And now... he calls the shots
Anupam Kher takes on a different role this time he makes his directorial debut with "Om Jai Jagdish". The veteran actor talks to V. GANGADHAR about the new avatar.
"Om Jai Jagdish"...a theme close to Kher's heart.
FRIENDS AND Family mean a lot to Bollywood actor, Anupam Kher. That was why he cancelled a proposed visit to New York to promote his film, "Om Jai Jagdish" he had to be present at a Mumbai function to felicitate Ali Peter John, friend and film journalist, on his 50th birthday.
When I met him the next day at his Andheri office, Kher explained, ``Family and friends, those are the themes of my movie.'' That was a good beginning for an hour-long interview. Some excerpts:
Your first directorial venture, "Om Jai Jagdish" is scheduled for release on July 19. Nervous?
Of course I am nervous, excited, a bit scared, yet confident too. So many different feelings, throughout the last year, while I had been involved with this film.
How has the transformation from a talented actor to a director been?
Again, exciting. I am aware that as an actor I can blame others for the failure of a film, the director, the script, choice of co-stars, timing of the release and so on. But now as the director, I will have to shoulder all the blame. I am my biggest enemy, sometimes I expect too much from myself and from others who are in it.
Did you have to make compromises?
No, that would not be like me. Before the job began, I asked myself this question and the answer was: no compromises. I have always believed that directing a film is like telling a story. You have to tell it well so that it is appreciated. I will be making use of my knowledge of cinema, my reading of the subject and my own approaches to filmmaking. "Om Jai Jagdish" is a slice of life for me.
What kind of a director is Anupam Kher? Do you just tell the stars what to do before the camera or enact the scenes yourself?
Directors adopt both techniques.Yash Chopra explains what he wants to his cast while Subhash Ghai is more demonstrative. In my case, I am so full of ideas that I like to demonstrate to my cast what I want them to do. Of course, I also discuss the scenes with them. The theme of my film is today's India, with all its foibles. It is not a dream India, but a real India. The characters and situations are real. I felt happier enacting the roles before my cast because I knew more about my characters than they did.
Has the changeover from actor to director been difficult?
Life is not easy. I trained myself to do all these roles. An actor is only a part of the film not the whole and very often, he is moulded by the director. That is why a good director can make so much difference to a film. Among actor-directors, Raj Kapoor showed more inclination towards direction and perhaps that was why he allowed himself to be typecast in his films, constantly playing the tramp with a golden heart. Guru Dutt was an excellent director who was also good at enacting certain kinds of roles.
I am surprised you are not acting in your own film!
Look, I am not so efficient that I can do both these jobs to my satisfaction. Further, these days, I don't have the greed for acting.
You were not very active in the past couple of years. Didn't you tell a journalist that acting demanded only 40 per cent of your energy and talent?
Well I said that I had given 40 per cent of what I was capable of to my roles. If you tell me that I hammed, both comedy and villainous roles, the audiences wanted it that way. I have no regrets. An actor cannot afford to put himself on a pedestal. If I had stuck to doing films like "Saaransh" I would have ended up doing five films and not 400. We would not be sitting here talking to each other.
You are not the producer of the film. So did you have a final say in the casting?
The film is produced by Vashu Bhagnani. I was given the freedom to do things in my own way. Yes, Abhishek Bachchan plays one of the major roles in the film and his success depends on how the audiences react to him. I do not believe in the theory of saleable stars. The presence of big stars may help a film for a week or two. Unless a film tells a good story, it will sink despite a huge star cast. There are a number of instances in Bollywood.
You are a product of the theatre, I mean the National School of Drama. Yet you kept away from theatre for a long period. What is the future for Hindi theatre in Mumbai?
I still feel I belong to the theatre. There is nothing more challenging and exciting for an actor than performing before a live audience. The stage is the real testing ground for an actor. But then things happen in life over which one has no control.
In Mumbai, Marathi theatre has taken firm roots because its themes are closer to the lives of the people. Gujarati theatre has the money. But a good Hindi play still attracts audiences from every region.
The Hindi stage should concentrate on ideas, stories that have relevance and should be more professional to attract audiences. Some of the Hindi theatre groups in the city are doing very well ... you know that.
What happened to your play, which was being directed by Feroz Khan?
It is on, and work will commence once the film is released. As you know, it is a one-man show based on incidents from my own life. Only a third of it is about my life and career in films.
As for it being a one-person narration, I am confident of carrying it through successfully. And I have absolute faith in director Feroz.
You may make a good, critically acclaimed film. What if it does not click at the box office?
That is for the people to decide. Look I have not forgotten the commercial angle. However good a film may be, it has to be commercially successful to prove that people have accepted it. Rahul Nanda's story and screenplay have everything. The characters and situations are larger than life.
My film is about a normal Indian family, but the focus is not on huge weddings where women wear gorgeous saris and participate in a lot of song and dance sequences. There is a wedding, but that is very much part of the story, nothing excessively glossy about it.
There is a large photograph of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino from "Godfather" on the walls of your office. Is that your favourite film?
Yes, "Godfather", I think, is the greatest film ever made. I would give my right hand to play the role so wonderfully enacted by Brando.
Can you say something more on Brando and ``Godfather''?
It is a fabulous thriller and Puzo's screenplay is equally great. I admire Brando for underplaying such an intense role. Mind you, the Godfather presided over an evil empire; he killed people, lost his own son and friends in the gang wars. Yet Brando, without ranting or raving, conveys his emotions to us.
He pats his friends on the back, plays with his grandchildren, at the same time, leaves no doubt about his intentions to be the head of the crime syndicate. Do you remember how cannily he plans revenge for the killing of his eldest son?
It is a lifetime performance. Bollywood made its own versions of "Godfather" but they were far off the mark. I think Brando really understood the character of Don Corleone. He was never meant to be the cheap, show off, bloodthirsty mafia don.
What happens to Anupam Kher after `Om Jai Jagdish'? Do you follow a particular philosophy?
Life did not begin with `Om... ' nor will it end with it. I am primarily an actor and will continue to do so, hopefully picking my roles more carefully. The rat race is not for me. Directing this film has given me more insight into the art of cinema, which I will make use of in the days to come. Hopefully, I will now be known as actor-director and get more offers to direct films.
I cannot resist the call of the stage. Once `Om Jai Jagadish' is released, I must sit down and plan my future more carefully. My philosophy? Work hard and be prepared for surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Once you have done your best, leave it to the people to judge your work.
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