Anupam Kher: I've earned the respect of Hollywood
"What are the colour options in this design? You still have to take my measurements," Anupam Kher tells someone, presumably an assistant to a fashion designer, as he looks at the various sherwani designs laid out before him.
As news of a favourable response and eight Oscar nominations for Silver Linings Playbook pours in from all quarters, Kher, who has a part in the film, is juggling between giving interviews for his upcoming film Special Chabbis, coordinating his outfits, and preparing for a night flight to California to attend the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) on January 27, where he is nominated in the ensemble cast for Silver Linings Playbook.
Kher is one of the few Indian actors to have made a mark in the West -- from Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham, cameos in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution and Woody Allen's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, to last year's release Breakaway.
The 57-year-old actor has received a lot of praise for his role as Dr Cliff Patel in Silver Linings Playbook.
Sitting in the boardroom of a suburban five-star hotel in Mumbai, Kher, who looks as excited as a child, talks to Sonil Dedhia about his experience of working in Silver Linings Playbook, sharing the screen with Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper, and about the film's chances at the Oscars.
You have been nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) in the ensemble cast category for Silver Linings Playbook and the film has also got eight Oscar nominations.
I am very excited to be part of an ensemble cast and very proud of the film.
On January 27, 500-600 of the world's best actors will all be under one roof at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, and I will be sitting on the best table with Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Jackie Weaver...
That itself is a great feeling. As an actor, it is most gratifying to be recognised by one's peers. Hence this nomination is a high point for me.
I look at life on a day-to-day basis and take one thing at a time. When I read the script, I told some of my friends that this film will surely be nominated for the Oscars.
It does give me a certain kind of recognition. The makers of the film have been gracious to give me so much mileage.
To impress them, I had to tell them how many films I had done, but to earn their respect, I had to act well. And I would like to believe that they respect me.
Image: Anupam Kher with Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
'I am very excited to just be nominated at SAG awards'
How hopeful are you about SAG?
I am hopeful that we will get the award but even if we don't get it, I am very excited to just be nominated as it means a big recognition for me. It means I've earned the respect of many within Hollywood.
The fact that I get a mail from Robert De Niro makes me feel very happy. How many people in this country or the world get mail from him?
People like him and Bradley call me their friend and that is the biggest achievement.
What are you planning to wear at the SAG and the Oscars?
It has been my dream to wear a tuxedo and I'm wearing one for the SAG awards. I haven't decided yet about what I will be wearing for the Oscars.
Some people have been calling me up expressing the desire to make special attire for me, but I find this situation very ridiculous (laughs).
More than anything, I will wear an attitude of humility which is more important than wearing a designer tuxedo.
Image: Bradley Cooper and Anupam Kher
'I am very happy with the amount of screen time I have in the film'
Does people's attitude to you change when your film is nominated for international awards, especially the Oscars?
The fact that a lot of people ignore it makes me understand that it is affecting them (laughs).
A lot of people have appreciated my effort but some people are like ostriches who can't accept it.
It happened with me in the beginning of my career too when I did Saaransh. I played the role of an elderly gentleman and lot of actors at that time thought I will have to keep playing an elderly person all my life.
Your run time may not be as much as the other five characters have. In India, we speak about the length of an Indian actor's presence in a Hollywood film.
When I did a film with Ang Lee (Lust, Caution), I just had three scenes. Ingrid Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Murder On The Orient Express and she just had a three-minute scene in the entire film.
I don't think that the screen time makes a difference. This thinking happens only in India. I am very happy with the amount of screen time that I have in the film.
I am not saying that my work in Silver Linings Playbook is the best thing that has happened to Indian cinema. My name will be announced at the SAG awards if we get the award for the best ensemble cast.
Image: Anupam Kher in Silver Linings Playbook
'A Bangladeshi room service attendant shot my auditon tape'
A Bangladeshi room service attendant shot your audition tape. How did this happen?
It was desperation. I had already done one Skype audition with (producer, Silver Linings Playbook) David O'Russell, which didn't work because of technical glitches. I was in Toronto for the international film festival and had ordered tea in my room.
I was sitting in my room giving my second audition on Skype and David still couldn't hear me properly. So he requested me to mail him my audition by evening.
I was very dejected. The room service attendant, who came to serve tea was from Bangladesh. He was a big fan of mine and had seen a lot of my films. He came up to me and said 'Dada ki holo? (What happened)' I told him the story.
He told me that he had an I Phone and he would shoot my audition. I told him to say 'action' and once I finish, I will make a gesture and told him to say 'cut'.
He sent me the link within three hours with both 'action dada' and 'cut dada' (laughs). I got the role with this audition. I will tweet the clip on the day of the SAG Awards.
Is your approach to a role different when it is a Hollywood film?
When I do a film like Special Chabbis, my approach is different from when I do a film like Silver Linings Playbook.
Every film and the film's director demand a certain kind of approach. Luckily, I am a trained actor. What I could not use in all these years by doing films in India, I manage to use over there.
