Anupam Kher is a good actor, and I have admired him in his roles in films such as Sansaar and Hum Aapke Hai Koun. Nonetheless, it was not surprising that questions were asked when he was conferred one of the highest honours of the land, the Padma Bhushan. Did Kher's body of work justify such a major award? Was the award a political gift for the cultural fire-fighting Kher has been doing on behalf of the BJP? In the words of my cousin: "Are they kidding?"
One particularly well-worded critique was an open letter to Kher written by Salman Nizami, published in the Huffington Post. Nizami's letter, which has now gone viral, was strong, based on facts, and wittily made his readers believe that in the list of achievements that made Mr Kher eligible for the Padma Bhushan, perhaps sycophancy and hypocrisy scored the most.
Kher's logic is nasty: An ordinary citizen of India (a loser, according to Kher) cannot have the honour of having an intellectual engagement or opinion with him.
I hold Kher in high regard. And I am not a fan of Salman Nizami. But the article did give one pause for thought. So when it comes to this award issue, I have noted my observations neutrally.
It is common for award winners to feel 'humbled'. Modesty, after all, is the virtue of the civilised. For example, Ashok Malik, a leading columnist upon his Padma achievement, tweeted, "got many good wishes and some criticism. Grateful for both. First swells my heart; second keeps my head from getting swollen. Thanks to all!"
After reading Nizami's letter, one expected a humble, graceful, fatherly (Salman is his son's age) and mature response from Kher. That was not to be. Rankled and grouchy, what we instead saw was a very arrogant actor suggested that Nizami was not worth his attention and that he was a "loser". Very soon, the cinematic, "tolerant" image I had of Kher got ripped into shreds.
Kher's logic is nasty: An ordinary citizen of India (a loser, according to Kher) cannot have the honour of having an intellectual engagement or opinion with him. What makes the actor so full of himself?
Kher further accused the writer of having written the letter for obtaining political favours. Nizami, a Jammu-born Kashmiri social-activist, has been involved in welfare of the people of his state, unlike Kher, who has been known to never involve himself with anything unless it suits him. Nizami's letter, despite no dedicated PR or an army of paid followers, got some traction online. Not surprisingly, Kher's vitriolic personal attack only got Nizami more empathy.
Anupam Kher is intolerant of any criticism. This is exactly the charge his detractors have been levelling against him.
As the social media feud grew, veteran actor Kader Khan hit out at Anupam Kher. He noted that Kher has done nothing but "sing praises for Prime Minister Narendra Modi". Incidentally, Kher and Khan have co-starred in several films, including Hum, Chaalbaaz, Judwaa and Deewana Mastana.
Kher soon entered into a Twitter confrontation with Shashi Tharoor. Posting a link of Kher's recent Tweet, Tharoor tweeted, ''Come on Anupam. I say it all the time. I'm a proud Hindu. Just not the Sangh's kind of Hindu." Kher retorted by calling Tharoor a "Congi Chamcha". Tharoor quickly replied that abuse "is what you use when you run out of arguments."
Later, in a column that he wrote on his Twitter dispute with Kher, Tharoor magnanimously invited him home and called a truce. However, Tharoor mentioned that he found Kher's statement in which he said he was scared of being a Hindu, absurd.
End of it all -- two things became clear. First, Anupam Kher is intolerant of any criticism. This is exactly the charge his detractors have been levelling against him. He lashes out at anyone who challenges his world-view, whether it's an eminent leader like Tharoor or an up and coming young politician. Second, notwithstanding Kher's mudslinging, we must encourage people like Nizami to continue their social activism and express their views. Let's keep sharp intellectualism and critique alive. India thrives not despite it but because of it.
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