'What's Wrong Happening Bhai?': Anupam Kher's Saffron Blinkers

06/11/2015 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images
From left: Indian actors Anupam Kher takes part in a discussion on the links between Indian theater and cinema at Embassy of India on August 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On 3 November, Anupam Kher appeared on a popular (and noisy) prime time show on the "Tolerance Tussle" vis-à-vis what is being termed as the "Award Wapsi" movement. On the show, Kher duelled with Shobhaa De and repeated one question with emphatic innocence: "What's wrong happening bhai?" This reflects the height of hypocrisy as well as sheer disrespect for the intelligence of millions of serious-minded Indians who are feeling genuinely concerned about the increasing frequency of "state-connived hooliganism" and the crass indifference of those in power.

Anupam Kher is an average character actor even by Bollywood standards. His flash-in-the-pan performance in his debut Hindi film Saaransh(1984) does not grant him any moral authority to question the intentions of the galaxy of stalwarts who have returned their awards. Every one of these dignitaries has clearly stated reasons for their gesture. Anupam Kher would do better if he first listens to/reads their contentions. I guess he thinks he is acting out one of those semi-idiot caricatures that he performs film after film.

To highlight that nothing "wrong happening Bhai" he summoned up scenarios from elsewhere in the world, ranging from street violence to a law and order failure to downright fascism that gags freedom of expression in all forms. This shows utter disrespect for the intellect of an average Indian.

Yes, we don't have a situation like Lahore or Karachi where random street shootings are not uncommon. Nor do we live in Saudi Arabia you can be executed for handing out copies of the Bible. Nor is the India of today like Egypt where journalists are incarcerated on flimsy grounds and cases drag on for years despite all round international condemnations. But is this the yardstick by which we should measure a country which aspires for a permanent seat in the UN security council?

With what courage can we ask this question to the family of the 90-year-old Dalit man who died after being brutally attacked with an axe and set on fire for trying to enter a temple at Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh? Or for that matter, what do we say to the family of Mohammad Akhlaq, victim of the worst ever organised mob crimes in the history of Independent India. Do we take the assassinations Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi as random crimes committed for petty personal gains?

Connecting the dots is a skill that is increasingly important as one matures in a career and moves into more strategic roles. Those who "connect the dots" make a logical or implied connection between facts or disparate pieces of information in order to arrive at a conclusion. I don't think Anupam Kher lacks this skill. I think it is the other way around. As a professionally trained actor at the National School of Drama, he is reading lines given to him. All that he is doing is lending some conviction in the role. Pretty strange for someone who came out as a conscientious human being during his intervention in the FTII crisis. The moral high ground from which he lambasted poor Gajendra Sigh Chauhan is quite inconsistent with his current saffron advocacy. If in the end, it is all for some gain, then Gajendra Singh Chauhan hardly deserved that level of public scolding from someone who ran past the pole and made it in a race for name and fame, whereas the undistinguished Chauhan fell few metres behind and tried to make up for it some other way.

Why? The question still haunts me

I don't want to be nasty or small-minded to say that this is a paid performance. Surely, he enough in the character actor roles that he plays (which he once claimed to be as important as the lead roles because they carry the film through). Spousal pressures could be a possible factor. Or is it the much coveted Rajat Kamal Award? At least the Government will be sure not to have it returned from one recipient!

After all, we can only try to connect dots!

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