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    The star on his new play and why he won’t call himself a character actor

    For Anupam Kher, his new play, Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha (MWMNT), ticked many boxes—a storyline people could identify with; Nina Gupta, a co-star with whom he shared great chemistry; and an opportunity to try something new, blend cinema and theatre. So even though it took him three years to set aside dates for it, he made sure director Rakesh Bedi waited for him. “I wanted to do it. The play had me at the title—a phrase that we men throw around so casually,” explains Kher. And now that it has played to full houses in Mumbai and Singapore—its storyline, about two former lovers meeting after 35 years to figure out the misunderstandings that drove them apart, finding resonance everywhere—he is eager to bring it to the city next month. And he is not troubled at the reception a Hindi play could get. “It is a wrong notion that Chennai doesn’t have a Hindi-speaking audience. Whenever I’ve brought my autobiography, Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai, I’ve always got a great crowd,” he asserts.
    The bridge
    He may only have done two plays before this (though he’s done hundreds of shows), but Kher says theatre saves him from rusting as an actor. And, as the producer of MWMNT, he is most excited about bridging his two worlds, cinema and theatre. “Rakesh had not conceived that in the original script, but I convinced him that the flashback sections should be shown like a film. So I requested my friend Neeraj Pandey (director of A Wednesday) to shoot it, with actors like Satish Kaushik and Himani Shivpuri. This is the first time in Indian theatre that you will see elements of cinema on stage,” he says.
    Kher is also clear that he goes on stage to have a “relationship with the audience”. A high-brow August Strindberg play or even a Shakespearean drama is not his cup of tea. “I don’t want to do theatre just for the heck of it. I need to know I am connecting with the people,” says the 60-year-old, who admits he still gets butterflies “as big as elephants” before every show.
    Finding meaning
    Pooh-poohing the idea of character actors (“only those who
    take themselves too seriously spout such philosophy”), Kher says he sits down and writes the biography of his character—from when he was born to how he buttons his shirt. “When I know the character as well as I know myself, it is easy to play that person,” says the actor, who is currently shooting for Sooraj Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, with Salman Khan. And with plans of taking MWMNT on a tour of North America and Canada in two months’ time, he says is also on the lookout for good scripts to direct. “I directed a 20-minute short film last year, I Went Shopping for Robert De Niro, which was extremely well-received,” he signs off.
    July 3, at Sir Mutha Hall, 7.30 pm. Rs 1,000-Rs 3,000. Details: in.bookmyshow.com

    Surya Praphulla Kumar

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