It was sometime in late 2009 or early 2010 when my agent Ruth Young called me and said: ‘There is a film already under production. It is Woody Allen’s film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. There is father’s role . . . Freida Pintos’ father’s role. It’s only two days’ work and possibly only two scenes, and they are offering very little money.’
But those facts didn’t dampen my excitement one bit. I couldn’t believe it and replied immediately: ‘Woody Allen? Woody Allen will ask me to stand in the street scene . . . ? Ruth, I don’t want any money. I just want to be in this film, whatever the role is.’
She said: ‘You will have to take the money.’
‘I have done so many films in India without taking any money. This is my tribute to Woody Allen . . . a dream come true for me.’
Ruth replied: ‘It does not work like this. You will have to take the money; whatever amount is offered.’
‘This is a very strange system,’ I said. ‘A system that forces you to take money.’
‘That’s the system. For your name to be on the credits, you have to be paid,’ she told me on a serious note, but I was hardly paying full attention because my head was already in the clouds dreaming of what our work together would be like.
‘I want to meet Mr Woody Allen’
After the costume trials were over, I asked one of the assistants: ‘I want to meet Mr Woody Allen.’
He looked at me with a surprise and asked: ‘You want to meet Woody?’
I shook my head in affirmative. ‘No, he can’t meet you today. You will meet him tomorrow directly at the location . . . when you come for your scenes.’
I was somewhat hurt and thought to myself: Here I am, having travelled all the way from India, doing this film for so little money and he can’t even meet me? Why does it matter to him? I just want to stand behind and watch him? Why are they so adamant? After all, I am an also an actor . . . a well-known star from India. Surely, he respects another actor.
I insisted: ‘No, I want to meet him today.’
He replied, somewhat politely but firmly: ‘Mr Kher, he will not meet you today. You go to your hotel now. Your trial for your costumes is done and tomorrow, I will keep them ready, well in time for your shoot.’
But I was equally adamant. I had to meet him. I was able to find out where he was shooting. It was in a street quite close by to my hotel. I went there, did a recce of the street and discovered that there was a Bangladeshi restaurant, very close to where Woody Allen was shooting. I went into the restaurant. The moment the staff and some guests saw me, they all surrounded me saying: ‘Dada, dada, one picture please … Mr Kher, one autograph please.’
I said: ‘Now, all of you hold on. You all get together . . . in fact, collect everyone you can, your friends, your relatives, your customers, everyone you can. I will go and stand in that corner there. All of you come there and ask for autographs or your pictures with me. I will do so there, with each one of you. You can take as many pictures as you want. But do collect some more people.’
Within just about ten minutes or so, about 15 or 20 or 30 people had collected, mostly Bangladeshis. They started creating a ruckus . . . all wanting a photograph while standing next to me, as close as possible. Soon, the word spread that an Indian actor was there and a crowd had surrounded him. The noise must have disturbed the shooting because soon, two of the production managers came. One of them recognised me and said: ‘Mr Kher? You are here?’
I said: ‘Yes. Came to have a bite here at this restaurant. I am in the film but I’m shooting tomorrow.’
‘Okay. Okay. Why don’t you come and sit with us?’ he said.
They made me sit next to Woody Allen. I was happy, as happy as I could be.
Though I was sitting right next to Woody Allen, he did not look at me. He was looking at the monitor for the shot going on between Freida Pinto and the well-known American actor, Josh Brolin. I discovered that he was of much fairer complexion than I had seen in his movies. But Woody Allen had no time for me. Not that I had anything in particular to say to him. But for me, this was a moment of truth.
After the shot, as Woody Allen turned, we were face to face with each other. I said: ‘Hi.’
Now, he was forced to reply to me: ‘Hi. I am told you have done a lot of movies.’
I said: ‘Yes, 418.’
He paused, looked around and asked: ‘In how many lives?’
Woody Allen plays the clarinet
I was on a visit to New York and on the recommendation of Anil Kapoor, I stayed at the legendary Carlyle—A Rosewood Hotel on 76th Street. While at the hotel, I learnt that every Monday evening, Woody Allen played the clarinet with Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band at the Café Carlyle, situated on the ground floor of the hotel. ‘It’s very difficult to get a seat as everything gets booked days in advance,’ I was told.
‘Please . . . help get me a ticket. I am ready to pay anything for a front row seat,’ I literally begged Sonal, the Indian girl at the front office.
I was led to my seat and suddenly, after a few minutes, I saw Woody Allen walk in carrying a small leather briefcase. He sat down, opened his briefcase, took out his clarinet and started to assemble it. For me, sitting there was an extremely surreal scene. While playing, he did not look up at all, just played with his eyes shut. There was no eye contact. It seemed like a scene directly out of one of his films. But I was dying during that one-hour performance for an eye contact; an eye contact that conveys to him that I have worked with you my friend and that this is a historical moment, not only for me, but for you as well. I really wanted him to know that your actor is here, especially to watch and admire your performance and that too after going through extraordinary lengths to secure a seat.
After the performance was over, he emerged from his ‘stupor’. He then gathered his instrument, packed it and got up to leave. I stood very close to him and said: ‘Sir, sir, I worked with you in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. I am your actor, sir.’
He turned and without even looking at me, he said: ‘Good for you,’ and just walked away.
Excerpted with permission from Lessons Life Taught Me, Unknowingly, Anupam Kher, Hay House India.