When Anupam Kher told Woody Allen he’d been in more than 400 films, his “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” director had only one question:
“In how many lives?” Kher recalls.
And yet the Bollywood star with the browser-crashing IMDB page is still somewhat stunned to find himself in Toronto for premieres of a pair of high-profile titles: David O. Russell’s “The Silver Linings Playbook” and Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children.”
“It’s actually 453 films,” the 57-year-old Kher told Variety on Saturday, just a few hours before the “Silver Linings” red carpet. “I love keeping track of that number and it’s a reminder to me that I came from a small town in India. Of course, sometimes in India I was working on as many as 18 films at the same time.”
Kher, whose credits outside India include “Bend It Like Beckham,” Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” and Allen’s 2010 pic, has been acting since the early 1980s. He’s in the opening scenes of “Midnight’s Children,” speaking in his native Kashmiri dialect and has a key role as Dr. Patel, therapist to Bradley Cooper’s character in “Silver Linings.” Most of his scenes with Cooper were shot early on, in a single day last fall.
“I think David did that because he wanted the performances to be authentic but it was a real challenge to do them all at once,” Kher admits. “And I do my best work when I don’t know the people around me. It’s very different from India, where I’ve worked with a lot of the people many times.”
Kher remains self-effacing. He had auditioned last year for Russell via Skype but there were tech problems both in India and Toronto, adding, “They weren’t my best auditions but David told me that I got cast because I had the right look for the part.”
He’s convinced that his appearances in mainstream English-language films is a signal of India’s emergence and avid moviegoing populace. As of Saturday, Kher had nealry 900,000 followers on Twitter.
“My being in these two films is a pretty big deal in India,” he adds. “India is so much more than the slums in ‘Slumdog Millionaire.'”
On the advice of a teacher, Kher forced himself to learn English while he was in acting school in India by speaking nothing but English between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. “My friends would run away from me,” he recalls.
Kher broke into showbiz in 1982 with the Bollywood film “Aagmaan” after unsuccessfully auditioning for Richard Attenborough for the part of Jawaharlal Nehru in “Gandhi,” despite showing up in a Nehru jacket.
“He told me that he already had his Nehru so I argued and did the audition very badly,” Kher recalls. “I wound up dubbing a single line in the film for release in India and got paid 1,000 rupees. That’s where I began to learn how celebrate failure.”