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Indian Actor Anupam Kher Talks About Playing Kumail Nanjiani’s Father in ‘The Big Sick’

Indian actor Anupam Kher, who plays the Pakistani father to Kumail Nanjiani in the hit film “The Big Sick,” has hundreds of film and TV credits, including such Western productions as Netflix’s “Sense8” and TWC’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” Upcoming is Netflix’s “The Indian Detective” with Russell Peters and the Weinstein Co.’s “Hotel Mumbai,” based on the terrorist attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in 2008, with Dev Patel and Armie Hammer.

How did you hear about the role in “The Big Sick”?

Kumail’s ex-agent in L.A., Priyanka Mattoo, is a distant cousin of mine. She called me and said there is this script. I don’t watch too much TV, so I didn’t know him. She said Kumail’s father wants you to play him, and I said, “OK, send me the script.” I asked for Kumail’s number and called him. He thought it was a prank. I told him, “This is your tribute to your father; it shows how much you love him.”

You liked the script?

I didn’t need the script to say yes to the role. There were lots of possibilities for improvisation — that’s why the film breathes. There is no finality. The director, Michael [Showalter], was very good. We could change things around.

How do you juggle the differences between Hindi and English dialogue?

Emotion is a universal language. You can show laughter, you can show anger, you can show sorrow. In fifth grade I was taught English; before that I spoke only Hindi. I think in Hindi. I have to translate, in my mind, from Hindi to English [for Western films]. It makes me focused as an actor. I stick to the format of the dialogue.

What about differences in film production?

In terms of production, Indians have become more professional. The first 400 films I made, we had no script, and yet we are able to entertain 2 billion people. We have become a small global village. I had an interview with David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook” on Skype — my first Skype audition. I was shooting in a small village in Rajasthan state. There was no internet in the village. I told my agent, “You arrange it.” By evening, Skype had become folklore in that village. In the small, makeshift hotel we actors were staying in, a laptop was set up. I was on one side of the computer, Skyping, and all the village was on the other side.

Things you didn’t know about Anupam Kher

AGE: 62 BIRTHPLACE: Shimla, India CONTRIBUTION TO THE ARTS: Mumbai drama school An Actor Prepares BIGGEST ASSET AS AN ACTOR: “My baldness”

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