After being turned down for the role of Nehru in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi he had readily and quite convincingly worn the shoes of a retired old man at the tender age of 28. The 1984 film Saaransh is now a classic in Hindi cinema. Straddling a prolific career in Hindi films, and noticeable turns in western films like Bend It Like Beckham, Silver Linings Playbook, Anupam Kher is truly a Colossus in his own right. Recently in town to stage his autobiographical play Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai at the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi, organised by Myriad Pragmatics, the National School of Drama graduate talks to Usri Basistha about his autobiographical play.
Photos : Jinu Raj
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Autobiographies are a daunting task. How did you come about the idea of constructing a play around your life?
I was going through a tough phase in my life about 12 or 15 years back. The first film I directed, Om Jai Jagdish, did not do well, I fought with partial facial paralysis, and the company I had floated almost went bankrupt. It was then that two well-known publishing houses approached me with the idea of writing my autobiography.
But I was no writer. So, I started taping whatever came to my mind. By the end of it I had eight or 10 hours’ worth of taped material. On playing back the tape, I felt this was an interesting story. While parts of it were inspiring, I was also wondering why I had narrated it as one laughing at himself. There it struck me that I could try what no other actor in the world has—enact the story of my life on stage.
How did the eight hour long tapes get accommodated into the span of a reasonably long play?
Once the idea took root in me, I put the ball rolling and hired writer Ashok Patole. He, along with my director Feroze Khan had to leave out lots of things. It took us about two to three months to make the play come down to the length it is of now. You see, when you relate your story to ten people in the drawing room it can be funny because it falls within my personal space. The challenge was in holding the attention of a larger audience, of say about 500 people.
For my first show I took it upon myself to invite all the people who feature in the play. Dilip Kumar, Mr Bachchan [Amitabh Bachchan], my parents, Vijay Sehgal, everyone was there. Since then, I have performed it all over the world. My goal remains to communicate to my audience that ‘Yeh ho sakta hai toh kuch bhi ho sakta hai’ [If this can happen then anything can].
Being a public figure, how does it feel to open up the story of your life on stage?
When you lay bare your life on the stage, you’ve nothing left to be scared of. I discovered when you share your weaknesses with the world it has nothing to frighten you with. Suppose I’m trying to hide my baldness then I’ll be anxious about it being exposed. Instead if I share my stories of bankruptcy with the world at large, it will laud me for coming through. The play liberated me. Each time I do the show, I feel like the tallest man on earth.