By confessing to failing exams and mimicking teachers, Anupam Kher won quick approval from schoolchildren at last week's Sharjah International Book Fair. However, the Bollywood star wasn't speaking to them as an actor but as an inspirational author. He urged his audience to celebrate failure, stand out from the crowd, be honest and, most importantly, to dream.
"I know teachers sitting here aren't going to like it but I never got more than 38 per cent marks," said Kher, to huge cheers from the children.
Dressed in a uniform-like checked shirt, Kher told how his father treated him at his favourite restaurant when he failed in Class 10, teaching him to celebrate failure and learn from it. That taught him never to be afraid of anything in life, Kher said.
Kher, who has acted in nearly 450 films and won numerous awards for his acting skills, became an author in January with his book The Best Thing About You Is You, now going into its 10th edition in 10 months.
"I'm an accidental author," said the 57-year-old, who thought it would have been "predictable" to write a book on films. But when asked what set his book apart from other self-help books, he lost no time in saying: "I wanted to write a book on what life taught me… And you have to be honest to your feelings to do that."
The fact that the bestseller earned him a fan following as an author surprised him, Kher said.
"It's amazing that my book has got me more dedicated fans than my films. Through my cinema I entertain people, but people say they have changed their lives through my book."
And now it's being published in Korean. "I have no idea how that happened. I was shocked when my publisher told me. I think human emotions are the same worldwide," he said, adding that he hopes his book will connect with fans in the UAE as well.
Kher struggled to make his mark as an actor, sleeping on a railway platform in Mumbai for nearly a month while looking for work. But he never gave up. And that is reflected in his book, where he expresses an interesting take on hope.
"Hope is not just another four-letter word. If love makes the world go round, hope keeps us going on forever… It is hope that keeps us alive," he wrote.
He also shared a message for the increasing number of expatriates in the UAE who have amassed so much unpayable debt that they consider suicide.
"I think no stage in life is so bad that you take your life. I think it's important if you cannot achieve your dreams to be together as a family. Together, there's always a possibility of looking at life in a different manner… It's a sense of loneliness that drives people to take this extreme step," Kher said, adding that it's important to communicate with people in times of despair.
The actor-author told the audience about his close relationship with his father, who died nine months ago, and emphasised the need to respect and bond with grandparents.
"As a child you have millions of questions. In a joint family like the one I grew up in, you had either your uncle, aunt or grandparents who could answer your questions. Today there is no one to answer questions. Parents are busy in their own pursuit of happiness. Also, the problem is that we are treating grandparents as caretakers rather than grandparents."
While Kher can now boast of sharing screen space with his favourite actor, Robert De Niro, in the just-released Silver Linings Playbook, his pet project is the Mumbai-based Anupam Kher Foundation, which promotes quality education for underprivileged children.
"It's more of a concern," he said of his ability to connect with young people. "Children are at the beginning of their life and they have to deal with life for the rest of their life. So I hope to change the mindset of even half a per cent of children. They are only looking for a warm hug, a certain emotional security, and that's the easiest thing in the world to give," Kher said.
He also advised young people not to pursue "being cool".
"Don't let others decide whether you are cool or not. Be original. Your parents are cool because they are original," he said.
With his passion for writing unleashed, Kher says he would like his next book to be a reflection of the father-son relationship titled Lessons My Father Taught Me Unknowingly.
However, he's in no hurry. "I'm not really a professional writer so don't expect another book from me for at least a year."