Anupam Kher on having a great 2022: Box-office has become a bigger barometer than performance
Actor Anupam Kher, who had three commercially hits films — The Kashmir Files, Karthikeya 2 and Uunchai — in 2022, calls it the most successful year of his career.
Having spent almost four decades in the film industry, with 532 films to his credit, Anupam Kher’s body of work speaks volumes for itself. Unstoppable at 67, he continues to reinvent himself onscreen and off it, too. And 2022 proved to be a game changer for him, with not one but three films -- The Kashmir Files, Karthikeya 2 and Uunchai -- doing wonders at the box office. And he doesn’t hesitate in admitting that these films allowed him to present Anupam 2.0 version to his audiences. As 2022 nears its end, Kher gets talking to us, and calls it a “delightful and most successful year” of his career. Excerpts:
At a time when most Hindi films didn’t do well, you had a phenomenal year with three successful films in your kitty. Looking back, what are your instant thoughts?
My favourite line is ‘Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’. This year has been an amazing year in terms of the success of the films I did — the unconventional films — and that makes it more joyous because they were not typical films. They were films, which made people think, changed their perception about 65-year-olds, gave them consciousness, which Krishna talks about. They were not regular Hindi films. I’m not looking down upon regular Hindi films, I’ve done millions of them put together, but to get success The Kashmir Files,Karthikeya 2 and Uunchai, is a delightful feeling. I have a mischievous smile on my face because I always thought that certain roles I’ve done on screen, are very successful. But now, there’s also a barometer of how much money every movie makes. Box office has become a bigger barometer than the performances. Though I feel I’ve survived for 38 years because of the kind of actor that I am, the kind of work that I bring and the kind of discipline I bring. But, this year proves me that ₹350 crores for The Kashmir Files, ₹130 crores for Karthikeya 2 and ₹26 crore already crossed for Uunchai, so it makes it ₹506 plus crores. So that way, it’s a very humbling. Thanks to all those directors, producers, technicians who contributed in my success. It’s not my success, it’s the success of the director of these films, and everybody. But, yes, as an individual, I feel triumphant. I feel humbled, I feel fantastic.
Having done over 530 films, was there ever a moment when you thought of taking it slow?
To be very honest, I don’t feel I’ve done 532 films. They’re just a number. I think I’ve learnt the art of acting now. And I’m not trying to be modest about it. I’ve done some great films. My first film was Saraansh where I played the role of a 65-year-old man when I was 28. That once and for all decided that I’m one of those actors who know their job. But now, my competition is myself, I want to make my job difficult as an actor because I’m easily competent now. And I always believe that if you’re competent, it’s very difficult for you to be brilliant, because competency is the biggest enemy of brilliance. I feel that I’ve just started (working) now, so when people call be legendary, that’s a perception, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. But, you discover your potential when you cross 60 age mark because then you’re comfortable with yourself.
You’ve considered each film that you’ve done very instrumental in your journey, but The Kashmir Files somewhat would always be that one special film, also because it took you back to your roots. Do you agree?
The Kashmir Files is a turning point of Indian cinema. When 30 or 40 years later, we’ll talk about Indian cinema and its growth, people will say, and mark my words, ‘Cinema before The Kashmir Files and after The Kashmir Files. Forget about the theme of the film or the genocide for a moment , as a film, it is cinematic brilliance. It’s something, which India should be proud of. And add to that is the subject of exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. It’s closer to my heart from that point of view because I’ve seen my relatives who’ve gone through this. We’ve been talking about this for the last 32 years that somebody should do something about it, and worst part was that people weren’t believing it. The Kashmir Files made people realise the truth behind it, and it’s also because of the guilt, they embrace the film, apart from it touching the core of their heart.
Despite being made on a very low budget, it turned out to be one of the most profitable and commercially successful films of 2022. It released amid much controversies on social media platforms and even otherwise. Despite that, when audiences walk into a theatre, or are repeatedly watching the film on OTT platforms, what does it say about the audience’s understanding of Indian cinema now?
I think the audience have always been intelligent, we sometimes underestimate them. It’s our insecurities that we think of a short-cut. A good film has always done well. They’ve always commercially done well or after a few years, has become a cult film. For example, Lamhe, it did not do very well when it released, and even Kaagaz Ke Phool. But now they are cult films, classics. So, a good film, at some stage or the other, will reach to the people and their hearts. But, The Kashmir Files with all the propaganda, with all the opposition and with people saying that, ‘Oh certain section of political parties sort of enhanced the box-office collection’ — oversees, it has collected more than ₹75 crores, so it’s not possible.
