Anupam Kher resigns as chairman of FTII: Tracing veteran actor's tenure, from initial opposition to quiet exit
Although in his resignation letter Anupam Kher cites his international acting assignments as the reason, the seeds of this development could have been sown a long time ago.
The news of Anupam Kher’s resignation as the Chairman of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) brings to mind a small but significant line from one of the most iconic films ever made. Irrespective of whether it’s 1939, 1983 or the recent 2005 Peter Jackson version, when King Kong falls down, everyone’s left wondering what finally got the giant beast. Someone says it was the planes that got him but Carl Denham, the filmmaker says, “the beauty got the beast.”
Although in his resignation letter Kher cites his international acting assignment as the reason for his resignation, the seeds of this development could have been sown a long time ago.
When compared to the other chairmen of FTII, Kher’s tenure appears to be rather quiet other than the initial hullabaloo that greeted him. There was much opposition when he joined thanks to his wife, Kirron Kher, being a Member of Parliament of the BJP and his own proximity to the powers-that-be. This led to questioning his appointment and despite his credentials doubts were raised about it being a political appointment.
There were many aspects to the widespread opposition that followed Kher’s appointment and most of them, intriguingly enough, were not directly related to him.
Kher had replaced Gajendra Chauhan, whose 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. There were allegations that Chouhan’s appointment suggested a ‘saffronisation’ of institutions. Things got further complicated when newspapers reported the rumoured contenders that Chauhan supposedly beat - Gulzar, Shyam Benegal, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
At the height of the controversy, Kher in fact, 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 about not understanding cinema in a broader or global perspective and even told him to keep quiet when it came to justifying his appointment.
Two years later during his own appointment, Kher’s ‘background’ (read: him being supposedly close to the ruling party) ended up being the point of debate rather than this credentials. In a newspaper report Harishankar Nachimuthu, who headed one of its longest strike in the premier film institute’s history, 139-days, to oppose Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment, said for the students there is no difference between Chauhan and Kher, who is known to be a vocal supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Later Kher’s opinion on several issues came to be seen as a problem. The manner in which he spoke about issues or the way he addressed certain burning topics of the day came to be seen as something that might make it difficult for him to be sympathetic towards the students of the institute. Students also reportedly expressed displeasure on Kher heading FTII, when he already ran a private acting school, Actor Prepares?
Regardless of it all, the only reason Kher accepted the post could be due to the honour associated with the appointment.
Despite Kher never having gone to FTII — he is a graduate of the equally prestigious National School of Drama (NSD) — his appointment was also 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 many references to FTII and New Indian Cinema; besides the director Kundan Shah, who was from the institute, they named the lead characters after filmmakers Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra, who were Shah’s former FTII colleagues, and featured many institute graduates.
One wonders if it’s the ‘politics’ of it all that got to Anupam Kher. It was just a little over a year ago that Kher was answering inane questions about his appointment and perhaps it was a matter of time before it got to him.
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