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Confessions of an actor

RANA SIDDIQUI

The role of a professor of Hindi in "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" seems to have cast a mellow light on Anupam Kher. Here he speaks of matters close to his heart.


Tell me, when did you last look straight into your parents' eyes and have a heart-to-heart talk with them?



A DATE WITH LIFE Anupam Kher owes his meeting with honesty to "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara". PHOTO: ANU PUSHKARNA

`Maine Gandhi ko nahin mara. Maine unka vadh kiya hai,' is what Nathuram Godse said in his trial before the Lower Court for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He was hanged on November 15, 1949 at the Central Jail in Ambala.

Tell this to Anupam Kher, who is playing the protagonist in the Jahnu Baruah directed "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara", and he reverts with a rehearsed curiosity and surprise, "Really? I didn't know this," and looks straight into your eyes, trying to make out if you believe him.

And once he is sure you don't judge him as an ignoramus, he gives in. "This film has nothing to do with Gandhiji or Godse. But yes, the protagonist in it is a Gandhian. It is about a patient of Alzheimer's, the condition of old people in today's society, the father-daughter relationship and why a Gandhi is needed in today's society. When you see the film, you will realise that it couldn't have any other name. So the name is not a marketing strategy. Though when I saw the film after it was completed, Jahnu asked me, `Won't it sound like a gimmick?' to which I said, absolutely not," states the actor who made his debut in Hindi films with Mahesh Bhatt's Saraansh in 1984, which not only fetched him the Filmfare award for the Best Actor but also critical acclaim.

Real life

Based on a real-life character known to Baruah, "Maine... " is the story of Professor Choudhary, who teaches Hindi. "When he gets Alzheimer's disease he initially starts forgetting things, but in the later stages, the line between his imagination and reality diminishes, so much so that this man of Gandhian philosophy who lives in a society that has stopped believing in Gandhian values, starts considering himself to be a part of that society. That makes him believe he has killed Gandhi and hence, he keeps saying he hasn't killed Gandhi," relates Kher.

Actress Urmila Matondkar plays the caring daughter. Anupam laments that today children have almost forgotten Gandhi. "It is like that cartoon of R.K. Laxman in which a child is shown Gandhi's picture and is asked `Who is this'? To which he replies, `Ben Kingsley'," he says.

This one-hour-18 minute film that hits the screen this Friday brought the actor and the human being in Kher closer.

"I met honesty in this film. It has brought me closer to myself. I was shocked by the subject when Jahnu narrated it to me. Earlier, NFDC was to produce this film but I was so impressed with its screenplay that I decided to produce it. It is straight from the heart. I am not pretentious in this film. I didn't set out to make a great film, so even if it doesn't do well at the box office, I am already rewarded by working in it," adds Kher.

So, it's the creativity and a closer to life approach that the film deals with. It's an original idea and Kher believes that it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. "Every film that has something you can identify with is, I believe, a successful film. And it has done its duty well if it has made you realise your follies. This film made me realise how much we take our parents for granted. They are like a piece of furniture at home. As they grow old, we start avoiding them. We stop looking at them thinking woh kahin humse baat na kar lein. I tend to do it with my father also. When he calls me up between shootings or meetings, I cut him short saying `I will call you later', though I know it will hardly take me 30 seconds to listen to him. And see, how patient they grow. They stop minding your behaviour. My father also says, `Okay, no problem.' Tell me, when did you last look straight into your parents' eyes and have a heart-to-heart talk with them?"

Such a reality-check stirs you. And the reason to make this film at this time is to give the same reality-check to the audience, especially in the bigger cities. "Thank God, this dehumanisation still has not crept into villages. We have progressed a lot, which is good. But we did it at the cost of humanisation," rues Kher.

And that's what brings him to criticise the electronic media and its `breaking news' concept. "Why is the `breaking news' always a rape, theft, disaster or dowry case? Why when someone donates five lakh rupees to the needy is it not breaking news? Why not sensitise people with the breaking news of human and cultural values?"

And why, you may ask, when he was awarded the responsible chair of the Censor Board, did he not do his bit to "bring new laws and update older ones" as he declared when he adorned the chair, to curb vulgar remix albums on television that were as dehumanising? "I did try my bit. They didn't cooperate. It's useless to discuss it now. Jis gaon jana nahin, us bare mein kya baat karni? I still want to do it... " he parries the question, discomfort clearly clouding his face. "I am still hopeful. I have never given up in life. I have built castles from the stones thrown at me," he tries to make up.

Speaking of the Censor Board, the title of this film is learnt to have created a furore among the members. "They got apprehensive, called historians, educationists and old timers. After seeing the film, they congratulated me and said, `You have honoured us by making this film'. And it was cleared without a single cut and granted a `U' certificate," Kher beams with pride.

A challenge

He also claims that not only will the film challenge one's intelligence, it will also make one feel pained for not contributing to the society and family. He is happy that he got to act in this film 20 years after "Saaransh", else he wouldn't have been able to do justice to it.

"During `Saaransh', I was a struggler; hungry for work, money and shelter. I wouldn't have understood the intensity behind this project. I would have done it as a job," he admits.

Today with roles in "Khosla Ka Ghosla", "Janeman" and a Sooraj Barjatya film coming up, `jobs' are clearly not the priority.

A visit to the Alzheimer's patients' conference as a chief guest, meetings with old people abandoned by their families because of the disease, some self-realisation, and Kher seems a changed man. No one knows if he was like this earlier. But he is seen addressing a bearer at the hotel as "beta" and politely telling him the soup was "very bad", obliging a middle-aged man for photographs by getting up in the middle of his meal, and uttering "God bless you", and "take care" to journos half his age.

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