Anupam Kher is new FTII chairman; students say actor's appointment could lead to conflict of interest
In 2015, the students of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of Indian (FTII) launched a 139-day strike to protest the appointment of the new chairman, Gajendra Chauhan. Chauhan — a small-time TV and film actor whose most notable role was as Yudhishthira in the teleserial Mahabharata — students felt, didn’t have the credentials to head the institute, which counted Shyam Benegal, Saeed Mirza and Girish Karnad among its previous chairmen.
Chauhan’s controversial tenure ended in March 2017, and on Wednesday, 11 October, it was announced that veteran actor Anupam Kher would succeed him to the FTII chairman’s post. (Kher was incidentally opposed to Chauhan's appointment as well.) While the institution itself claimed not to have received any official confirmation from the Information and Broadcasting ministry regarding its decision, the actor posted news of the appointment on his official Twitter handle.
The news seemed to be greeted with positive reactions for the most part from the entertainment industry; however, FTII students themselves were divided over Kher’s appointment. Students that Firstpost reached out to, felt it was a conflict of interest on Kher’s part to head a government institute like FTII, when he also runs private acting classes (Actor Prepares). Students also said that Kher’s acting credentials do not make up for the views and opinions he has expressed in the recent past.
Robin Joy, the president of the FTII Students’ Association, told Firstpost: “Kher’s credentials are better than those of Gajendra Chauhan’s. But just because he has a certain body of work, doesn’t make him fit for the post (of FTII chairman). He runs his own acting school — Actor Prepares. Then how can he hold a post at a government-run institution? This is a conflict of interest. How could the government even consider his name when he has his own institution?”
Joy added that students had no reason to believe Kher’s attitude towards the institute would be any different than what the government had displayed thus far. “Look at the government’s attitude towards educational institutions,” Joy said. “Scholarships are being cut down and so on. So even if Kher has the necessary credentials, that does not mean the way he looks at FTII will be different from the (way the) government (does), or that he is not going follow the path the government wants him to follow.”
That Kher’s wife (the actress Kirron Kher) is a BJP MP is a source of some concern as well, Joy said. “Even though Kher is not associated with the BJP, his wife is. He (has) tried to advertise the ideas and ideology that the current government believes in. He is seen to be right wing, and that could be problematic.”
Joy said Kher’s work as an artiste could not negate the views he had professed in recent times, especially with respect to the intolerance debate, the JNU protests etc. Another member of the students’ body, Navneet Kumar, said there was a distinction between Kher’s persona in films versus his personal and political views. “We can judge person based on what he says, and Kher’s opinions and his personal and public life are different (things). His acting career and personal and political views are separate (issues).”
The students’ general body will gauge the feedback to Kher’s appointment before deciding on a course of action. There certainly seems to be a sense of déjà vu, harking back to how Gajendra Chauhan took charge of FTII amid the students’ protests. Chauhan claimed that he accomplished a fair bit of work during his tenure despite the widespread opposition to his chairmanship.
Rohit Kumar, general secretary of the FTII Students’ Association, however, begged to differ. “Chauhan was talking about syllabus implementation. The syllabus was implemented before he joined! It was being designed since 2012. Chauhan also claimed the credit-based system of evaluation as his success. Again, the credit-based system was under consideration way before he joined. Besides the system has just been implemented and has not proven to be a success — or failure. We have been facing a lot of problems due to this system; it has its pitfalls. They (the authorities) have not really looked back to see if the system is okay or not. They can claim anything.”
The students also said the government could have considered several other personalities from the film world for the post of FTII chief. Anupam Kher did not respond to our calls for comment.