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    I'm all for the truth: Anupam Kher

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Thursday, October 21, 2004
    Labelled repressive by documentary filmmakers, former censor board chief Anupam Kher asserts it is because of him that "Final Solution" on the Gujarat riots and Michael Moore''s controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11" were released.

    Responding to charges by documentary filmmakers, Kher, who has just been replaced by Sharmila Tagore as censor board chief, says the much talked about "Final Solution" made by Rakesh Sharma would not have been passed without his intervention.

    Referring to his legal suit against Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Kher says the allegation that he was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) "agent" had to be removed.

    "I think it''s my right to protect my dignity," he says.

    Emphasising that he has no interest in becoming censor board chief again, he says the job gave him nothing but controversies.

    In an interview with IANS, the man who embodied truth in his debut film "Saaransh" says Sharmila Tagore should think 10 times before taking up the job.

    Excerpts from the interview:

    A group of documentary filmmakers have got together to call you repressive as the censor chief.

    That really shocks and pains me. I don't know any of these people. Unfortunately in this country a documentary filmmaker's only claim to fame is controversy. We've to look at their motives. The charges sound damning. But they're lies. I'm all for the truth. And these charges can't dampen my spirits. They claim I gave the documentary "Final Solution" a hard time when in fact the film wouldn't have been passed without my intervention.

    They forget the chairperson of the censor board doesn't look at every individual film. They should be thankful that I took personal interest in "Final Solution". Otherwise no amount of pressure would've got it cleared. Even after the revising committee saw it, they had objections. I told them to forget their reservations and pass the film. For me as the censor head, the rules are the same for a documentary filmmaker like Rakesh Sharma and for feature filmmakers like Subhash Ghai, Indra Kumar and K.D. Shorey.

    Many years ago when T.N. Seshan was a great hero I asked him what gave him the power to take on corruption. He said it was the rulebook, which he could throw at any politician's face. Contrary to what the documentary filmmakers say, some good things have happened to their destiny during my tenure in the censor board. "Final Solution" and Michael Moore's "Farenheit 9/11" were passed uncut.

    Nevertheless, since they have access to the powers that be, they feel they've the right to shoot off letters of protest for imagined insults. There are producers whose films are stuck in the censors even after their release date is announced. They say "Final Solution" was cleared because of outside pressure. Let me tell you no official, least of all me, can succumb to pressure that goes against the rules. No, "Final Solution" was passed solely because of Anupam Kher.

    But how can a film by Subhash Ghai be judged by the same yardstick as one by K.D. Shorey?

    I am sorry. But that's the way it is. During my entire tenure I saw only two films. One of them was K.D. Shorey's "Dharm Shakti", which the censor board banned for being anti-medicine. I intervened and got it passed. There's a process for censorship and Mr Rakesh Sharma applied for a censor certificate for his documentary. The examining committee stopped "Final Solution". Then he had to apply to the revising committee which Mr Sharma didn't do. Instead he wrote a complaint personally to me. I was out of the country. After some months I saw his letter. On my behest, I treated his letter as an application to the revising committee.

    He claimed 5,000 people had signed his letter of protest against the revising committee's decision. There were just three-four names on the letter. One of them was Shabana Azmi. I asked her to be on the expert panel to view Rakesh Sharma's film. She couldn't come. Rakesh Sharma said he couldn't afford the screening. So I arranged the screening for the experts at my own cost and paid for the snacks. This, in spite of the fact that I was asked by some people how a film like "Final Solution" about the communal riots can be passed when they have the power to influence people in smaller cities. On a personal level I do agree with that.

    The media in the metros won't understand how minds work in the non-urban areas. Still I made a speech defending the film before its screening for the experts and insisted that it be passed without a single cut. Sharma was shocked. He said he wanted to salute my historic decision. But after the whole controversy, documentary maker Anand Patwardhan gate-crashed into a press conference in Mumbai to read out a letter welcoming my ouster as a censor chief. One of the signatories was Rakesh Sharma.

    But why?

    Because he's a part of a larger conspiracy. He's completely spineless. I think he was disappointed that I passed his film. I took away the limelight from his intended struggle.

    I felt so betrayed. This is the same man who saluted me for supporting his film! These are people who talk of issues. Don't forget I'm from a persecuted minority. I'm a Kashmiri Pandit. My home in Jammu was bombed and my relatives were refugees. I know what it's like to go through what happened in Gujarat. I felt so compromised!

    People who make such a noise about their creative convictions can be so petty! This gave me the strength to fight. If I had to deal with a righteous man I'd have to be careful. But if I've to deal with a man with no principles then I feel tall. I've now taken Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet to court, have filed criminal charges against him.

    Though some beautiful documentaries are made in this country, I find these documentary filmmakers' attitude to be arrogant. Some time ago there was a film festival in Bangalore that was advertised as "festival without censorship". That was illegal, and was stopped. That bothers these champions of creative freedom. They are trying to trivialise my struggle by calling me a repressive censor chief. I may personally feel some censorial rules are oppressive. That doesn't give them the right to call me repressive; that doesn't give me the right to go against the book.

    If the present regime believes in that freedom how come Prakash Jha's film on Jayaprakash Narayan is being stopped? Jayanti Natarajan says it is being evaluated by the normal process. That's exactly what I did with "Final Solution". I couldn't see 900 films a year when I was censor head. Rakesh Sharma now holds me responsible for his film being obstructed. It's like my spotboy whom I help financially to get married... if tomorrow he turns around and says I harmed him how would I feel? Let these docu-makers say what they want. They don't affect me.

    You've compared your experience with McCarthyism?

    Yes. Today Mr Surjeet feels I share the previous regime's ideology just because I was appointed by them. I was appointed because I deserved the post. Now do I have to go through my life clearing my name? Mr Surjeet's allegation has to be removed. I think it's my right to protect my dignity. Please understand I'm not interested in being censor chief again. What did this job give me except controversies? But the way I was sacked smacks of 'goondagardi' (bullying).

    What do you have to say about Sharmila Tagore taking over without informing you?

    If I was in her place I'd have called up. It's an unspoken law in the film industry to call up and inform a colleague even when a role is being swapped. We know each other. But my hurt and anger isn't against her. She hasn't made any statements to date. She's in London. Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet may be in America. I'm not fighting them. I'm fighting for the truth. And I didn't go to anybody. I'm fighting alone.

    My disappointment is with Mr Rakesh Sharma. At least Mr Surjeet doesn't pretend to be a creative liberal intellectual. If he can't stand up for the truth regarding one person how can he be taken seriously while standing up for a whole community? Now I question his motives for making "Final Solution".

    Sharmilaji should think 10 times before taking this job. If this has happened to me it can happen to her. But I'd still say I'm not bitter about my tenure as a censor chief. I stood up to vulgarity and sided with films that I believe in. I'm disillusioned by people like Rakesh Sharma. But I'm not desperate about the system. I think there's hope.

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