Anupam Kher on Failure & Success

Bollywood actor Anupam Kher has written a book The Best Thing About You is You

Anupam Kher

The Best Thing About You is You, says Anupam Kher

Trust Anupam Kher to be wickedly contrary – while everyone else writes books celebrating success, he – with a gleam in his eye – writes one which extols the power of failure! And of course, the book – just to be in your face – goes on to become a big success. Indeed at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival, the book was a total sellout. In this self-help book, ‘The Best Thing About You is YOU’,  Kher talks about accepting oneself, warts and all.

Recently I met Kher at the book launch in Mumbai and asked him why he celebrated failure when the world had eyes only for success. “I think there is a need in me to be different,” he said. “After all, I was 27 when I played a 65-year-old- man in my first film ‘Saraansh’.” What might have been seen as a bad career move by some emerging actors helped him smash the myth of typecasting. He added, “I think success is very boring, success is one-dimensional. Failure, if taken nicely, if taken with optimism, can be the biggest strength that you are looking for.”

Anupam Kher & Amitabh Bachchan at the book launch of 'The best thing about you is you'

Anupam Kher & Amitabh Bachchan

Anupam Kher on Succeeding Through Failing

His ‘failure’ was celebrated with great fanfare at the book’s glittering press launch at Out of the Blue in Mumbai’s happening Le Sutra Hotel, attended not only by Amitabh Bachchan but several media heavy hitters including Pritish Nandy, Arnab Goswami, Nidhi Razdan, Ashutosh and the publisher of Hay House, Ashok Chopra. Each of them read a chapter from Kher’s book, including his wife, actor Kirron Kher. There was a  huge crush of press and paparazzi and the event received wide coverage in national media the next day. We could all get used to failure of this variety!

The timing for this book, however, is just right with so much failure happening in the last few years, with markets crashing and people being let go, with very successful people not so successful suddenly. Failure is indeed always hard to embrace. Kher, who has acted in over 450 films, a 100 plays and won many awards, has also seen the rough side of life with business deals gone bad and other challenges. In the process he has  developed into a motivational speaker with insights into difficult times.

“The world tries to frighten you with your shortcomings, tries to make you feel that you are living in a dangerous place,” Kher told me in a one-on-one interview, away from the media circus. “The front page news, the breaking news is always about negative things, about disasters, about deaths, about rapes, about markets crashing – you are actually living in a frightening place. So how do you live?”

“It is the easiest thing in the world to be yourself,” says Anupam Kher

Kher says each of us  has the potential within ourselves to deal with these dilemmas: “I think the strength that you derive from your own self you cannot get from anywhere else – we try and run away from that, because we don’t actually explore our own strength. You need to discover your own strengths and the only thing you have to do is be yourself –  it is the easiest thing in the world to be yourself.”

He recalls the struggle to accept himself when he was down. “Few years back I was not doing well financially, and work wise, things had gone haywire.  I had overreached in life – I had thought I would become a tycoon overnight – the next media magnate – and nothing was working out. I  had plenty of low moments and to top it all, I developed facial palsy – my whole face got twisted. The doctor told me to take a two month holiday and not do anything and take rest, but I was shooting for ‘Hum Aapke Hai Kaun’ and there was a huge set put up for that, the whole cast was there.” That he believes was the defining moment of his life. ” I could easily go to rest for the two months that the doctor suggested and live in this fear for the rest of my life that something may happen to me sometime –  or I could combat it and land up at the shooting and report for work.  So I did the latter.”

Arnab Goswami, Nidhi Razdan, Anupam Kher, Amitabh Bachchan, Ashok Chopra, Kirron Kher, Pritish Nandy and Ashutosh at the book launch of Anupam Kher's book

Arnab Goswami, Nidhi Razdan, Anupam Kher, Amitabh Bachchan, Ashok Chopra, Kirron Kher, Pritish Nandy and Ashutosh

Director Suraj Barjatya worked with him in organizing long shots rather than close-ups and he managed to do the film. He says, “That gave me great courage, because I think if you take life headlong,  you feel that certain brave quality that you have in you. It is only when you  are stuck in a situation that you decide what you are.”

The World Frightens You with Your Shortcomings

Around that time, Kher had an intent letter from Penguin for his autobiography. Since he had no work and more than enough time, he started writing and taping and found that he was often  taping his disasters and failures, laughing about them, talking about them with humor. The collected material was turned into a play ‘ Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’ which also traveled to the US and was a huge success. “When you tell incidents to five people in a room it is very intimate but to do it in front of 500, 1000 or 3000 people  is a very difficult thing.  But again,  I had to test myself;   let’s see, what’s the maximum that will happen?  I will fail.  So what,  life will not come to an end.   Strangely, a play which is based on my failures has been the most successful thing I have done till to date.”

