On Aug. 18, 2015 legendary Indian actor Anupam Kher was welcomed to the United Nations for a very special event. UN Women announced that he will be joining the HeForShe campaign, which was famously announced by Emma Watson last year. HeForShe is a worldwide initiative that invites men and boys to stand up against the inequalities faced by women and girls. During the ceremony, Mr. Kher was pinned as a HeForShe Champion and participated in a panel discussion with UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri, Ravi Karkara and UN Ambassador Bhagwant Bishnoi. Kher is currently in the United States on tour performing his new play “Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha,” which was written and directed by Rakesh Bedi and co-stars Neena Gupta. The play has been selling out in every city and has received rave reviews. Mr. Kher was also personally invited by Robert De Niro to his birthday dinner at the Greenwhich Hotel on Aug. 18. He had a “Silver Linings Playbook” reunion with director David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper, who were also in attendance. Other notables Kher got to meet at the birthday celebration included Christopher Walken and George Lucas. Also, another momentous event on his US visit was when Houston, Texas mayor Annise Parker named Aug. 7, 2015, Anupam Kher Day in the city.
Becoming a HeForShe ambassador is a tremendous honor for Kher, who continues to dedicate much of his time to public service in addition to working on hundreds of films, plays, directing, hosting a talk show, producing and running a school. His foundation, the Anupam Kher Foundation, aims to help children from less privileged backgrounds by promoting and advocating good quality education. At the event, attendees were honored to be in the actor’s presence. You could tell that he has impacted many lives through his art. Read highlights from Anupam Kher’s remarks at the United Nations regarding becoming an ambassador for gender equality.
Kher reflected on his humble beginnings:
AK: I came from a very low middle class family. My father was a clerk in the forest department. We were a family of fourteen people, my uncles, aunts, their children. We used to live in a small one room. The only earning member was my father. He used to earn ninety rupees per month at that time. Ninety rupees in today’s time, if you convert into dollars, is one and a half dollars. Not even that. Because we were so populated in this room, we used to bang into each other constantly. If we had to go take out a shirt, somebody had to go and have a bath. My grandfather used to say, “Beta, this is not banging into each other, this is hugging each other.” That’s the way he put it, of course. How it’s alright, if we are poor. Another thing that he said, was “when you are very poor, the cheapest thing available is happiness.” So, I come from a family which was poor, but completely believed in gender equality. … Everybody went to school and studied. Also, when you’re born in a small town, you don’t really discover so much of a disparity between men and women. Frankly speaking, this is from my personal experience. I was born in Shimla, up north. So, it took me a long time to discover that this is the kind of thing that keeps happening. It started bothering me as a person who was taught by his grandparents that people are equal.
AK: When I left Shimla and I went for studies and wanted to become an actor, then I discovered the sole difference between the treatment of men and the treatment of women. I think personally, men are much weaker than women … Because they are insecure. They are insecure because their father didn’t want to share their power with anybody else … Power is physical, it has nothing to do with intellect, in their sense, in their mind. … They grow up with the feeling of, “I’m superior.” … Then he discovers, slowly, to his horror that women are much more powerful than men are. It happens with everybody, but he’s selfish enough to not accept it. The domestic violence starts from there, this is my personal opinion. Because he can’t pin down the woman. The defiance of the woman and the power of the woman is so powerful that no physical power can suppress that. My father had the greatest regard for my mother. … My father, on an instinct, knew how to to treat my mother. We were two boys, me and my brother, and my father. I am honored to be here and you don’t have to thank me for being here. Officially I am now bound to do what I was doing unofficially.
He reflected on his career:
AK: It was with great difficulty even after being a trained actor, gold medalist from drama school, it took me lot of time to get into movies, three years of sleeping on the platform homeless, no place to go. Finally, when I got into movies, with my first role in “Saaransh,” in one week’s time I signed about fifty-seven movies. Because people thought I was 65 actually, but I was 28 at the time. It was a tragedy, because I used to go to every cinema hall and stand outside, so that people would recognize me. That’s what I had worked for, but people used to pass by me, thinking, “Some young boy is standing here.” Then what happened, I think the power of luxury, the arrogance of power, the arrogance of having made it, comes in to your mind. You start getting air-conditioned cars, you have a driver with you, so for a brief moment you go slightly off. I was in that brief moment when I was slightly thinking, “I’m the best thing that has happened to Indian cinema.”
Then a chance encounter changed his outlook:
AK: It was in that phase, once I was traveling, I kept telling my driver make the AC a little more colder, make it colder. The car stopped at a signal and a girl beggar, maybe five years old, came to ask me for money and she put her cheek on this cold window of my car. She felt good and she fell off to sleep there. It was all fine, she just fell off to sleep. So, I opened the window and asked her, “Why are you begging, beta?” She said, “Because my father asked me to do that.” I said, “Do you have anybody in the family?” She said, “Yes, my brother is there.” I said, “Where is your brother?” She said, “He goes to school.” So they had made a choice, that the girl will go and beg … Then I, in one second, my world, pumped feeling of importance went down the drain. Thank God that day happened. I started noticing, and I started talking about it. I don’t think it’s important to feel, it’s important to talk. Everybody feels. But feelings, it’s like as an actor … if I’m feeling so much emotion, if I’m not showing it on my face, then I’m a dead actor. We used to have an actor in our classroom … Whatever situation my teachers would give him, he used the same expression … So to do is most important than to think. We always say that the intention is good. I believe in showing the intention. I believe in doing. Also after being in movies for 31 years, over 491 films, I discovered there’s much more to life than just cinema and acting. Cinema and acting is part of my life, it’s not my life. I have to keep reinventing myself. I have to keep feeling more and doing more.
He concluded, “So this campaign, that you asked me to join, I had joined a long time back … I think things are changing in our country … but it’s not going to happen over night. But yes, it has to start from our families, from our homes. It cannot happen outside. If we apply the rules that we apply at home, if we apply the same rules for our country, I think we will have a better place to live. I on my own do a lot of campaigning for world child education. I’ll be a little more responsible now on what we talk about on social media … the 5 million followers I have on Twitter, I’ll respond to them personally, if they sign up for the HeForShe campaign. I’m happy to be part of it. … Even the play that we are doing all over America and Canada, deals with women in power. It’s a woman who leaves her home to look for her own identity, and finds it. I’m an optimist. I don’t believe in pessimism, I don’t believe in negativity. For me the ultimate definition of optimism is that everything is okay in the end, if it is not okay, it is not the end.”