June 18, 2002 
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Anupam Kher's moment in the sun
This first-time director is sure his film will succeed

Vickey Lalwani

When Anupam Kher was appreciated for his debut in Mahesh Bhatt's Saraansh, people thought Kher would take over the mantle of A K Hangal and David.

So close was Kher to his character that one thought he was born old!

Skilfully sidelining the first impression he conveyed, he essayed all kinds of roles --- father, brother, villain and best friend --- blending emotion, menace and comedy with finesse. He went on to become an exceedingly versatile actor.

Today, Kher is ready with his directorial debut Om Jai Jagadish, produced by Vashu Bhagnani, to be released July 19.

"It has been a long journey from Saraansh to Om Jai Jagadish," says Kher. "As an actor, for the last 17 years, I have seen it all and done it all. I felt I was stagnating. What could I have done after this? The next logical step was direction."

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Kher explains how Om Jai Jagadish first started. "I was toying with the idea of taking up direction for quite some time. I had even finalised a script. Then, Vashu approached me with this script penned by Rahul Nanda. I loved the script. That's it."

"Mine is a very sincere film," he declares. "Let me tell you why I am so sure [that my film will work]. Hindi cinema has made family dramas. But most of them are larger-than-life, cliched, exaggerated and melodramatic. Om Jai Jagadish depicts a modern family which people will identify with easily. Today's audience is very smart. It can sniff a film from its promos."

The transition from actor to director has made Kher very patient. "I now understand a director's commitment and passion. I was a very impatient actor. Now I feel bad that I sometimes troubled my directors if I disagreed with a particular scene or the way it was being shot. And I detested night shifts," Kher laughs.

Anupam Kher Kher admits he enjoyed more respect from his actors than other debutant directors. "It makes a difference if you have been around for nearly two decades and people admire your work. Thankfully, direction came to me naturally."

The cast of Om Jai Jagadish includes Waheeda Rahman, Anil Kapoor, Fardeen Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Mahima Chaudhry and Tara Sharma. "Casting is the main ingredient of filmmaking. That is why there are casting directors abroad. Anil Kapoor fit the role of unmarried and sacrificing elder brother perfectly. Fardeen has actually studied abroad, and I wanted someone who does not have to depend on his imagination for that role. And Abhishek's vulnerability has always caught my eye.

"I made Waheeda promise during the days of Lamhe that if I became a director, she would act in my maiden venture. I am lucky she fulfilled her promise --- she lost her husband just a few days before we started shooting. In fact, she had just turned down Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham [which later went to Jaya Bachchan]."

Kher had originally cast Tabu and Diya Mirza, but they walked out of the film. Kher no longer thinks it is an issue: "Even I have walked out of films. Diya left as she had a problem with Vashu --- I did not want to interfere there. I was upset with Tabu. But everything happens for the best. I worked on Mahima and Tara's characters like a man on a mission. I had a point to prove. At the end of it all, I stand to gain."

Tabu and Diya are not the only ones to be dropped from the film. "Adnan Sami and Om Puri were to act in the film. But Om's role was not developing well. I did not want to waste a great actor like him. As for Adnan Sami, he told me that he was a great singer, not a great actor. I signed Annu Kapoor instead," says Kher. Annu plays a pompous guy called KayKayMix who remixes songs. He joins Anil Kapoor to settle misunderstandings amongst the brothers.

Last year, Fardeen was arrested after he was found in possession of drugs. It does not seem to have affected the film. "I put aside all my personal interests and wondered what his father Feroz Khan must be going through. Thankfully, everything was sorted out quickly," says Kher.

Anil Kapoor's latest film Badhaai Ho Badhaai released June 14. The film was his and director Satish Kaushik's first home production. "But Anil completed my film much before expected, considering his commitments," says Kher.

Kher states he will continue to act. "But from now on, I will sign only meaty roles." He is now working in Honey Irani's forthcoming venture, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta and Gracy Singh.


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