Anupam Kher Leads Panel on Connect Between Cinema and Theater

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August 25, 2015

By Geeta Goindi

At a special panel discussion, 'Contemporary Scene: Links between Indian Theater and Cinema', held at the Indian Embassy, are seen, from left to right, actress Neena Gupta, actors Anupam Kher and Rakesh Bedi, and show promoter Rajender Singh. Photo credit: Embassy of India, Washington

August 25, 2015

By Geeta Goindi

At a special panel discussion, 'Contemporary Scene: Links between Indian Theater and Cinema', held at the Indian Embassy, are seen, from left to right, actress Neena Gupta, actors Anupam Kher and Rakesh Bedi, and show promoter Rajender Singh. Photo credit: Embassy of India, Washington

Washington, DC – On August 20, Padma Shri award-winning actor Anupam Kher led a special panel discussion, ‘Contemporary Scene: Links between Indian Theater and Cinema’, with film and television artistes Neena Gupta and Rakesh Bedi, drawing an overflow crowd to the Indian Embassy on a weekday evening.

It was a lively, entertaining event replete with wit, humor and eloquence!

The artistes are currently touring the US with their successful play, ‘Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha’ (That’s not what I meant), including a sold-out show in the Washington area, organized by Kirit Udeshi on Friday, with plans for an additional performance.

Earlier in the week, Kher was honored at the UN headquarters in New York for his role in women’s empowerment and named an advocate for the world body’s HeForShe campaign on gender equality.  “Will work tirelessly for gender equality”, he pledged.

During the course of a candid discussion at the Indian Chancery, Kher decried the myth about actors being born.  “Actors are made because they work hard”, he declared.

By his own admission, he has acted in 491 movies, but was gung ho about performing on stage.  “Theater has given me a great opportunity to re-invent myself as an actor”, he said.  “Whenever I feel rusted as an actor doing films, I do theater to test myself”.

Dwelling on the history of Indian theater and cinema, Deputy Chief of Mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu noted that while they “have had a healthy, interactive relationship”, it’s “time for introspection”.  Citing facts and figures, he pointed out that “Indians are the largest producer of cinema in the world making more than 1,500 films annually.  The film industry makes about $2 billion” in revenue of which over 12 percent is coming from screenings in foreign countries like the US.  “We cannot say that Indian theater has the same support and attention that it deserves”, he said.  “This is where the connection between Indian culture, cinema, theater and dance becomes critical.  We look at today’s discussion to be part of a larger awareness effort of the links between Indian cinema and theater”.

At a panel discussion on 'Contemporary Scene: Links between Indian Theater and Cinema', held at the Indian Embassy, are seen clockwise from top left: Deputy Chief of Mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu; actors Anupam Kher and Rakesh Bedi; and actress Neena Gupta. Photo credit: Embassy of India, Washington

When asked by the moderator, Udeshi, about the experience of acting in films versus theater, Kher promptly replied, “As an actor in movies, there are retakes.  It has become boring to act in films today because the director and editor want to capture every possible angle”.

On the other hand, “In theater, there is no retake.  You can’t make mistakes, because of that the adrenalin rush in an actor is amazing”, he said, lauding the “direct connection with the audience”.

Kher gushed, “It’s a great joy to be on stage.  It’s wonderful!  You feel larger-than-life.  You feel alive.  Such magic moments can only be created on stage.  As an actor, I’ve been lucky to do different kinds of roles in cinema, but it’s not the same thing”, he maintained.

Regarding the play, ‘Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha’, he divulged, it evokes “both the emotions of joy and sadness.  The audience sheds a tear and laughs also”.

The play, written and directed by Bedi, boasts stellar performances by Kher and Gupta in the roles of ex-lovers who meet after many years and reminisce about moments of happiness and sorrow.  It’s a love story with a difference!  The protagonists alternate between being lovers, friends and confidantes in performances which are par excellence.

A cross-section of the audience enjoying a witty discussion on 'Contemporary Scene: Links between Indian Theater and Cinema', held at the Indian Chancery. Photo credit: Embassy of India, Washington

 “We have maintained the standard of theater”, Kher told the audience at the Embassy.  “The play is getting rave reviews not only because viewers like what they see, but because of our professionalism.  We respect the audience.  We respect their time.  We start the play on the dot of time.  There are no distractions by songs.  We have been performing at good venues because the dignity of theater has to be restored.  For us, it’s not business only”.  He emphasized, “If you respect yourself as an actor, a professional, the audience will respect you”.

He was elated by the response pointing out that thus far, all seven shows in the US have been house-full.  Kher mentioned that the Washington area show marks his 150th stage performance which is noteworthy as in the last 30 years, he has acted in only three plays: ‘Saalgirah’ (Anniversary) with his wife Kirron Kher; ‘Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’ (Anything can happen) based on his life; and now ‘Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha’.

Referring to the current play, Gupta said, “This is a very nice experience.  Now, no one is writing original plays in Hindi.  We are performing in either old plays or adaptations.  It is a very brave and commendable thing that Rakesh has written this play.  It has been an overwhelming experience”, she averred.

Gupta, who by her own admission has “done a lot of television” including directing and acting in a popular serial called ‘Saans’, believed there is very little scope for older women to pursue a career.  “In India, a woman after 35 years is of no use except for looking after the house and children”, she told the audience.  “I came late to movies, so I never got good roles.  At the age of 30, I used to get mothers’ roles.  Now I get grandmothers’ roles”, she quipped.

Bedi mentioned that when he entered the film industry over three decades ago, he didn’t fit the norm of how a hero should look.  “It was very difficult for me.  I had to struggle a lot, work very hard”, he recalled.  Fortunately, he found and carved a niche in comedy and what followed were a spate of successful films including ‘Chashme Buddoor’, ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’, ‘Hero No. 1', and television serials such as ‘Shrimaan Shrimati’, ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’, ‘Yes Boss’.

“I decided I should concentrate on comedy because humor will draw people”, he said.  They “will focus on me, see me differently”.

Bedi underscored, “As far as comedy goes, I feel it has to be a bent of mind.  You have to be in (wholly).  I try to find humor in everything”, he said.

 Kher, who dominated the discussion,  dons many caps as actor, director, activist and author of ‘The Best Thing About You is You’, a book about positive thinking and self-realization.

 “I am an eternal optimist”, he told the audience at the Embassy.  “I don’t see what is not there.  I see only hope.  I live on hope.  I have no time to be depressed”.

He affirmed, “I think the best thing I’ve done in my 30-year career is opening an acting school”, the Mumbai-based Actor Prepares, established in 2005.  “It’s given me great joy”, he said.  “Teaching gives me satisfaction.  I think to teach acting is the only profession where the teacher learns much more than the student because he discovers what he actually knows.  Also, I wanted to be in constant touch with youth.  The best way of learning is to learn from your children.  Today’s generation is far superior, far better than our generation.  They may come across as irreverent.  But, they are very pure, honest and hard-working”.

 Kher enthused, “It is a homecoming for us to be at the Indian Embassy in Washington”.  He pointed out that “Indians outside India are much more Indian than those living in India” which elicited much applause from the audience.

“This is not a diplomatic statement”, he said.  “The way you uphold your traditions, keep your love for India alive, is commendable”.  Besides appreciation, he noted, “When we come and perform here, we get so much love”.

Kher gently prodded the audience.  “It’s time to come back to India.  It’s a great place to be in now”, he said.  “India is doing really well.  It’s a country which will make you feel proud”!


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