The staging is spare. An open door to stage-right. A stand with some hooks for his on-stage costume changes on both sides. Two chairs, and a small table, that keep changing positions as the play progresses on stage-right, and a bench and a flight of stairs on stage-left, with a screen in the background to project videos and scenes from his films now-and-then.
This is the set up for Anupam Kher's dramatization of his life through monologue, Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai. He has been traveling world over for 15 years performing this, and now when the world is brought to its knees, the play hopped onto the digital bandwagon, premiering on his newly launched website The date of its launch, June 3, coincides with the date he first came to Mumbai, back in 1981. It is a journey of 39 long and memorable years.
Following is an edited and translated excerpt of our conversation.
Tell me about the origin of this show, and how it then became a namesake reality show in 2014 and a book, Lessons Life Taught me Unknowingly, in 2019.
I performed the first show of Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai on 8 August, 2005.
Around 2004 I was at the peak of my progress as an actor. Back then I also wanted to be a business tycoon. I wanted a studio to my name. So I started taking loans. Then one day the Chartered Accountant told me "Sir, you have only 4000 Rupees in your bank account. Your house is mortgaged and we are on the brink of bankruptcy." Around this time two well-known publishing companies approached me to write my autobiography. But I told them I was 49, why would I write it now? But they said I had an interesting life. I told them I can't write now because I don't have the time, and they told me to record audio clips of whatever I remember, and they will transcribe and publish it. So over the next month I would take some time off everyday to record my memories.
So then one day when I heard all ten hours of my recording, I laughed. I had not written about anything except my failures and missteps. Then I thought, I am an actor. Let me not write this, let me perform this. So we hired a playwright and Feroze Khan to direct it. I was quite greedy, so initially it played for 5 hours. But then they both threw me out of the room saying they are going to cut it down to 2 hours 15 minutes!
The first performance was at Sophia college. On 7th August, we called some Sophia students and some close friends for a final rehearsal. This was a big disaster. No one said anything or laughed, or probably they didn't even understand it.
We thought we had to cancel the play. But the next day we literally called the entire world, whoever was featured in the play, my parents, my friends, and also people from the industry- Dilip Kumar, Anil Kapoor, Amitabh Bahchan, Mahesh Bhatt…
Around 5 in the morning I went to Juhu beach wondering why it wasn't working. Then I realized, the whole play is about my mistakes and disasters. So worst comes to worst, this will just be one more disaster in the litany. What else could happen?
So in the evening I performed it on stage by myself. Everyone arrived and that 2 hours 15 minute play stretched to 3 and a half hours because people didn't stop clapping, laughing till they fell sick. Because in my life people saw a reflection of theirs. Here is a successful man who is publicly talking about his failures. He lost his first love, was removed from Gandhi, the first film he directed was a flop, he got facial paralysis.
I saw this play during lockdown and thought, perhaps people now might be sad and depressed and somewhere people might be entertained or inspired by this. That's how we decided to put the play on the website which was already being worked on.
My first book, Best Thing About You Is You came out of this play. It is now in 9 languages including Korean. I feel like I liberated myself from the fear of failure through this play. At a very young age my father told me, "Failure is an event, not a person." That has been the biggest lesson for me.
These past fifteen years, a lot has changed in your life. Have you never added or removed stories from the play over the years?
No! The 127 pages of 2005 are the same. But at the end of the play now, there are rolling titles of all the good things that have happened to me from 2005 till now- the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, my two books, my English films, the school I opened. The play otherwise is the same.
One scene in the play made me really uncomfortable, the one where you are re-enacting the making of a rape scene in Bollywod. I understand that you are making fun of these silly tropes being used in our films, but it feels…
You are right. We have decided to edit that out now. In the past five years I haven't even been performing that scene on stage. I am uncomfortable about that, especially after Nirbhaya. The recording is an older one. That scene used to get a lot of claps before, but now, it's going to be removed.
What about New Amsterdam, the American medical-drama television series? This year they announced 3 more seasons. Any progress or updates on that front?
It's been doing very well. We were supposed to do 22 episodes this season. We have only shot 19 out of which 1 was about a pandemic, which is so strange. We shot that in February. They decided not to telecast that episode because it's too close to life.
I was supposed to join them on 7th July for filming but I think it might get delayed; there's no official information. I presume by September first week, post labour day, it should start, but again there's nothing official.