My article in DailyO on the intolerance debate and Anupam Kher's stand.
You can read a version of this article below:
Since the beginning of the #AwardWapsi and intolerance debate, one man has stood steadfast in opposition of the campaign terming it as a classic case of selective outrage and pseudo-intellectual approach. He thinks that the intolerance debate is being used as a ruse by a certain section of the intellectual class to justify their selective sensitivities. This man is noted actor Anupam Kher who has been working in the film industry for more than 30 years.
Accused of benefitting from a pro-establishment stand, Kher has said that he will not accept Rajya Sabha nomination or another favours from the present government. He is not a BJP man but he makes no bones about being a Narendra Modi supporter and endorses his vision of India.
The question then arises: Who does Anupam Kher represent and why does he care about leading a march on Raj Path taking on the high and mighty of the intellectual class and cultural czars of the country? Typically as a cine star whose partner (Kirron Kher) is an MP from the ruling party, don't we expect him to stay stonewalled to such debates, playing it with caution, making no enemies and keeping out of the sun hidden behind his sunglasses?
But Kher is representative of rare voices from the world of art; of those few who stand firm in disagreement with the dominant intellectual discourse. He represents opposition of the status-quo-ist intellectuals who arrogate to themselves the power to dictate whether you are 'class' or 'crass'. For decades it has been impossible to disagree with the so-called cannons of this class that portrays itself to be the torch-bearer of liberal intellectual thinking. The rules of their game are clear, if you are not with them, you are against them. And curiously, their discourse is unsullied by any dissenting voices.
The truth in fact is that there is no liberal discourse in our country but only Left-liberal and Hindi cinema is not an exception. At the time when the intellectual class should have worked on developing an "Indian Left" idea, they found it convenient to accept super-structures dominated by Classical Marxism. The essential Indianisation of Marxism or Left never happened and we created a false paradigm for our debates and discussions. The current debate is also an extension of that. The only difference being that we have a voice like Anupam Kher to represent the counter-ideas in the changed scenario.
Indian cinema today is one of the important media for popular cultural discourse. There are more voices from the world of cinema (than any other medium)that influence different issues of national importance. These include Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Mahesh Bhatt, Puja Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt, Nandita Das and others. Now factor Anupam Kher in this list. He speaks on issues of national importance but his voice does not echo with the others. His take on issues is fresh and you often find him standing on the other side instead of comfortably snuggling in with his co-celebrities. He represents the counter-cultural narrative of the current times which is now shared by millions of youth of this country and which the out-dated intellectual class want to brand as 'intolerant' and crass.
A peek into the time of Partition provides us valuable insight into the Left leanings of the Indian film industry. That was the time when actors like Dilip Kumar and the Lahore Writers' Group became a dominating force of the "Bombay" film industry. Many from the Progressive Writers' Forum (read Communists) also joined the film industry from time to time like KA Abbas, MS Satthu and others. Like the rest of the country, the film industry too was deeply influenced by the wave of Nehruvian-Socialism. The film circuit, as a result, was dominated by Left-liberals and Congress-supporters like Nargis, Sunil Dutta, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Shah Rukh Khan. During the Emergency the cinema fraternity was asked by "Yuvraj" Sanjay Gandhi to organise musical nights and create an environment in support of Emergency. The only dissenting voice of that time was of Manoj Kumar who made patriotic films like Upkaar and Purab Aur Paschim.
The first major break in this spell came with the inclusion of Shatrughan Sinha in BJP. Before him no Hindi cine celebrity dared to take a stand opposing the Congress.
Today, Anupam Kher has broken away from the old guards and taken a nuanced ideological position on the intolerance debate. He represents a counter-cultural discourse which has the potential to give birth to a new paradigm of intellectual-cultural tradition free from old ideological shackles and representative of a de-colonized Indian mind.
If the fight is for a truly tolerant society, Anupam Kher is the true flag bearer since he represents opposition to ideological intolerance which has been rooted in the country since Independence. Let Anupam Kher lead this new step towards a paradigm shift.