Why Anupam Kher being appointed new FTII chairman is a step in the right direction

Gautam Chintamani

Oct,12 2017 13:51 11 IST

As Anupam Kher takes over as the new chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) from Gajendra Chauhan, one is reminded of a television debate a few years ago where the former gave the latter some sage advice.

The appointment of Chauhan as the chairman of one of India’s most prestigious institutions — by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry that was then headed by Mr. Arun Jaitley — was greeted by much shock and disbelief by almost all quarters. The students had even held a 139-day strike to oppose the appointment and protests of “Gajendra Chauhan go back” had become a common sight.

Kher had told Chauhan on national television that he may have worked in cinema and possessed years of experience in acting but that in any way did not make him fit to head FTII. In fact, Kher openly chided Chauhan; he claimed Chauhan had no idea of cinema in a broader or global perspective and even told him to keep quiet when it came to justifying his appointment.

Anupam Kher

Anupam Kher. PTI Image.

Now, two years later as Kher succeeds Chauhan there is a general feeling that the memories of what was arguably one of the worst appointments ever in the history of FTII would soon be a thing of the past.

Although Anupam Kher never went to FTII, he is a graduate of the equally prestigious National School of Drama (NSD); his appointment can be seen as a ‘homecoming’ of sorts. This feeling might have to do with the fact that Kher was a part in spirit, and in the parlance of the Hindi film industry, the ‘struggle’ of the same golden generation of India’s finest actors – Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Tom Alter, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Pankaj Kapur, Satish Shah, Satish Kaushik, etc.

Such was the aura of the acting batch of FTII that any ‘good’ actor who was not dancing around the trees was automatically attributed to the institute. In fact, had destiny not played a trick, Kher would have featured as a character called Disco Killer in the cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), a film that had numerous references to FTII and New Indian Cinema; besides the director Kundan Shah, who was from the institute, the lead characters were named after filmmakers Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra, who were Shah’s former FTII colleagues, and featured many institute graduates.

Kher’s breakthrough film was Mahesh Bhatt’s Saaransh (1984) where the then 28-year old actor played a middle-aged retired Maharashtrian man coming to terms with the death of his son in a mugging incident in New York. The psychodrama established Kher as a force to reckon with and in a short period he went on to become one of the most recognisable faces in Hindi cinema.

Kher had come to be known as the mainstay of popular Hindi cinema of the 1980s and 1990s and in some ways, it wouldn’t be incorrect to suggest that there can be no Hindi cinema without Anupam Kher for millions of Indians between the ages of 35 and 50.

Besides being one of the busiest actors of the era — Kher has appeared in over 500 films — he was also extremely malleable. He could play a 60-year old man in Saaransh, a gutless politician making a monkey of people with his clean image in Arjun (1985), an intellectual terror monger adamant on taking over India in Karma (1986) or a decent man willing to do bad things to hold on to the woman he loves in Kaash (1987) or an alcoholic father who can’t look at the daughter he abandoned as a child in Daddy (1989) with the same flair.

He was a part of more stupid films than one would like to recall but at the same time, he balanced it with some art-house projects such as Rao Saheb (1985) or Pestonjee (1988) without much fuss.

What truly separates Kher from many of his contemporaries is the ease with which he blended into the ‘actor-star’ persona. He might not be seen in the same light as a Naseeruddin Shah or an Om Puri or a Shabana Azmi but Kher not only continued to feature in popular films, at times at the cost of not being taken seriously, but also somehow managed to maintain his aura as a powerhouse of talent.

He holds the record for eight consecutive Filmfare awards across different categories and despite being ‘sold out’ (over 500 films in 30-years!), never lost respectability. Silently enough Kher has also created an international career of some repute and his filmography includes films with a Gurinder Chadda (Bend it Like Beckham [2002]), an Ang Lee (Lust, Caution [2007]) and a David O Russell (Silver Linings Playbook [2012]) besides producing Rituparno Ghosh’s Bariwali (2000) and Jhanu Barua’s Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005).

Kher has also worked across different cinemas and featured in the first films of many filmmakers ranging from Indra Kumar (Dil [1990]), Aditya Chopra (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [1995]) and Dibakar Banerjee (Khosla Ka Ghosla [2006]) and knows what it takes to fuel a vision. At a time when Indian cinema is truly coming of age in more ways than one, someone like an Anupam Kher is perhaps a great choice to head the cradle of creativity that nurtured some of the best cinematic talents India has to offer: FTII.