June 6, 2010

Shah Rukh Khan Beats Pacino, Hoffman: Acting Coach

Anupam Kher is a classically trained actor and drama coach. But he understands and respects the melodrama of Indian films. He has been in close to 300 of them since graduating from India’s National School of Drama in the 1970s. He has also performed in international movies including “Bend it Like Beckham” and “The Mistress of Spices.”

The over–the-top performances and storylines Indian films are famous for directly reflect the country’s history and character, he told a room full of hundreds of Sri Lankan students who are interested in acting Friday. The event was part of the Indian International Film Academy awards weekend in Colombo.

Indian movies are loud and colorful because its people are loud and colorful, Mr. Kher said. Its storylines used to regularly be clichéd and predictable because for much of the country’s history people struggled so much to survive that they didn’t have the interest in — or the energy for — complicated stories, he said.

At the same time, India has so many different national languages and dialects that over-acting is sometimes required to ensure a movie is understood by those watching it in their native tongue.

“I had to do things that were ridiculous,” in Indian films, he said. “But the moment you are willing to make an a– of yourself, your life becomes easy.”

All the movie masala has made him a better actor, he said, and given Bollywood’s stars superior skills to even Hollywood’s legends.

“I think Indian actors are much more qualified,” than those in the West. “They can do what Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman can do but those two cannot do what a Shah Rukh Khan can do.”

The movie business is rapidly changing now, though, as more Indian consumers have access to international television and movies and film makers use new multiplexes to screen smaller but more sophisticated films.

“The best thing that happened in the last four to five years is that the audience started to understand acting,” said Mr. Kher, who also runs an acting school. “This is the benefit of globalization, we are just a click away from the other civilizations.”

He gave the group a lesson in toning down the histrionics. He brought one wannabe actor on stage and had her say “I love you — but I don’t respect you” over and over again until she cried … just a little bit.