Veteran film director, Kundan Shah, along with 22 other film folk returned their National Awards on Thursday to protest the government’s decision to appoint Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). The gesture was aimed at raising a voice against the growing intolerance in the country.
(From left to right) Priyadarshan, Malini Awasthi, Anupam Kher, Madhur Bhandarka, Ashoke Pandit, Manoj Joshi and others after meeting President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Saturday. PTI
At the same time, there are many in the industry, who believe that there is nothing wrong with India and the people who are returning their awards have a political agenda.
On Saturday, Anupam Kher initiated a march in New Delhi which included film folk, artists, writers and painters to emphasise that India is tolerant. The march received support from filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri apart from actress Raveena Tandon to name a few. They all believe that India is tolerant and people who call the nation intolerant have biased opinions.
Interestingly, when Dibakar Banerjee returned his National Award for Khosla Ka Ghosla, Kher (he played a pivotal role in the film) had expressed his displeasure saying that he and others involved had worked equally hard for the film and it is not just Dibakar’s award.
On October 28, Kher had tweeted, “Some more usual suspects who never wanted @narendramodi to become PM in d first place have joined the #AwardWapsi gang.”
In another tweet the veteran actor mentions that returning award is disrespecting the audience. “This #AwardWapsiGang has not insulted the Govt. but The Jury, The Chairman of the Jury and the audience who watched their films. #Agenda.”
Matter of opinion
However, Dibakar sticks to his stand and says “one cannot stop voicing his concerns” just because there is a disagreement over an issue. The filmmaker says, “I think Anupamji is absolutely within his rights to not like what has happened. But, I am also not liking what I am being forced to do. It isn’t a pleasant situation. But, sometimes you need to do something to grab the attention of people. My conscience is clear and it is not motivated by anything else than the need to draw people’s attention to what’s happening to a premiere educational institute of India.”
People who have returned National Awards believe that it is the need of the hour, and that they are not just representing the cause of the FTII students, but the stand represents a wider cause.
“By returning the award, I am not only trying to have a dialogue with the government over the issue of FTII, but am addressing a wide range of concerns. Today, filmmakers are not sure which film or a scene from a film will be banned. Returning my National Award is just a way of expressing my displeasure over the growing intolerance,” says Kundan Shah, who returned his National Award for his 1983 cult classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro.
The debate on whether the nation is tolerant or not took a different twist when the BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya and MP Yogi Adityanath made some comments about Shah Rukh Khan. While Kailash had mentioned that the star’s ‘soul’ is in Pakistan, Adityanath compared him to terrorist Hafiz Saeed. The actor reacted sharply to this by saying, “There is extreme intolerance in India,” and found much support from the film fraternity.
It is not just the FTII issue or the row over statements made against SRK, but people who are returning the National Awards also want to voice their concern over the killings of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare.
The bigger picture
Filmmaker Saeed Mirza, former director of FTII, who has returned his National Award along with Kundan Shah, says, “The issue is just not limited to FTII; but there is a larger picture to look at. How much can one tolerate the growing intolerance? I am not asking people to support us, but I want them to understand the situation and then take a stand. It is important to come out and express your opinion. ”
But, not everyone agrees. Filmmaler Vivek Agnihotri, who supports Anupam Kher’s rally, says, “It seems people just want to target the government. Students of the FTII have called off the strike. What is the need to now return the awards now? The concept of intolerance in India is misleading people. I am supporting Kher’s rally.”
Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar says, “People have started calling the nation intolerant only after 2014 and more so in the last three to four months. Why didn’t they raise their voice during the Kasmiri Pandits issue and during the anti-Sikh riots? Where were these people when Vishwaroopam was banned and Salman Rushdie was refused an entry to the Jaipur Literature Festival? Also, a National Award is given for your creative work and not to support your ideologies. It is unfair to return it; filmmaking is a team effort and someone shouldn’t just return it without the consent of the members of the film.”
Activist Ashoke Pandit has gone a step ahead and asked why did these people not return their awards during the Sikh killings in 1984. But to this Kundan Shah reacts, “It is a wrong question. One cannot ask why I haven’t returned my award before and why I am returning it now. The point is simple — I am witnessing the intolerance and decided to raise a voice against it.”
Filmmaker Madhusree Dutta, who also returned her National Award, which she received for making films on social issues, claims that it is the need of the hour. “I think it is more difficult to return an award than getting one. People should see what has been happening in the country. We should be progressive, not regressive. But, with all the killings and bans being imposed and government not responding the FTII students’ demand, it is only correct to call the nation intolerant. “I have taken the decision to return the award, not because I have any political agenda, but because I am a citizen who believes that the freedom
to express is being curtailed,” she explained.