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Anupam Kher complains of McCarthyism by communists

By Mayank Chhaya, IANS

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Anupam KherWell-known actor Anupam Kher says some Indian communists practice their own brand of McCarthyism and were responsible for pressuring the government to oust him as chairman of the Censor Board.

Denying that he was ever connected with of the Hindu doctrinaire Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), Kher said, "It is not so much that I was sacked as the Censor Board chairman as the manner in which it was done that I am upset about."

Kher, who has some 300 films to his credit, was appointed chairman of the central Board of Film Certification better known as the censor Board by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. After a year-long stint in the position Kher was removed unceremoniously amid much rancor.

Considering that the appointment of the Censor Board chief is traditionally political nature, it was only a matter of time before Kher would have been asked to leave. However, he argued that the ouster was more a result of the pressure put by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which lends India's Congress party-dominated coalition government crucial political support.

Harkishen Singh SurjeetHarkishen Singh Surjeet, the 88-year-old general secretary of the party, wrote a an article in his party's mouthpiece describing Kher as a "member of the RSS." Stung by the description Kher has filed a defamation case against Surjeet. Defamation cases in India are under the purview of the criminal justice system.

"Political leaders have to make statements which are responsible and have basis in fact. What happened to me was a form of McCarthyism," Kher told News India-times in a phone interview from Los Angeles. He is in the U.S. shooting a film called "Mismatch" along with Boman Irani. '

His reference to McCarthyism has to do with the America of the 1950s when people with communist sympathies, especially those in the movie business when senator Joseph McCarthy held Congressional hearings as part of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. The hearings were described as vicious political witch-hunting.

The irony of Kher's statement that it was the Communist Party leaders who were carrying out McCarthyism in India was not lost on him. "I know but that is how I feel," he said. He said the purpose of his filing a criminal case against Surjeet was to make a larger point about political ideology. "I am completely secular and have no links with the RSS. But for the sake of argument even if I had some connection, should be I punished for holding certain political views. I understand that any new government would want to appoint people of its choice in important position. I would have stepped down were I told do so in a proper fashion. But the way it was done was shameful," he said.

Anupam KherKher said he expects Surjeet to acknowledge that he was wrong characterizing him as a member the RSS. "It is not as if I want the chairmanship of the board back. I just want the wrong to be righted," he said.

On the charges by some independent documentary filmmakers describing him as the "most repressive" Censor Board chairman, Kher said "I am more disillusioned with these so-called independent filmmakers than even Surjeet." In particular Kher referred to the comments by Rakesh Sharma, whose controversial documentary "Final Solution" on the Gujarat riots. "It was my personal intervention that led to the documentary's clearance without a single cut although it was a very controversial work. I recognize that the filmmaker was not taking any sides. Rakesh Sharma told me that he saluted by help. Now he goes around calling me the most repressive Censor Board chairman," Kher said.

As the board chief, he said, he rarely got to see any movie. "The board chairman does not see those many movies. During my tenure out of 900 films that came up for clearance I saw barely two," he said.

Sharmila TagoreAsked if he thought that the Censor Board was really needed in India and whether filmmakers should practice self-regulation the way they do in the U.S., he said, "In a country like India with so much religious and cultural diversity and high illiteracy we cannot completely do away with the Censor Board. What we need is reform and more diverse representation on the board."

On whether Michael Moore's huge hit "Fahrenheit 9/11" was held up by the board, he said an officer of the board misguidedly felt that it might have an impact on India-U.S. relations and referred it to a revision committee. "I spoke to him and explained to him that if the documentary could be shown without any problems in the US why should we have any problem? There was no controversy in clearing the documentary," he said.

On his successor Sharmila Tagore, one of India's most successful actresses, he said, "I wish her well but God save her." He pointed out that normal "professional etiquette" would have demanded that she call him to inform but she did not. "I understand that but I would have done it," he said.


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