Remember Saranshs B.V. Pradhan-a righteous teacher who never swerved from his principles, a man who believed in discipline. Add a fair dash of optimism in this epitome of unflinching trust and kindness and you had Pradhan emerging from those old small screen images into the glare of real life.
Years after his brilliant portrayal of Pradhans struggles and convictions in the film, which, needless to say, left an indelible impression on many minds, Anupam Kher today has a different role to essay. He is now putting heart and soul into reviving the fortunes of the once-forgotten Bharatendu Academy in Lucknow, which lay practically redundant for 24 long years.
"I am not going to behave like an ostrich. I know if I put in my best, I will succeed," he says. Determined to turn around the fortunes of the institute, Kher has another reason to work harder-this was the institute which gave him his first pay packet of Rs 1,000 in 1979. He calls it a blood transfusion. Says he, "All the bad blood will have to be replaced with new life."
The institute, the second of its kind after Delhis National School of Drama (NSD), gave hope to many aspiring actors when it was started in 1975. Says Raj Bisaria, the founder director of the institute, "I tried telling the people that this form of art would be best learnt only if it is treated seriously." But what seemed promising two decades ago was reduced to a non-entity in no time. "Bureaucratic red-tapism and political interference reduced the institute into a lifeless establishment," explains Bisaria.
Concerned about the future of such an important institute, all its three crucial wings-political, bureaucratic and academic-zeroed in on the thespian to help them infuse some life into the academy. Kher, on his part, waited for nearly three months before he was convinced he could do justice to the post. Speaking to mediapersons in Lucknow during his first visit as the chairman of the academy on July 1, he said, "I am not here by default but because I exactly know my job."
Confident that he will succeed in reviving the spirit of the institution, Kher, to start with, plans to ensure thorough discipline on the campus: "It is time that both the staff and the students regard their institute like a temple."
With this as the prologue to his new role, he has already etched several scenes in his mind. To help the students move in the right direction, he plans to have trained and matured teachers. Says Susheel Kumar Singh, the academys principal: "There have been a number of strikes in the institution in the past mainly because the students have got accustomed to having their way out." With the new appointment, the senior staff is now hopeful that it will indeed make a difference with a theatre person calling the shots.
The students too seem determined to make Anupams venture a success. Says Sanyukta Thorat, a second year student who was actively involved in the recent hartal: "Anupamji is our ideal. We are inspired by his experiences as a theatre student." But there are apprehensions as well about the efficiency of the staff. Says Nandan Singh Rohtella: "If they appear energetic, I am sure stagnancy cannot find its way here."
Kher seems to have gauged the mood in the institute and plans to invite renowned theatre, television and film personalities as visiting teachers to the institute. Says he: "It is time this institute got international recognition and I shall leave no stone unturned for this."
He promises to visit Lucknow as frequently as he can. Many, however, say that this remote control may not really work because the problems are not merely confined within the premises of the institute. Says Raj Bisaria: "To allow Anupams vision shape up, the government should learn to be helpful and stop playing the role of a big brother." The government too is excited about the future of the academy. Says Ramesh Pokhriyal, the minister for cultural affairs: "We have invited Anupam Kher not to humiliate him but to help him realise the dreams of many prospective students."
Kher will face his first challenge in the third week of October this year when the institute will organise its annual theatre mela. Already many theatre companies from all over the country have been invited to showcase their plays along with those by bna. Acknowledging that it will test the calibre of the students after decades, Kher says: "If they prove themselves here, there is no looking back." And if that happens, the new chairman can happily enjoy his favourite kebabs in the lanes of Lucknow, feeling proud that he too has added some spice to its cultural ethos.