I don't think in English, I think in Hindi because I have studied in Hindi medium. For me to translate the dialogues into English and then to deliver them as if I know the language very well was a big challenge.
Their working culture is very professional. All the actors work in tandem. It is surprising to see that other actors make it a point to be there even if their scenes are not being filmed.
Somewhere, when you are working in a Hollywood film, you unknowingly tend to feel that you are representing your country. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I always felt that the film had an ensemble cast of Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and others and there was one Indian too.
Unknowingly, everyone was eager to see my performance and the kind of actor I was since I have done a lot of films in Bollywood.
Image: Bradley Cooper, director David O. Russell, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Jennifer Lawrence, and Chris Tucker
Photographs: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
'I was totally in awe of Robert De Niro'
What was director David O'Russell's reaction after you gave the first shot?
I would shut myself in a hotel room, be quiet and read and learn my dialogues. I remember my schedule was spread over some days and I was preparing myself with one scene at a time.
When I finished the first scene on the first day, David O' Russell suddenly came up to me and said that we will do all of your scenes today because you are in good form.
I almost went into a coma as I had prepared for one scene only! I told him that I was not prepared and English was an issue. He told me not to worry and would prompt me from behind (laughs).
When we did all the key scenes on one day in six hours, Bradley came up to me and told me they were the best scenes of the film.
You have almost 500 films in Bollywood to your credit and have a global recognition. Were you still intimidated by Robert De Niro's personality?
I was totally in awe of him. I had tears in my eyes when I first saw him. He asked me why I was crying and I told him my story that a guy from a small town in India is actually standing in front of Robert De Niro and shaking hands with him!
In the evening, after I had finished my shooting, he came up to me and told me that I was terrific.
It is the biggest award any actor can get.
Image: Robert De Niro and Anupam Kher
'I wrote to author Matthew Quick and thanked him for incorporating my character in the book'
Did the thought of getting dwarfed by the big names in Hollywood occur to you?
They are very simple human beings and don't believe in dwarfing anybody.
In the editing, if a scene gets cut, it's not because the director doesn't want you to be seen in his film. I am an educated actor and that is why I never thought of it.
Had you seen David's earlier films?
Yes, it was a part of my preparation. I saw all his films. I didn't want to look like an idiot if he referred to any of his earlier films like The Fighter or Three Kings in our conversation and I had no clue about them.
Did you speak to the author of the book, Matthew Quick?
I wrote to Matthew Quick and thanked him for incorporating Dr Cliff Patel's character in the book, without which I wouldn't have got the film nor would I be here giving you an interview!
I also thanked him for making this character an Indian guy as he could have belonged to any other nationality (laughs).
Image: Book cover of Silver Linings Playbook
'I am not under any impression that I'll be the most sought-after actor in Hollywood'
What was the biggest take-home for you from this film?
I got to know such wonderful people. I am richer in terms of my talent and experience.
I will talk about the opportunity of working in this film for many years. It adds to my body of work and gives me the opportunity to reach out to international audiences.
It allows me to be part of SAG and the Oscars. It allowed me to have a drink with Robert De Niro (winks).
On one hand, you did a film like Silver Linings Playbook and on the other hand, you have smaller films like Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein. Will your approach to choosing films change now?
I will still do smaller films. I am still a sane person. If there is a role that suits me, I will audition for it. But I will be always, primarily, an Indian actor who's worked in other languages also.
I am not under any impression that I'll be the most sought-after actor in Hollywood because Silver Linings Playbook has done so well. I would be a fool to say that.
Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein and Khosla Ka Ghosla are important films. At the risk of sounding cliched, I will say that the journey is more important than the destination.
Image: Movie poster of Silver Linings Playbook
'Special Chabbis is a complete contrast to A Wednesday'
As an actor, does a role that has nothing to add to the film leave you unsatisfied?
I don't take myself so seriously that I have to change the history of Indian cinema. If a friend of mine is making a film and he approaches me with a role, I would do it for him.
I act for joy. If a director like Mahesh Bhatt says that there are two scenes in my film, I would do it. I did a small cameo in Jab Tak Hai Jaan for Yash Chopra.
Special Chabbis is your second film with Neeraj Pandey. Did you go through an extensive script narration or did you trust him enough to go with what he offered?
He had given me the script of Special Chabbis right after we did A Wednesday. It was not in an advanced stage but I really loved it. I immediately told him that it should be his next film.
Special Chabbis is a complete contrast to A Wednesday. The film is charming and cheeky and at the same time it is a thriller and has some great characters.
I enjoy working with some directors and don't question their capabilities and Neeraj is one of them.You become possessive about the directors that you work with and I am possessive about him.
I have had exposure to the films that are being made in the West and I feel Neeraj is one of the few directors who have an eye for how to make an international film nationally. He doesn't borrow his script or style from anywhere.
Image: A still from Special Chabbis