As this article was being typed, the last three tweets on actor Anupam Kher's timeline looked a bit like this - a retweet of right wing intellectual Kanchan Gupta's tweet asking if scientists care about empirical data at all (a not-so-subtle dig at Padma Bhushan awardee PM Bhargav), a news story on India promising a soft loan to Africa, and a retweet of a tweet which contains the hashtag #YoAwardeesSoFarzi.
Kher, over the past months, has made no bones about which political narrative in the country he endorses. Fair enough. Like is the order of the day, he has also taken to Twitter to air his opinions and critiques. Again, quite fair. So, no content of his Twitter timeline seems particularly unlike him or unbecoming of a personality of his stature -- a steady stream of criticism against the critics of the present government, interspersed with articles on his new films, on DDLJ and his TV shows.
Except for what seems like his endorsement of dismissive, disrespectful and trifling hashtags like #YoAwardeesSoFarzi. In fact, for some of his own tweets, he used the hashtag that some BJP fans and right wing Twitter users have come up with - #AwardWapsi, #AwardWapsiGang
Now, compare the impolite, derisive tone of #YoAwardeesSoFarzi and suchlike with the letter that the filmmakers have written to the President and the Prime Minister.
"We are filmmakers who have been awarded by your most esteemed office. We hold that to be a high honour. Our cinema represents a rich diversity of political opinions and aesthetic expression. It was a matter of great pride for us that the government of India had awarded this plurality... We feel compelled to return the honour that the State had bestowed on us. This is not an attempt to undermine your office but a heartfelt plea."
The filmmakers, whose protest the hashtag endorsed by Anupam Kher dismisses as 'farzi' (fraudulent), have taken a peaceful, legitimate and some may say, powerful way to register their concerns about the current state of affairs and the government's role in it.
Anupam Kher in Dibakar Banerjee's 'Khosla Ka Ghosla'
In fact, the letter they have written is not even an angry rant, or a hasty condemnation of the government with no explanation as such. The filmmakers have only urged the government to be more pro-active than it has been in the recent past, in condeming incidents of violence against minorities and rationalists. They have also tried to draw attention to the state of affairs in FTII where the students have finally called off their protest, without the government budging on its position on recruiting Gajendra Chauhan, an actor with a dismal resume, as the institute's chairman.
The FTII issue forms the lede of the letter, which then touches upon attacks on rationalists and the Dadri lynching.
This is what the writers have written about FTII. "The ministry has seemingly offered a patient hearing to the students no less than 5 times over 4 months yet have made no attempt to put into place a transparent process to make key appointments to the people who are meant to give vision to the institute. They have expressed an inability to reverse the process that provoked this strike. We see this as a blatant disregard for the voice of these students."
Before flying into a rage against the filmmakers who have rejected their National Awards in protest, Kher could have possibly tried considering the legitimacy of the demand to replace Gajendra Chauhan. After all, in July this year, Kher had himself admitted that Chauhan was far from being suitable to head an institute like the FTII.
He had said: ""I personally feel that FTII represents a certain art form... it does certainly need a person having a great body of work which means he is supposed to know world cinema, he is supposed to know the present state of cinema like editing. But certainly FTII needs somebody who is much more qualified than whatever Gajendra ji's qualifications are coming across. I certainly do not think Gajendra ji is qualified as a producer, director or actor."
Kher was right. An actor of his calibre, who runs an acting school himself, he was not wrong in his observation that Gajendra Chauhan was completely unsuitable to lead any respectable film body. While he commented on Chauhan's talent or the lack of it, he neither questioned the government's decision to recruit him nor did he urge them to reconsider their selection of the FTII chairman.
Instead, he urged the students to move on with their lives and careers paying no attention to Chauhan. ""I feel students who are on strike, should go back, make movies, attend classes because the Chairman is not directly involved in day-to-day functioning of FTII," he had said.
Probably, he felt that it was not his battle to fight. Fair enough. The only difference between the opinion of the filmmakers who have now returned awards and Kher on FTII's president chairman is, the latter decided to act on a wrongful appointment and Kher didn't. On what basis is then Kher dismissing his colleagues' concerns as 'farzi'?
Maybe, it's a matter of convenience. Kher didn't stay mum on Pahlaj Nihalani when the latter was in the eye of a storm. Nihalani, like Chauhan, was another ardent Narendra Modi and BJP supporter. Bollywood's most powerful was up in arms against Nihalani's ways.
Like the allegations against Chauhan, Nihalani was considered unqualified for the CBFC role and it was feared that he couldn't do justice to his job. Kher, who has been a CBFC chairman in the past, was one of the only ex-chairpersons who spoke up against Nihalani. He had said: "Mr Nihalani should let go. He should sit there for certification and not censorship."
However, in case of CBFC, the people Nihalani was up against were the most influential people in Bollywood and the board's own members like Ashoke Pandit, an ardent BJP follower himself. No wonder, it was immensely convenient for Kher to take a stand against Nihalani then.
At present his 'AwardWapsiGang' and "YoAwardeesSoFarzi" hashtags are aimed at a bunch of filmmakers who he probably thinks are the Bollywood 'have-nots'. Except Dibakar Banerjee, no one is a mainstay in Kher's mainstream Bollywood circles.
And last but not least, as a champion of cinema--which has traditionally lent itself to dissent and debate--how can Kher call the protest by filmmakers 'farzi'?
Referring to the protesting filmmakers, one of whom Kher has even worked with, as the 'Award Wapsi Gang', he said, "This #AwardWapsiGang has not insulted the Govt. but The Jury, The Chairman of the Jury and the audience who watched their films. #Agenda."
One may point out that the language he used to diss his colleagues may well be considered an insult to the spirit of cinema itself.
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