Anupam Kher is synonymous with his stunning performance in Saaransh (1984), as the elderly grief-stricken father struggling to come to terms with his son’s demise. Ironically, he was just 29 when he essayed the award-winning role. Featuring in more than 500 films mainly in Hindi cinema and several plays, Kher has won two National Film Awards for Special Mention for his performances in Daddy (1989) and Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005) as well as the Filmfare Best Actor for Saaransh (1984), the Filmfare Award for Best Comedian for Ram Lakhan (1989), Lamhe (1991), Khel (1992), Darr (1993) and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), and the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for Vijay (1988). Conferred the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2004, followed by the Padma Bhushan in 2016, Kher has also been part of famous international films such as the Golden Globe-nominated Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Ang Lee's Golden Lion–winning Lust, Caution (2007), and David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook (2013), which won an Oscar. His British TV sitcom, The Boy with the Topknot (2018) also bagged him a BAFTA nomination. He has also been Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, and of the National School of Drama in India.
Born on 7 March, 1955 into a Kashmiri Pandit family, he is the son of Pushkar Nath Kher, a clerk in the forest department and Dulari Kher, a housewife. Schooled at D. A. V. School in Shimla, he went on to study Economics at Government College, Shimla, which he quit midway to pursue the study Indian theatre at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He went on to graduate from the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi in 1978. In 1984 he featured in a small role in Amit Khanna’s Sheeshay Ka Ghar; however, it was the Mahesh Bhatt-directed Saaransh that brought him into the spotlight. The film revolved around a 65-year-old retired middle-class teacher and his wife who lose their son in a mugging incident in America. Kher won widespread praise for his sensitive yet strong performance.
Kher went on to be part of various critical and commercial successes over the course of his career such as N. Chandra's action thriller Tezaab (1988) which was the highest-grossing film of the year, playing a man whose daughter is forced to dance to make money for him. Ram Lakhan (1989), in which he played a man who disapproves of his daughter’s marriage to her childhood friend, was the second highest-grossing film of the year. He was widely appreciated for his performance in Daddy, playing an alcoholic who is able to overcome his addiction with the love and support of his daughter, played by Pooja Bhatt. He went on to appear in a string of hits such as Yash Chopra’s Chandni (1989), Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda (1989), and Chaal Baaz (1989). His performance as the miserly father searching for a rich girl to marry his son in the Aamir Khan-Madhuri Dixit starrer Dil (1990) won him praise as well as an award nomination, while his performance as Anil Kapoor’s childhood friend in Yash Chopra’s Lamhe (1991) bagged him the Filmfare Award for Best Comedian. Kher won praise for another comedic performance in Indra Kumar’s Beta (1992), the highest-grossing film of the year, followed by Khel (1992) which bagged him a Filmfare Best Comedian Award. Yash Chopra’s Darr (1993), starring Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, and Sunny Deol, won him another Best Comedian Award at Filmfare. He was part of the cast of Sooraj R. Barjatya's Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), the highest-grossing Hindi film at that time, also bagging a Filmfare Best Supporting Actor nomination. He collected the Filmfare Best Comedian Award for Aditya Chopra's iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), playing the father of Shah Rukh Khan’s character. Kher’s performance as college principal Mr Malhotra in Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) brought in the laughs and another award nomination, while his act in Satish Kaushik's Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain (1999) won him positive reviews. He was also part of David Dhawan’s comedy-drama Haseena Maan Jaayegi (1999), a commercial success. More recently, he played Police Commissioner Rathor, in the critically and commercially acclaimed film, A Wednesday (2008), and former Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh in The Accidental Prime Minister (2019).
He has acted in cinema in other languages as well, featuring in Malayalam language romantic drama Pranayam (2011), Marathi films such as Thoda Tuza...Thoda Maza (2013), Kashala Udyachi Baat (2012), and Punjabi films such as Yaaran Naal Baharan (2005).
Venturing into direction with Om Jai Jagadish (2002), he has also produced and starred in the film Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005), for which he also collected the Best Actor Award from the Karachi International Film Festival for his performance. He has been part of international projects such as Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Bride and Prejudice (2004), The Mistress of Spices (2006) and Lust, Caution (2007), Speedy Singhs (2011), TV show ER, and the Academy Award-winning Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
Foraying into television, he has hosted TV shows such as Say Na Something To Anupam Uncle, Sawaal Dus Crore Ka, Lead India, and The Anupam Kher Show - Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai.
Kher has written and starred in a play about his own life called Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai, which was directed by Feroz Abbas Khan. While he released his first book The Best Thing About You is You! in 2011, Lessons Life Taught Me Unknowingly, his biography, was published in 2019. The following year he wrote Your Best Day Is Today!, based on his experiences of the Covid-19 crisis.
Kher has served as Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification and the National School of Drama in India. He was appointed FTII chairman but resigned a year later citing work commitments.
Married in 1985 to actress Kirron Kher, a BJP MP from Chandigarh, her son actor Sikandar Kher, is his stepson.