When Anupam Kher cursed Mahesh
As Saaransh turns 34 this year, Anupam Kher recalls his stormy meeting with Mahesh Bhatt
Back in the early ’80s, he spent three years as a struggling actor before getting his big break. But Anupam Kher’s tryst with stardom wasn’t devoid of some off-screen drama. At the Khushwant Singh Literary Festival in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, the actor opened up about his journey from the first play, Prithvi Raj Chauhan, to a verbal duel with filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who cast him in Saaransh (1984). The role of a bereaved retired teacher — Kher played it at the age of 28 — made him a star.
We ask for more details, and Kher says, “I was thrown out of the film 10 days before it was to go on the floors. I remember, Bhatt saab had suggested that I do the part of the other old man (finally played by Suhas Bhalekar). Sanjeev Kumar had been brought in instead. So obviously, I was very upset.”
An enraged Kher packed his bags, ready to leave Mumbai. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to live in this city; it doesn’t deserve me.’ I was like, ‘Since I am going to leave the city, I want to set things straight with Bhatt saab.’ So, I took a taxi and went to the building that he lived in. I went up to his flat but kept the taxi waiting downstairs. When he saw me, he said, ‘This is very good. This is called the sportsman spirit. It’s good that you are okay doing the other old man’s role,’” recalls Kher.
Bhatt told Kher that since [late] Sanjeev Kumar was a “very big star”, Rajshri Productions (the film’s backers) “doesn’t want to put money on a newcomer”. Bhatt thought that Kher had come to accept the other role. He said, “So, I’m very happy that you have accepted the other role. Kher retorted, “No, it’s not what you are thinking. Can you see the taxi downstairs? My stuff is lying in it and I’m leaving the city forever. But before that, I must tell you that I haven’t seen a bigger fraud and a cheat than you.”
Throughout this, Kher was “howling and crying” he recalls with a laugh. The actor says, “I told him, ‘You’re making a film on truth, but there’s none of that in your own life’, and that ‘I give you a Brahmin ka shraap.’”