Anupam Kher’s Reel and Real Politics in A Messy Clash

Anupam Kher has been a reputable actor for around 40 years now but recently he is more in the news for his political statements. Social media has given the public a new kind access to a lot of public figures and it often reveals a lot more than expected.

Anupam Kher is one such personality. He’s famously outspoken on his Twitter feed. Whether it be criticising the UPA government, calling out “anti-national” elements in his own industry or praising PM Modi, Kher has shown a clear right-leaning or conservative bent. To his credit, he is much more cool-headed and articulate than others who share his ideology.

On the acting front, it has been business as usual for Anupam. In fact he has been making a solid foray into Hollywood, with films such as The Silver Linings Project and The Big Sick. Currently he is a regular on the American network show New Amsterdam.

However, with his latest Indian film, The Accidental Prime Minister, his reel and real-life politics are colliding in a mess he doesn’t seem to have preempted. In The Accidental Prime Minister, based on the book of the same name by Sanjaya Baru, Anupam is playing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who led the country as a representative of the UPA from 2004 to 2014.

Personal is Political

Anupam Kher has around 10 million followers on Twitter and it’s here that he has routinely made his political leanings clear. While the actor has often claimed that he merely criticised the UPA government from a citizen’s point of view, it is when the BJP came to power in 2014 that his inclinations became more obvious. It is relevant to note here that Anupam’s wife, actor Kirron Kher is a member of parliament from the BJP.

Here is something he tweeted in 2010.

Now, compared this with 2016, when he received a Padma Bhushan himself.

Also Read: ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’: Congress Slams BJP’s ‘Propaganda’

When 12 acclaimed filmmakers returned their National Awards over Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as the chairman of the FTII in 2015 and what they claimed was “rising intolerance”, Anupam joined in with BJP supporters mocking them online as “Award Wapsi Gang”. He even went as far as calling out his Khosla Ka Ghosla director Dibakar Bannerjee.

When his tweets aren’t praising the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they are offering embattled defences of him.

In February 2016, when JNU student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were dominating the news cycle, Anupam cryptically tweeted this, seemingly referring to them as pests.

Anupam later denied that the tweet was connected to the JNU students. However, when he personally visited the university the following month, he claimed that his slogans of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” had “purified” the campus of what had been chanted earlier.

Then there’s this video clip he shared, which appears to be drawing a clear line between Rahul Gandhi, Kanhaiya Kumar and “JNU Anti Nationals”.

There’s this tweet from February 2017, which seems to be mocking those critical of demonetisation.

FTII

When Anupam was appointed chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India in October 2017, it was considered a step up from Gajendra Chauhan. However his tenure soon became ridden with controversy. The students were allegedly upset with Kher’s hands-off approach, and the fact that he rarely was present on the campus became an issue. In August 2018, actor and FTII alum Naseeruddin Shah, who has also worked with Anupam in multiple films, commented on the matter in a statement to The Quint.

"Where is he? How can I comment on his work when he’s hardly ever at the FTII? I don’t think he’s been there more than twice. I go to the FTII to deliver some lectures every now and then. I am told that he’s not seen there very often. If he chooses to spend some more time at the institute, we’ll get to see the work and be able to comment on it. Till then, what can I say?" - Naseeruddin Shah

In October 2018, Anupam resigned from his post as chairman, citing his commitment to New Amsterdam. His tenure is the shortest in the history of the institute.

Also Read: Naseeruddin Shah Questions Anupam Kher’s Absence From FTII

Films

Before we get to The Accidental Prime Minister, it would be interesting to mention two other film projects of Kher’s which skirted political controversy. First. there’s 2014’s Buddha in A Traffic Jam, directed by notorious blusterer Vivek Agnihotri. The film attempted to tackle the subject of ‘urban naxals’ infiltrating academic institutions.

Second is Madhur Bhandarkar’s 2017 movie Indu Sarkar, which was set during the Emergency of 1975-1977. The film ran into trouble with the censors and the Congress protested it claiming the film was disrespectful towards Indira Gandhi and the Gandhi family.

Which brings us to The Accidental Prime Minister. Ever since the project was announced with Anupam Kher playing Manmohan Singh, the actor has been working overtime to defend the film. Speaking to The Quint, he shared that he was approaching the role from a place of honesty and not letting his personal beliefs come into it.

"Now that I’ve done the film, I know that Dr Manmohan Singh will be immortalised by this film. He has his strengths, he has his weaknesses. He is human. You will love him when you see the film." - Anupam Kher

The first trailer for The Accidental Prime Minister came out on 27 December and all of that has gone belly up. While one can argue that the film seems to be portraying Dr Singh in a sympathetic light, the reaction to the trailer has mostly been negative. Even if you factor in that the film’s narrative of the Gandhi family’s power struggles is a direct adaption of Sanjaya Baru’s book of the same name, the whole thing simply looks bad.

It was made way worse when the BJP official Twitter handle shared the trailer, saying “Riveting tale of how a family held the country to ransom for 10 long years. Was Dr Singh just a regent who was holding on to the PM’s chair till the time heir was ready?”

Also Read: Dr Manmohan Singh Will Be Immortalised by My Film: Anupam Kher

As expected, the Congress has come out in full force to protest the film, condemning it as propaganda by the BJP. Dr Manmohan Singh’s office has called it “a work of fiction”.

Whether the film lives up up to the trailer remains to be seen, but it is abundantly clear that Anupam Kher’s personal beliefs have made their way to his film choices. Which is a shame for someone who started off in the often progressive art house movement of the 1980s.

(With Inputs From: Indian Express)

Also Read: ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’: Congress Slams BJP’s ‘Propaganda’

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