Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta talk about reinventing their careers, Shiv Shastri Balboa and Robert De Niro – Exclusive – Times of India

Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta are enjoying the purple patch of their careers and their latest film ‘Shiv Shastri Balboa’ is testament to the fact that cinema doesn’t need younger actors, every actor is a star because the audience appreciates good content in all forms. ETimes caught up with both actors who recalled never-heard-before anecdotes from their careers and their idols like Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood and more.
The trailer of ‘Shiv Shastri Balboa’ has been garnering great reactions. What has been the response for you?
Anupam Kher: Phenomenal response. Frankly speaking, I was not expecting this… I was expecting that people would like it. But the response that we’ve got on our social media, from the press, from our relatives, our friends, it’s a very encouraging sign.

In the trailer we heard a dialogue which basically translates to ‘it’s not about how you fall, it’s how you get up and fight back’. Which was that one moment in your life when you were let down but you fought your way back?Anupam: Oh, there have been so many. My life is based on my failures because I turned them into successes. When I came to this city on the June 3, 1981, I was bald and losing hair from all over the place. I was thin and wanted to be an actor at that time, when hairstyle was much more important than being from the National School of Drama. So I started on that note. But I did not let it bother me. During the shooting of ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’, I went through facial palsy. Just because you are continuously working doesn’t mean there are no ups and downs. But that’s why I resonate with that line very well.

Neena Gupta: There was a film in which I was in a beggar’s gang with Shakti Kapoor. And in the whole film I had maybe 3-4 dialogues. So the shooting was going on, there were many people in it, Vinod Khanna, Juhi Chawla, there were many stars, maybe Rishi Kapoor, I don’t remember. When we were doing that scene, when the gang comes, I have to say two lines. And the director cut my lines. He said, no need, that’s it. It was like, I was pushed. I was rehearsing those lines, that I will say this, I will say that. So I went to the director and asked why I can’t say the lines. And he was stressed. I don’t know what happened to him. He started verbally abusing me with maa-behen ki gaali in front of everybody. And I started crying. Then Juhi Chawla took me to the room and she said, ‘don’t take it to heart, this happens with everyone.’ That day I thought that I don’t want to do it anymore. That’s enough. I will not take sh*t from anybody. But the next day I was ready with makeup on the set.

Anupam: I worked in ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ in which Neena was one of the leads. I got a role in it with great difficulty. It was a very good role of a disco killer. It was a very powerful role with Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) and Ravi Baswani. There were only two scenes. And this was when I had not got ‘Saransh’. So I was very excited that directors will see these two scenes and will definitely give me work. Just before the release of the film, Kundan Shah called me up and said, the length of the film was increasing, I have cut both your scenes. So I feel, now the philosophy of life is that, whatever you don’t have, it is good.

We see Hollywood actors like Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda and so many others get meaty roles. Now in India with films like ‘Uunchai’ and ‘Shiv Shastri Balboa’, do you think times are changing as senior actors are not just playing uncle or father to a hero, they are getting lead roles as well.
Anupam: Yes, it has. Also, in my case, they have also been acknowledging the importance of so-called, ‘character actors’. I don’t think like this. Educated people who are from drama school, they don’t have any classifications based on age. You are actors, whether you are playing a father’s role or a mother’s role or an uncle’s role. You don’t call Robert De Niro and Al Pacino characters. But yes, now it has happened. Who would’ve thought that we would get such posters? And it’s a joy. Because thanks to the audiences, who have allowed us to do that. And to us also, who have continuously gone on and on and on and never become clichéd. It is very easy to become clichéd. Because I always believe that if you are competent, you can never be brilliant. But we never let that happen. We keep reinventing ourselves. And it is possible that this year of mine will not be as good as the previous year. But I will still be working.

Neena ji, you’ve also lead successful films like ‘Badhaai Ho’. What are your views?
Neena: I am very lucky that it came late, but it came. I am playing Elsa in Shiv Shastri Balboa. And when they narrated me the script, it’s a totally different kind of role from anything I have done. And I am very happy that every project that I am doing is different than the other projects. So here I am playing Elsa who is from Hyderabad and she is working in America. And it showcases all the tough things people go through when they are not with their family. And more important than anything, this film is about hope that no matter if we’ve been robbed or put in jail, the journey is important and everything will be alright.

Anupam: And it is not like such characters cannot elope, like we have in the film. I have eloped wearing my night suit. So in a way it is like the world of ‘Bobby’ with Rishi Kapoor eloping with Dimple Kapadia.

Neena: You are becoming very serious about Rishi Kapoor and Dimple. Every interview is different and you have to learn to make headlines.

Anupam, your character in the film really wants to meet Rocky Balboa. Even though you’ve met the big guns like Robert De Niro, is there one personality that you would want to meet?
Anupam: Clint Eastwood. I have met most of them but I want to meet Clint Eastwood because as you get older in your life you start thinking that I am so and so and who is the other person who is working at an older age? Now Clint Eastwood is 92 and he is still making movies. So I feel I have so many years left. Like when I came to movies, I wanted to meet Dilip saab and then I got an opportunity to work with him. My all time favourite was Robert De Niro and I got an opportunity to work with him. You just have to make things happen and work hard for that.

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