But, the first reaction of such things is to negate it because people don’t like to see themselves in a defeated manner. When you feel that somebody has done a superior work, the instinct of a mediocre person is to criticise it. But, a brilliant person will acknowledge it and get inspired by it. When I see a great performance, I don’t say, ‘Arrey yeh to achha nahi hai’. I say, ‘Wow, this is something I could have not done. Let me do something like this.’ That’s why my performance in The Kashmir Files, when I see it I don’t realise that it is me. That Pushkar Nath’s character, I don’t think that was me. The performance was done with my soul rather than my craft.
You also did a Telugu film this year, Kathikeya 2, which got rave reviews. Was there any thought while doing that film that it’s also important to put yourself on that Pan-India map that everyone is talking about these days?
I don’t believe in this regional cinema thing. It’s Indian cinema. Like we say Best Actor in a comic role, or Best Actor in a Supporting Role, so it should be an Indian film irrespective of the language. Also, the producer of The Kashmir Files, Abhishek Aggarwal, was also the producer of Karthikeya 2. And he asked me if I could do this guest appearance kind of a thing. I have only two scenes in the film. But, when I heard the concept of the film, I wanted to do it. But, there’s a trivia that I have to give you. When I reached the location, all set for Ramoji Rao City, I was about to give me my first shot. I said to the director, ‘I have a suggestion, tell me what do you think of it?’ He said, ‘What is it?’ I said, ‘A man who’s talking about knowledge, who is talking about light, what if I play him as a blind man?’ This is five minutes before I’m supposed to give my first shot. So, the director said, ‘Sir, I’ve not thought of it like that. So, don’t do this to me, it’s too last-minute thing.’ I said take half an hour because I’m not also prepared to do it and play as a blind man. My only reference and note to myself was that yeh itni jyada gyaan ki aur beautiful baatein kar raha hai, so iske andar lki light jo hai, woh jyada hogi if he can’t see. Also, if I’m saying some strong lines, looking into your eyes, it will lose its impact. And the director was kind enough, and that worked. When I went and saw the film in the theatre, I couldn’t hear any dialogue because people were whistling, screaming, shouting because each and every dialogue was getting so much of applause. And that was fascinating.
Your third film this year, Uunchai got positive reviews from fans and critics alike. It was an endearing and heartwarming story. While you mentioned that one starts to reinvent themselves at 60, at this point of your career, do you think this film was really important? And would this film have worked, if it released, let’s say, 15 years ago?
This film would have worked any day. Also, my personal philosophy of life was also matching with the philosophy of the film, which is that life starts at 60, which is that all of us have an Everest in our heart and we need to conquer that. It was a dream team to work with. Sooraj Barjatya was directing it, and there was Boman and Amit ji along with Sarika, Neena (Gupta) and Parineeti Chopra. It was a film which only Sooraj Barjatya could have directed because there is a Buddha in him. It was endearing, because we had also gone through so much -- two years of lockdown, two years of turmoil and COVID-19, and we were all trying to find our strength, our hope, our compassion, our dreams, Uunchai gave us that.
There are often times when we tend to divide the journey of veterans like you into initial days and second innings. But, in your career, there has never been a pause or a break; you’ve been working throughout - whether it’s your films, your talk show or your fitness routine. You’ve become a force to reckon with. At this age, what’s that driving force that keeps you going every day with a new energy?
Life. It’s so beautiful. Every day, when I wake up, and I open my eyes, I see a new sunrise. Every single day, I think about how fortunate I am, that I’m son of clerk of a forest department guy and talking about my 532 films, having had the most successful year. So, I’m thankful. My thankfulness gives me that energy. People give me that energy. My grandfather used to say that, ‘Happiness and sadness is in your hands. You can feel very sad by thinking how many people are better than you. And you can feel very happy by thinking how many people are worse than you’. So, it’s joy, it’s people, it’s everybody’s so inspirational. I’m people’s person and that gives me energy.
After a fabulous 2022, for is next year already looking like for you?
I’m ending 2022 with a very interesting film, The Connect, that has just released. It’s with Nayanthara, a horror film and it’s fantastic. My next release is IB 71 also starring Vidyut Jamvaal, and directed by Sankalp Reddy. Then there’s Kaagaz 2. Then the film that I’ve produced also, called The Signature. It’s directed by Gajendra Ahire, it’s a remake of a Marathi film called Anumati. Then there’s Kangana Ranaut’s film called Emergency. These are very fascinating, different kinds of films. I’m very excited. And thank you to the audience because it’s they who has made it possible for me to be able to work in movies like these. And that’s why, 2022 is a great year for me or for cinema goers. These non-linear or non-cliched films worked and that’s fascinating. Next year, I may not have this kind of success, but life is beautiful.
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