Actor Anupam Kher was Wednesday appointed chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), a position that was vacant since the end of the tenure of Gajendra Chauhan in March. Kher, 62, an award-winning actor, is a vocal supporter of the Narendra Modi government. His wife and actor, Kirron Kher, is a BJP MP from Chandigarh.
A notification issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said Kher has acted in more than 500 films, and has won many national and international awards. He’s also a recipient of the Padma Shri in 2004 and the Padma Bhushan in 2016 for his contribution in the field of cinema and arts, it said.
“The veteran star has won many national and international awards including the ‘Filmfare Award for Best Performance in a Comic Role’ five times. He has appeared in acclaimed international films such as the 2002 Golden Globe nominated Bend It Like Beckham, 2007 Golden Lion award-winning Lust, Caution and 2013 Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook. He has appeared in more than 100 plays and has also authored the book ‘The Best Thing about You Is You’,” the statement said. Less than 24 hrs into new job, FTII head Anupam Kher already has an ‘open letter’ from students.
Kher has previously served as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and was the director of the National School of Drama from 2001 to 2004. He is also an alumnus of National School of Drama (1978 batch).
“I feel deeply humbled & honoured to be apportioned (sic) as the Chairman of iconic FTII. I will perform my duties to the best of my abilities,” Kher said in a message posted on Twitter.
In a departure from tradition, the I&B Ministry did not announce the names of other members of the new FTII Society. The Society comprises a chairman and about two dozen members, of which half are ‘eminent personalities’ appointed by the Ministry, while rest are ex-officio members. In June 2015, when Chauhan was appointed as chairman, the inclusion of five other members who were seen close to RSS or BJP, had led to widespread outrage among students and the film fraternity.
On Wednesday, representatives of the FTII students’ body expressed displeasure over the appointment of Kher as well. Rohit Kumar, general secretary of the FTII students’ body, said while Kher’s professional credentials cannot be questioned, they do not see any difference between his appointment and that of Chauhan, as the primary qualification seems to be their proximity to BJP or RSS. He also pointed out that there’s a possible “conflict of interest”, as Kher runs his own acting school.
Kumar said Kher’s appointment would be problematic because while FTII is a multicultural, liberal art space, Kher is a known backer of “Hindu nationalism”. “If you see his public assertions in the last few years, you will know that he often makes communal, sexist statements. He acts like an unofficial spokesperson for BJP, which seems to have played a big role in his appointment. He’s a known votary of Hindu nationalism, which is, in fact, against the secular spirit of the Indian Constitution. There are many issues with the appointment,” said Kumar.
He, however, said a decision on how the students’ body would respond would be taken after deliberations at its general body meeting.
But a 2015-like agitation seems unlikely thanks to the clampdown by the administration on those who had actively participated in the strike which had lasted for four months. Also, student leaders who have left the institute are still undergoing trial in a Pune court for a case of forceful confinement of then director, FTII in August 2015.
The tenure of the previous FTII Society headed by Chauhan ended on March 3. Chauhan, who was appointed in June 2015 for a three-year term with retrospective effect from March 2014, could assume the office only in January 2016 due to vociferous protests by the students. Kher was among those who criticised Chauhan’s appointment, arguing that FTII needed somebody “well-qualified and with a great body of work” and that Chauhan was not qualified either as producer, director or an actor for the job.
Last month, Chauhan had hit back at Kher, claiming that FTII had seen “improvement in some aspects” during his tenure. “The CAG report is out appreciating work done at FTII during my chairmanship. What is your take now Mr Kher @AnupamPkher?,” Chauhan had tweeted on September 17.