to my grandfather and tell him how I was going to pack up and return home, that I could not take the humiliation of failure and rejection anymore. It was then that he wrote this line (Bheega hua aadmi kabhi barish se nahi darta).”
Kher learnt from his failures as his grandfather had urged him to.
He made his film debut in 1982. But it was two years later, in director Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Saaransh’ (1984) — India’s official entry to the 1985 Oscars — that he impressed critics in his role of B.V. Pradhan, a retired headmaster whose son dies in a mugging incident in the United States. His sensitive performance got him the Filmfare award for Best Actor.
Years later, recalling the shooting of a moving scene in which Pradhan tells a customs officer that he shouldn’t have pay a bribe to get his son’s ashes, Kher said: [I] remembered all the miseries and humiliations I’d faced as a struggling actor in Mumbai. I told Mahesh I didn’t want any rehearsals or glycerine, and the shot taken in an office in Film City was okayed in one take — and is unforgettable.”
In a career spanning so many films, there have naturally been entirely forgettable performances as well, but Kher has excelled in a very wide range of roles that makes his versatility almost unmatched in the Bombay film world.
Kher has played many comic roles, notably in films like ‘Ram Lakhan’, ‘Lamhe’, ‘Khel’, ‘Darr’ and ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’. He played the villain in films like ‘Karma’ (1986). Another critically acclaimed performance was in the film ‘Daddy’. For his performance in this Mahesh Bhatt-directed film he received the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Performance as well as the National Film Award (Special Jury Award).
Revisiting the 1989 film in January 2014, film critic Sukanya Verma wrote on rediff.com in January 2014: “Kher dons a dusty tan brown suit and black shirt through most of ‘Daddy’. His dishevelled hair, dark circles underneath his tired eyes and a quivering, defeated, remorseful body language connect to draw the portrait of a broken man….Resisting any urge, very much like his character, to go overboard with the histrionics, Kher shows mighty restraint in a role most are likely to show off.”
In 2001 Anupam Kher took over as Chairman of the National School of Drama (NSD), his alma mater. On the occasion he was quoted as saying: “It (NSD) is one of the best institutes in Asia. But its energy levels seem to have gone down over the years. It seems to have lost its objective somewhere.”
He tried his hand with film direction with ‘Om Jai Jagadish’ (2002) but it did not do well. Kher also became a known face in the West after acting in films such as ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ (2002) and “Bride and Prejudice’ (2004). He played the role of a medical therapist in the acclaimed 2012 Hollywood film ‘Silver Linings Playbook’.
He also served as chairman of the Indian Film Censor Board.
Kher wrote and starred in an autobiographical play called ‘Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’, directed by Feroz Abbas Khan. Explaining how the play materialised, Kher said in an interview: “Harper Collins gave me a letter of intent saying that they want me to pen down my autobiography. When I was recollecting the incidents of my life for that, I selected only those incidents which were turning points in my life. I staged it instead of writing it.”
Kher, who has also appeared in several television programmes and runs his own acting school, believes practise is important for aspiring actors. As he put it once: “In day-to-day life, our brain sends lots of signals. In acting, there are no signals. You have to believe in what you are trying to portray.”
Also on this day:
1934 — Nari Contractor, Indian cricket player, was born
1949 — Ghulam Nabi Azad, union minister and Congress leader, was born
1952 — Paramahansa Yogananda, Indian yogi and guru, passed away
1961 — Govind Ballabh Pant, independence activist and union home minister, passed away