By SUNIL RAO
“I came to Bombay with Rs37. By that comparator, I’m always a success.”
That, in a nutshell, is Anupam Kher’s philosophy of self-worth. Of how one should view oneself in life.
Far better known for being a versatile actor, and a Bollywood icon — he’s acted in more than 450 films and 100 plays — Kher perhaps surprised himself the most as an author, with the runaway success of his self-help book The Best Thing About You Is You!
Published late last year, the book is already into its eighth edition with more than 57,000 copies sold. Among other accolades along the way, it has also been endorsed by celebrity show host Oprah Winfrey.
Describing himself as an “accidental author”, Kher counts hope and optimism among the key drivers of his life. That, and the ability to be himself.
“Just be yourself. That is what I tell people. Just be yourself — it’s the easiest thing in the world… and the most difficult,” is his advice.
The Bollywood actor was in town over the weekend to promote his book, and to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award alongside the 22nd Miss India-Canada beauty pageant, held annually by Suhaag Magazine.
While his visit was primarily to promote his book, the actor who wears many hats — a recent one being as one of the very few star anti-corruption crusaders alongside India’s Anna Hazare — spoke to the media about a range of issues close to his heart.
Focus caught up with Kher for a quick one-on-one. Excerpts from the exclusive, and the earlier media conference:
How did this book come about?
About 10 years ago, I faced a personal crisis — both financial, when my wife (acclaimed actress Kirron) came to the point of telling me, ‘Kya kar rahe ho, hum log sadak pe aa jayenge’ (What are you doing, we’ll become penniless), and I myself suffered facial palsy — or facial paralysis, when my face remained twisted to one side.
Can you imagine what that can be to an actor? It’s the kiss of death.
But I faced down the challenge. Against doctor’s advice — of complete rest — I reported for shooting, on the sets of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.
It was that, that gave me confidence. That changed my attitude to life. Thattaught me, if I face my worst fears with hope and optimism, if I can celebrate my failures, it takes away the very fear of failure itself.
That incident led to my play Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai! And eventually to my book The Best Thing About You Is You!
You came up the hard way…
I’m a self-made man. I came to Bombay with Rs37 in my pocket, suffered the humiliation of having to sleep on the railway platform for 29 days, being awoken at 4am by the rattle of the lathi under my bench. And I came to seek my fortune in films as a bald actor (laughs).
But I made it. And, based on that benchmark, I’ll always be a success.
You’ve made it to various stages: as film censor chief, as acting maven with your own school for actors, as an education ambassador for youngsters — and now on the political stage, alongside Anna Hazare…
(Immediately cuts in) I don’t have any political ambitions. But I’m not afraid to voice my commitment, to fight corruption.
What do you think of Canada? And Indo-Canadians?
Canada’s a good friend of India’s, and people here have a very positive vibe.
You’re a Kashmiri Pandit. Have you ever essayed the role of a Kashmiri Pandit, or highlighted the community’s plight?
I did work in Mausam as a Kashmiri Pandit. But no, I haven’t consciously sought to make a film on the community.
As for the future — who knows? Right now I’m focused on my role in Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, which premieres here in Toronto, during Tiff (smiles).
By SUNIL RAO