Anupam Kher Birthday Special: Was Saaransh the greatest debut ever?
In his 36-year acting career, Anupam Kher has played almost every character Hindi Cinema has to offer. What else is left for him to veer into? Did he have the greatest debut?
I have always followed Anupam Kher's films, performances, and even his interviews. There's a certain joy to watch a fine actor explaining his success and struggles. In an interview that happened a few years ago, Kher talked about how he came to Bombay on June 3, 1981, after graduating from the National School of Drama and bagged his first role after three years of struggle.
The journey wasn't easy, but he had to succeed as he took the road less travelled, or maybe never taken. He made his debut with Saaransh in 1984, a drama about the life of an ageing couple after their son's death, and how they strive to survive and deal with the brutality of life. Kher was 28 when he played the role of a 65-year old B.V. Pradhan. He nearly lost the role to Sanjeev Kumar, and this is why all his anger and pain in his performance felt real.
Kher often revisits what is arguably the greatest debut in Hindi films, and is unapologetically narcissistic about what he achieved right from his beginning what others don't when they are done and dusted. And he recently posted something about it on his Instagram account that sounded like a pat on one's own back:
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I was 28 years old when I did my first film #Saaransh. Today when I am just about to stage my #OneManPlay I really think I appropriately named it #KuchBhiHoSaktaHai. I still after almost 36years feel that it was not me who played this old man named #BVPradhan. Jai Ho!ðÂÂÂÂÂÂðÂÂ¤ÂÂðÂÂÂÂÂÂ #Actor #Cinema #Theatre #Passion #JoyOfActing
His collaborations with Bhatt continued in a lot of films and he always knew what and how to extract from an actor that needed to be in the right films to shine. In Daddy, Kher played Anand, an alcoholic father whose mysterious disappearance has devastated his daughter. Kher has described this performance as more personal and piercing than Saaransh, which took a lot out of him, both physically and emotionally.
With these two draining films, it was apt and appropriate that Bhatt and Kher now decided to take the romantic route and get inspired by Hollywood. Adapting the story of It Happened One Night, which was already remade into Chori Chori and Suhana Safar, Bhatt made Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin with Aamir Khan and Pooja Bhatt, where Kher played Bhatt's father. He was an idiosyncratic character that he played for the laughs. This was one of his earlier films where we saw his potential as a comic actor, and perhaps the first on-screen father who asks his daughter to run away from her own marriage and get married to the man she loves. Who wouldn't fall in love with him?
Talking about the nuances of a father, missing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge would be a sin. Almost all the films and performances that will make it to this list have been talked about by Kher in at least two of his interviews, and he has fond memories of this film especially. Dharamvir Malhotra's ancestors were actually his, who credited him later for making them famous. Dharamvir was very similar to Dharamchand in terms of the way they were written and behaving, bordering on the buffoonery but also standing by the notion of romance. Very rarely do we get fathers that are the support of their children's love and not the conflict.
Talking about conflict, Kher faced his greatest celluloid conflict in the form of Jahnu Barua's Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, a discomforting and disturbing watch that was both scary and scintillating. He played Uttam Chaudhary, a man on the verge of retirement who's diagnosed with Dementia, as daughter Trisha, played by Urmila Matondkar, watches with helplessness. The moniker and trailers showed how he begins hallucinating of Gandhi's death and crying for innocence, the scariest scene in the film came when we first get a glimpse of his disease and how he begins to forget things in mere seconds. Kher stated this was his most challenging role as an actor, and equally complex was the preparation. He had to forget he was Anupam Kher, and also forget he ever existed. The result dazzled on the celluloid!
Equally dazzling was the role of Dr Dang, an antagonist that has been immortalised and imitated ever since we first met him in 1986. He enjoyed his villainy and revelled in his cold-bloodedness. He also had the most cliched yet charming trait of the villain - The Evil Smile. The protagonist, Rana Pratap Singh (Dilip Kumar) paid a heavy price of just one slap. Subhash Ghai tapped into the unseen side of the actor and the way he exploded on the big screen is still remembered as one of his most remarkable characters. You dare not mess with Dang, and Kher played him with a bang!
He was also bang-on in Dibakar Banerjee's rousing debut, Khosla Ka Ghosla as Kamal Kishore Khosla, a middle-class married man residing in Delhi and gung-ho about buying a new house. He was timid, tiny, and absolutely terrific. His nuances were real to the core and the slice-of-life magic that's missing in movies today was marvelled by Banerjee and writer Jaideep Sahni 14 years back. For all those who often revisit this gem, they would know the success of the drama lies in the realism of the narrative on display, and how seamlessly it sucks you into the conduct and conflict of its palette of charming characters.
Another debutant director who began his journey with Kher was Neeraj Pandey, who has actually never directed a film without this actor. In A Wednesday, Kher modelled his character on Rakesh Maria, a no-nonsense Police Commissioner driven by his duty. Unlike most of the cop dramas in Bollywood that are dumbed down for commercial purposes, A Wednesday pitted two ageing actors against each other who only meet once when the film has resolved its conflict. They say no glory of the hero can be celebrated or completed sans a chilling and powerful villain. In Pandey's film, Naseeruddin Shah's character would mean nothing if not for Kher and his restrained heroism.
Talking about restrained heroism, Kher and Pandey reunited for M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, where Kher played the role of Pan Singh Dhoni, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's father. The fact that not many people have seen his father made his performance a lot more delightful. Instead of nitpicking the physical resemblance and its imperfections, we could submit and invest ourselves into his performance. As much as we rooted for Dhoni, we also cheered for his father, something that doesn't happen too often.
But as Kher says - Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai!
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