Anupam Kher talks to Padma Iyer about his upcoming film, The Accidental Prime Minister
What was your first reaction when you were offered the role of Manmohan Singh?
I said ‘no’ to them.
What made you change your mind?
After a few days, on a news channel, I saw Manmohan Singh. I wanted to try his walk and see if I could do it. I tried to imitate his walking style and I was a disaster. But the actor in me was intrigued – since it was a challenge, I had to do it. It was a long time since I had come across something that I thought was challenging for me. I decided that I would not start shooting till I felt I was ready for the role.
What were the challenges you faced while preparing for the role?
There is a physicality to the person. The problem is that Manmohanji is not Churchill or Gandhi or Subas Chandra Bose, whom we have not seen in the flesh. We see him every day. So I needed to get his physicality right. And he is not a very expressive person. And, as a person, I am a complete contrast. I express everything.
The next most difficult thing was the voice. It took me three months to work on it. He doesn’t even blink much. And we were making the film in two languages, Hindi and English. Sometimes, the take would be perfect in Hindi and not in English and sometimes the other way round. And it is not that if the performance is good today, it would be the same tomorrow. Maintaining continuity was difficult. And we did not dub the film, we shot in sync sound. But, then, when you want to climb Mt Everest, your preparation has to be rigorous.
I do not have a fear of failure as I am a very optimistic person. I think that is a winning combination.
When one plays a character, especially someone in the public domain, one may have some preconceived notions about them. Do your personal opinions affect your performance?
This is my profession and I don’t let my personal views colour my performance. When a carpenter goes to a house to do some work, he does not think it is the house of a pandit or maulavi. He does not go with prejudices or his own point of view.
Vijay Gutte is a first-time director. What is it that attracts you to debutant filmmakers?
I like to work with newcomers because they bring in their hunger. I don’t think anyone has worked with as many new directors as I have. Vijay slowly came across as a revelation.
Why do you think the audience would want to watch this film?
This is the first time in Indian cinema that you will see political figures with their real names. Also, we are going inside the PMO. The book has been written by the media advisor to the Prime Minister, selected by the Prime Minister. We are political keedas. We discuss politics everywhere, in buses, trains; we are all political experts.
The reaction we are getting is because the film looks real. If it was a badly made film, I would not be giving you this interview. It is important that this picture reaches the audience.
Do you think Indian audience is ready for a subject like this?
The audience is more than ready. Let us not underestimate our audience. They have made superhits of films like Badhaai Ho! and Stree and they have rejected the films of three superstars. Moreover, the audience becomes what you make of them. India has progressed so much in every field, why not cinema?
Akshaye Khanna and you share a close working dynamic in the film. What was the association like?
Akshaye is a brilliant actor. His approach is unconventional. He is not clichéd. What he brings to the character nobody else can. We spent 35 days together in a remote village so we had no choice but to be together.
In your workplace, you may not get along with everyone, but when you need to get something done, you shut off everything else and focus only on getting the job done. Also I am a people-oriented person. So, for me, the person has to be really, really bad to dislike them. Even then… my father used to say that there is something good even in a bad person. And Akshaye is an amazing person. And when work happens in an environment of brilliance, it creates magic.
You are doing films here as well as a TV series in America. How are you juggling these two worlds and what is next for you?
There is One Day. I also have a couple of good scripts with me, which I will decide on once I am back from the US. Being a trained actor, you can adapt to anything. After this, I will be back in America. The only thing that is different there is the language. There, it is English and here Hindi. But since I think in Hindi, I have to work very hard. And it is television and there is hardly any time to breathe. But to be able to do this at the age of 63 is an amazing feeling.
You played BV Pradhan, a common man, in Saaransh, and in this film you play Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. What do you think Pradhan would say to the PM if they ever came face to face?
This is an interesting question, very difficult to answer. Pradhan was a very principled man. I try to be Pradhan in real life. That is why I speak on every subject, I offer my opinions on everything.
He would say, ‘I respect you, but I wish you were much stronger than what you projected yourself as.’ This is a good question and I want to think about this some more.
When I did Pradhan, I had not done anything else before so people believed me. But now when I am doing Manmohan Singh, I have done 515 films. If you are not able to see any part of me in this performance, that would be my biggest achievement.