In 2017, Anupam Kher was asked about his “political opinion” in an interview with IndiaToday.in. He said, “It’s my national opinion. My opinions are about my country. They are not representative of any political ideology. It’s a very cliched thing to call any opinion about the country a political opinion.”
Cut to 2019. Vijay Ratnakar Gutte’s The Accidental Prime Minister has just hit the theatres. While the political drama has managed to set the cash registers ringing, critics have unanimously panned it, particularly Kher’s almost parodic portrayal of former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
Kher called criticism a “national pastime” in an interview to IANS, “No matter what you do, there will be people trying to pull you down. Criticism was always a favourite national pastime. Now film criticism has also become a big source of self-entertainment for Indians.”
Right after the release of the trailer, Kher also said that instead of criticising his performance, Accidental Prime Minister should be sent to the Oscars because of how “hard” he has worked on the film. We are yet to see if that accident takes place.
The veteran actor went on to dismiss the criticism of his performance as “political agenda”, “It seems some critics have a much larger political agenda than what I am supposed to have. The comments are uncalled for and irrelevant.”
Funnily enough, Kher showering praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on pretty much every public platform is his “national opinion”. So is his take on demonetisation, the unrest in Kashmir and rising intolerance in the country. But if a critic does not appreciate his film? Well, it is motivated by “political agenda”, of course!
This is not the only instance of an inexplicable U-turn by Kher. The entire film industry was shocked and appalled when Sanjay Leela Bhansali was thrashed at the historic Jaigarh Fort in Jaipur and the sets of Padmaavat (then titled Padmavati) were vandalised.
The bone of contention was an alleged romantic dream sequence between the Rajput queen Padmavati and Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji, which incidentally was never even part of the script. However, several right-wing groups were up in arms against this “distortion of history”.
Like many of his colleagues, Kher unequivocally condemned the attack, and called it unfortunate and shameful. However, he emphasised, in an interview with IndiaToday.in in 2017, that the “very unfortunate” act did not smack of intolerance.
“I think the media gives it great importance. The problem is that if a bunch of 10 people doing something like this gets nationally covered, then they know that this is how they will get noticed,” he said.
Soon, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threw its hat into the ring and the governments of states where the ruling party was in power, like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, attempted to ban Padmaavat. At no point did Kher cry intolerance.
Now that The Accidental Prime Minister is facing roadblocks in a few parts of the country, his stance has changed. On January 11, he tweeted an article with the headline, “Intolerance of the people who pretend to be tolerant. Congress workers vandalise theatre over The Accidental Prime Minister screening.”
Intolerance of the people who pretend to be tolerant. Cong workers vandalise theatre over ‘The Accidental…’ screening https://t.co/mHGUR2hFLP
Anupam Kher (@AnupamPKher) January 12, 2019
In a video shared on his Twitter account, Kher also lashed out at the champions of free speech who believe in “selective outrage”. It was a hardly-veiled dig at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has said in the past, “Free speech is our right. We will fight any attempt to crush dissent and debate.”
An appeal to the authorities to stop a section of people who are indulging in acts of violence & hooliganism during the screening of our film #TheAccidentalPrimeMinister. Also a call out to other section of people who believe in selective outrage towards #FreedomOfExpression. pic.twitter.com/ULgSPj2H5l
Anupam Kher (@AnupamPKher) January 12, 2019
Free speech is our right. We will fight any attempt to crush dissent and debate: Rahul Gandhi (2/2)
Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 29, 2015
This from the same Kher who dismissed intolerance as a concern of the rich and famous. “Only those with champagne in a glass are talking about it,” he had said at a conference in 2016.
Kher’s flip-flop today is a reminder of one of Prime Minister Modi’s famous rallies: “Hypocrisy ki bhi seema hoti hai.”
If only Kher paid attention.