Anupam Kher is setting social media on fire. Be it his statement on ‘Award Wapsi’ or being attacked as ‘KhakiChaddiAnupam’, his tweets have gone viral and his views are being met with bouquets and brickbats.
More recently, his online squabbles spilled over to the stage at the Tata LitLive Festival in Mumbai when he was booed down by the audience after he sparred with Shobhaa De on whether freedom of expression was in imminent danger in India.
But the tweets and headlines don’t narrate the whole story. In an interview to The News Minute, Kher laments that the barrage of awards being returned now are an insult to the nation. He says that film-makers who return awards have no right to do so without consulting their team. Excerpts.
It seems like you're being more argumentative recently. Why this sudden outburst of opinion from you on politics?
My reaction comes from my heart, thinking about my country. And this can be interpreted in any manner. Some people say that I am a nationalist or patriotic... I am happy to be called anything. I went to a municipal school, and I was taught by my teachers that the most important thing in the world is your country.
Every time I see people trying to insult the country for personal gains - and it’s not that they do not have the right to complain - the person in me wants to comment and I do that. I stick my neck out. It is important to take the risk of not being popular with certain people and say what we feel. It is not a question of right or wrong. They are embarrassing the country and the people who have given them the awards. They are insulting the people who have read their work or seen their movies. And it is selective outrage, my point is that. India has seen lots of ups and downs. We have gone through a lot of trauma. Where were these people? Did they have amnesia? ’84 riots, Kashmir genocide, Emergency, did these things not happen?
Are you doing this for publicity?
I don’t need any publicity! I have been in 491 films and have received enough national and international awards. I am the UN ambassador for gender equality. I get enough publicity without asking for it. Do you think I need it? And I did not invite the media to talk to me, I am being asked because there is a need for another point of view.
Do you think you are being targeted for speaking your mind?
Of course, and it shows the intolerance of the people who say that freedom of expression in India is in imminent danger. But that’s alright, I can fight my battles. I was taught by my family that if you fight for the right reasons, it is not important whether you are being targeted or not.
What do you make of being booed at in Tata LitFest or #KhakiChaddiAnupam trending on Twitter?
This time when I was in Bombay I realised, that the so called gentry is no different from the goons. They pretend to hide behind the garb of intellectual persona, but they are no different from other people who are walking on the streets and creating problems.
First of all it was all planned. I had major issues with Anil Dharkar framing the debate as ‘Freedom of expression is in imminent threat’. I said there should be a question-mark in it. He said a classic debate does not have a question-mark. Then I suggested that let’s have the statement as ‘Freedom of expression is not an imminent threat’, but he did not agree.
I also told him that you are biased, and that the audience will also be your own. He said ‘no, no, no anybody can walk in’. When I walked in I saw that it was that typical audience, who sit in their drawing rooms and sip champagne and talk about the poverty of India.
When I was going backstage, there was wine and cheese around, a part of the lit-fest culture, and they were talking about freedom of India being in imminent danger. You are having wine and cheese in the middle of the financial capital of the country, and just one km away from the venue an international film festival opening is happening and people are screening movies on the backdrop of Gateway of India, so where is the danger?
Is it frustrating for you, to witness all of this?
No. When you are telling the truth, it is never tiring or frustrating. It gives you strength. I am not alone, you’ll see if you go on Twitter or on social media, the magic of social media is that everybody has a platform to talk. We can’t influence people, they have their own minds and can see what is right and what is wrong.
But don’t you think incidents such as Dadri and MM Kalburgi’s death need to be condemned? What do you think about such incidents?
Very sad, very sad. It is unfortunate, it should not have happened. It was murder. But it cannot be blamed on a party. There is a law. Such incidents should be condemned. But then, I also ask, what about Prashant Poojary’s murder? Just because he was an activist saving cows, he was killed brutally, why is there no outrage on that? Doesn’t mean anyone can justify Dadri.
But these so pseudo-intellectuals are trying to divide our society, saying this section is right and this section is wrong. This is a new crop of people who have come up and are worse than politicians. With politicians at least you know they do what they do for winning elections. But when these pseudo-intellectuals divide society, it is very dangerous.
Speaking of the FTII issue, there you took a stand against the government?
Yes, because it was wrong. I spoke very strongly about it. I am not blind. I am not ‘KhakhiChaddiAnupam’ as they claim. That’s their frustration, because there is one person who is calling their bluff.
Look at these people who have returned the national awards. They have insulted the nation and not the government. They have insulted the jury and the people who were involved in the film.
For example, Dibakar Banerjee, who made Khosla ka Ghosla. That was his first film, and I did a favour to him. He did not get a national award just because of his direction. He got the award because of me, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, the cameraman, the light-boy... We were all working in June in Delhi, without money, hotel arrangements or car arrangements. And he goes and turns this into personal glory and returns a national award without even consulting us?
And the other people, like documentary film-makers, had already signed a petition before the election that we do not want Narendra Modi as a Prime Minister. One of them even said it on national television that I don’t like the Prime Minister. And does that not mean their freedom is intact?
What are the roots to your political belief? What events have shaped your thought today?
My political belief is being an Indian. My political belief is how I can be proud of my country and what my country has done for me.
I am a small town boy whose father was a clerk in the forest department. Today after 31 years I have acted in 491 films. This country has given me a lot. I have got two national awards, many international awards, I have got the Padma Shri and it is my duty to give back to my country by being loyal to it.
What have these people done for this country? They thought about their personal glory earlier, they are thinking about their personal glory now.
And many events have shaped my beliefs. More recently it was the India Against Corruption movement that I participated in, but unfortunately it later turned into a political party. And we now have a PM who we can be proud of. He is personally incorruptible and has improved the image of India outside the country. Some people in the party may say stupid things, but I look forward to what happens in the country because the PM’s intentions are right.