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Last Updated 14.11.2019 | 10:43 PM IST
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Anupam Kher on his The Big Sick triumph

Anupam Kher on his The Big Sick triumph

What other Bollywood stars and stalwarts couldn’t do out west—that is, find an honourable role in a big Hollywood film—Anupam has done many times. His part as a Pakistani father to stand-up comedian-turned-matinee-idol Kumail Nanjiani in the new hit film The Big Sick is earning Anupam renewed accolades all over the world.

Anupam is quite delighted by the attention, no stranger to it no doubt. But some more of it doesn’t hurt. Nanjiani has been suitably effusive about Anupam. On some of America’s top talk shows Nanjiani has called Anupam a “Bollywood legend” and the “Robert de Niro of Indian cinema.”

And to think that Anupam almost didn’t do The Big Sick. Recounts Anupam, “There was a problem with the work permit when I reached the US. And we didn’t know what to do next because the entire film was shot in 27 days.”

Anupam got the role of Nanjiani’s father because Nanjiani’s real father was keen on Anupam. Recounts Anupam, “Kumail asked his father whom he would like to play him. Apparently Kumail’s father said my name without a second thought. But Kumail didn’t know how to get in touch with me and there was no time. The shooting was about to begin. Luckily they got in touch with me through a relative of mine Priyanka Mattoo.”

On hearing how keen they were to get him for the role Anupam personally rang up Kumail Nanjiani. And what happened next could be the script for a hilarious film. Says Anupam. “I rang up Kumail and said I was Anupam Kher. He said, “Ok” and hung up. He thought it was a crank call. I called him again and this time told him it was actually me and offered my services. Within no time it was firmed in.”

The big moment for Kumail’s father was when he visited the shooting to meet Anupam. “It was just two days before we wrapped up. Since Kumail’s father was so keen that I play him it was important that we meet. It was a very emotional moment.”

Interestingly Kumail made only one request. “Kumail wanted me to grow a French Beard since his father has one. I gladly complied.” Anupam was very keen on doing the film. “I loved the idea. Though I had never seen his work I immediately warmed up to Kumail Nanjiani. And when I got to know I’d get to work with American legends like Holly Hunter and Ray Romano I felt it was one more opportunity to broaden my horizon as an actor, having worked earlier with the likes of Woody Allen, Ang Lee and Robert de Niro.”

Once on board Kher flew to the US, only to be stranded without permission to join the shooting. “There was an issue with my work permit. For 6 out of those 27 shooting days of the film I was stuck in New York without work. We almost thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. But then the permit happened.”

To Anupam’s delight the entire film was shot in a spirit of improvisation. “I suggested some changes and modifications in my character and script. And they were taken in the right script. The whole film was made in the improvisational spirit. Everyone was free to contribute ideas and suggestions. And the director Michael Showalter didn’t feel affronted by the contributions from all of us.”

The Big Sick is a worldwide hit and huge critical success. Anupam is rightly proud of it. “I am also proud of The Silver Linings Playbook where I got to share screen space with my idol Robert de Niro. The Big Sick is a very important film. It talks about racism, xenophobia, cultural isolation and the way Muslims are regarded with suspicion and distrust. And it deals with such serious issues with warmth and laughter. I love it.”

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