Anupam Kher talks about his experience on working with Hollywood biggies for Silver Linings Playbook

In Mumbai to introduce the opening film of the Mumbai Film Festival, David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, Anupam Kher was a completely changed man. “When people start calling you veteran, thespian, senior, you know they want you to retire,” he joked about his reinvention and tryst with Hollywood heavyweights Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Jackie Weaver and Chris Tucker (Kher gets a billing ahead of Tucker!) in the film. “Come and say hi,” he said over the phone, a day before the inauguration, at the end of our interview.

The actor was speaking from London and was heading back there after the inaugural. Excerpts from the 20-minute chat.

Had you read the book before you signed the film? How have the story and your character evolved from the page to the screen?

I had not read it till I was offered the role. I read it on the flight on my way to the shoot. The screenplay adaptation is done so well that the author Mathew Quick said this was the kind of adaptation he had hoped for... When the novelist is happy, obviously a good job’s happened.

David had to make it concise for the film, and maintained every character’s importance in the film in a way that was justified. I did write to Mathew Quick if he had anybody in mind when he came up with Dr. Patel. I asked if he had any reference, he said he didn’t. But after watching the film, he said, ‘the way you had done it, that’s my Dr. Patel’. So the actor succeeded in making the writer happy. The pre-production work is so thorough that David knew exactly what he was looking for.

You auditioned for the role despite being a senior actor.

I don’t take myself so seriously. It was fascinating to audition. Audition is not a way of judging you as actor, it’s just to determine whether you suit the character or not. To gain their respect, you have to deliver.

How differently did you approach your role?

I just became a newcomer. In the scenario of A-listers and a set up such as this... Robert DeNiro, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, working with David O Russell and the Weinsteins producing it, I told myself this combination was not going to happen again. So I decided to lock myself into the room to prepare and learn my lines — like what I did in drama school. It is important to reinvent, and it happens only when you have the fear of failure. I think in Hindi. So when I have to speak in English, I had to be more cautious and focussed. I was competing with myself. The more difficult the job, the more competent you become.

What was the most unforgettable moment of the shoot for you?

There was a 13-page scene being shot (this is a crucial scene that sets up the climax, as we learn on watching the film) where I had just two lines of dialogue, on Pages 3 and 11, but to see DeNiro perform, as vintage an actor he is, I was mesmerised, and all the flashbacks of his films came into my mind. I took his autograph later, and, strangely, he took mine. Most of my scenes were with Bradley Cooper since I play his therapist, but this scene with all of them performing was the one I will never forget.

Do you think the romantic comedy genre is underrated or undervalued around the world, especially at film festivals and awards?

Unless there’s royalty, deformity or some kind of mental illness involved, films don’t do well at festivals. But it is rare for a romantic comedy to get this kind of acclaim — we did win the People’s Choice Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Maybe this will start a new trend. It is one of the possible contenders for Best Film or other categories at the Oscars. DeNiro and Lawrence will certainly be nominated. Even Cooper has redefined himself. Just because it’s a romcom, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t involve acting. A mentally challenged character is easier to do, to do romcom is difficult because you have to create empathy for the characters through your performance.

If life were really a film made by God (as the novel suggests), what do you think would your role and purpose in His script be?

If He is setting up a conflict between good people and bad people, I hope He will keep me in the side of good people. I don’t think He will do the casting according to the acting abilities, but according to the life that I have lived.