As he explains, “At the end of the play I felt the tallest man on earth because the world frightens you with your shortcomings.  They try to make you become somebody else and here I was telling the whole audience that this is what went wrong, this is what happened, my films flopped and I tried to be a tycoon and I was making them laugh. It became very inspirational for people who were watching, and the process of learning this side of my life was happening gradually.” After the play, many major universities from the University of Chicago to Oxford got in touch with him and inspirational lectures also followed at various IITs and IIMs, using his own life as a reference. The ups and downs of life became the building blocks of the upcoming book which gives guidance on living life to the fullest.

Anupam Kher at the book launch of The Best Thing About You is You!' with journalist Lavina Melwani

Anupam Kher with Lavina Melwani at the book launch

Anupam Kher on the Ups and Downs of Life

Celebrities may wear the armor of success but as Anupam Kher shows  they all have human failings and frailties and he shares ways to deal with everything from stress to fear to failure. And that is why readers will catch glimpses of themselves in the pages, find strength for the days they lose confidence or feel useless. Says Kher, “They need to discover that the best thing about them is them.  It is the truth, it is not just a catchy title.  I believe in it.”

He recalls that he had started balding when he was only 23 –  not the best thing for an aspiring actor trying to make it in Bollywood. “Now I have a very dignified, sexy bald look but when you are balding initially it is frightening, it is horrendous. Lots of people told me to wear a wig but I didn’t  – it would have closed so many avenues in my life   So I said I am bald, and now everybody wants to be bald!  People even shave off their hair!  If you think it is a shortcoming,  then the world will think it is a shortcoming.”

The tiny book’s 50 short chapters deal with everything from discarding extra baggage to coping with loss and death. In his own life, what keeps him going when things get rough? ” I just make life brighter,” he says. ” I just go out and talk to strangers.  My grandfather used to say, happiness and sadness are in your hands.  You can feel very sad by thinking how many people are better off than you, but you can feel very happy by thinking how many people are worse off than you.  And people who are worse than you will always be many more than people who are better than you.”

Life is not about Pressing a Google Button

He feels communication is key: “We have stopped communicating with people.  You can talk to even strangers.  The best thing about India is that we don’t need many psychiatrists.  Whenever I go to America, everybody has a psychiatrist.  Here we have the paanwalla, the auto-rikshawala!   We can talk to them, they  will ask you, “Kya sahab kya hua?”  “Arre kya bataye sir  – bahut problem ho gaya, biwi se jhagada ho gaya, usne ghar se nikal diya! ”


One of the advantages in India is that you are surrounded by people, and communication happens everywhere. Says Anupam Kher, tongue in cheek: ” There is a always a jyotishi who is telling you, ‘Don’t worry,  Rahu ki dasha khatam honewali hai, February se aapka accha time nikalne wala hai’ In every nook and corner there are people, so what happens is that you are communicating.  When you go to Europe and America there is no communication.  If you look at someone for a little longer than necessary, he will ask, ‘Why are you staring at me?'”

Maintaining a child-like sense of wonder is also essential, says Kher. He is still intrigued by the way the theater curtain comes down, by the great amount of adventure in everyday life.

“So while I say that the  tech revolution and the Internet has brought in great knowledge, it is really just information,” he says. “It takes a certain amount of life lived to turn that information into knowledge.  So people exhaust their life at a very young age because they know everything, they just have to press a Google button. But life is not about pressing a Google button.”

There’s No Choice but to be Happy

Anupam Kher is not dazzled by social media or the mounds of ‘friends’ people make on the Net. “You are making friends on Facebook and you are not even sitting with your own parents! Some boast ‘Oh I have 1000 Facebook friends’.  It is so ironical, it is so sad.  These are not friends – they are intruding in your life. I have nothing against Facebook, but it is taking you away from yourself.”

Sometimes life becomes all about people who can help you succeed and childhood friends no longer fit the bill and when that happens, something is quite wrong. He says when he needs to feel in touch with life, he turns to a childhood friend who is a cashier in a bank and is least impressed by his success.

He adds, I think I was brought up in a family which had no choice but to be happy because we were poor people.  My father was a clerk in the forest department and we had 14 people in the family he had to feed.  His pay was just Rs. 90. So when you are like that, when you are living from hand to mouth,  the only thing that you can have is happiness because it’s free. Sadness, depression, unhappiness are the luxury of the rich and of intellectuals.”

(C) Lavina Melwani

(This article first appeared in Khabar )


About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

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