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A critically-acclaimed actor, Anupam Kher has also been a vocal supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi while his wife Kirron Kher is a BJP MP

A little over a year after it appointed B-list actor Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the prestigious Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) triggering howls of protests by students and film fraternity members, the Centre on Wednesday cleared the name of acclaimed actor and BJP sympathizer Anupam Kher to head the institute.

Kher, who has earlier headed the Central Board of Film Certification (Censor Board) and the exalted National School of Drama (NSD), is a versatile actor of international repute, having acted in the Oscar-winning blockbuster, Silver Linings Playbook while picking up various awards – including a national award – for his roles in various films back home in India.

In what is pertinent to note, considering the nature of his appointment and his predecessor in FTII, Kher is also a hugely vocal supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has often spoken out – even in views contrary to equally or more acclaimed members of the Indian film fraternity – against people’s movements and campaigns by the Opposition which dent the image of the BJP government. Kher’s wife, Kirron Kher – an accomplished actor in her right – is the BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Chandigarh.

Compared to his predecessor Gajendra Chauhan – whose appointment as FTII chief had led to an unprecedented 139-day strike by the institute’s students who wanted his ouster – Kher, is at least an actor who has an individual standing as an artist, both within India and abroad. The 62-year-old self professed admirer of the Prime Minister also has to his credit over 500 films.

“It is an amazing feeling. It is a very humbling feeling and a great honour to be the chairman of FTII. It is so amazing that two institutions (FTII and NSD) where I studied as an actor and as a student, I have become the chairman of the same. I think we will work very hard. The actor will take a back seat and the teacher will come to the forefront,” Anupam Kher said after the announcement.

Although Kher has always ruled out joining politics, his very political utterances have often raised suspicions over his claims. He was among the few celebrities who had supported BJP’s stand on the crackdown against JNU students Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid during the February 2016 sedition controversy.

On critics describing him as Modi’s ‘chamcha’, Kher had once said: “If you use the word ‘chamcha’ for admiration, it is perfectly alright with me, because after a long time we now have a Prime Minister who has brought emotions in me for my country, a man whose career graph is not a fluke, a man who did not enter politics as part of any legacy.”

Though he had backed the protests against Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment, Kher had also drawn the ire of several members of the film fraternity, civil society groups and the intelligentsia for his ‘2015 March For India’ which he had embarked on as his response to the growing ‘intolerance debate’ against the Modi government and what the BJP had termed as the ‘award wapsi’ campaign under which several leading film and academic personalities had returned to the government the awards they had been conferred with while protesting against incidents of lynch mobs and communal violence.

Anupam Kher’s wife, Kirron Kher, expectedly welcomed the appointment. “He will be a very good chairman. He has the credentials for this. I am very happy…thank you (Narendra) Modi ji, thank you Smriti Irani for this,” she said while several other comrades-in-arms – many of whom also share his affinity for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi – too welcomed the Centre’s decision.

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