Sharmila Tagore new censor board chief after Kher scissored

NEW DELHI: The Information and broadcasting ministry today served marching orders on a defiant Anupam Kher from the helm of affairs of the Central Board of Film Certification. Moving swiftly, it appointed yesteryears screen siren Sharmila Tagore as the new Indian censor board chief.

In a notification issued late this evening, the I&B ministry

said that "in supersession of order", dated 11 October, 2003 (the date Kher was formally appointed as the censor board head), the Central government is "pleased to appoint Mrs Sharmila Tagore as chairperson" of the CBFC.

Knowing fully well that this move by the Congress-led coalition government is likely to kick up dust in the media, entertainment and political circles, the government also saw to it that censor board issued a "charge report" stating that Tagore has "assumed charge of the post" this afternoon.

Though no official reason was offered for Kher's removal, government sources laughably tried to justify the move by saying that the renowned theatre and film personality was a busy professional, unable to devote time to matters

relating to the censor board.

Kher, however, is not taking things lying down. Apart from hinting that he may weigh the option of seeking legal remedies, Kher told that he would "reveal everything" to the media tomorrow at a press conference in the capital.

Earlier in the day, he had said that though "verbally" he has been asked by the I&B ministry to step down, he would prefer being sacked, which would go some distance in salvaging his prestige and honour as a professional and an individual.

Kher was appointed censor board chief by the previous coalition government, led by the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), last October. The Left-oriented political parties, key allies of the present government led by the Congress, have been baying for the blood of heads of several autonomous and semi-independent organisations on the grounds of their being BJP sympathisers.

The hit list also includes Indian pubcaster Prasar Bharati's chairman MV Kamath. While the government could have some justification in Kamath's case (he makes no bones about his political leanings), Kher's ouster is likely to lead to negative media reactions.

What could well add to the government's discomfiture is that the move comes just a day after it came to light that national broadcaster Doordarshan had blocked the telecast of a film on the life of the late Jai Prakash Narayan (whose birth anniversary was on 11 October) on the pretext that several inaccuracies abounded in the film. The allegations have been denied by film-maker Prakash Jha.

The film was commissioned by the culture ministry at a cost of Rs 9 million. Prasar Bharati raised objections to the "one-sided'' views on the emergency shown in the film. Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma had been quoted yesterday as saying that 12 suggestions have been given "to improve" the film. "Jha has been given three months time to make changes on the objections in the two-hour film,'' Sarma said.

Appointed for a three-year tenure, Kher had completed just a year as the censor board chief. It is worth noting that the censor board recently cleared two controversial films, a documentary on the Gujarat riots (Final Solutions by Rakesh Sharma) and Fahrenheit 9/11, an unabashedly anti-George Bush film.

Kher's critics, however, point out that during his tenure, he has not done anything that could be termed earth-shattering. His supporters counter that he has brought about a sense of responsibility in the industry, including the TV broadcasting segment.

Kher had been appointed to the censor Board post after another doyen of the film industry, Dev Anand, refused to take up the responsibility. Kher's immediate predecessors include Hema Malini, now a Member of Parliament and Vijay Anand, also an actor-director, who had to leave amidst controversy mid-term over his recommendation that X-rated films be duly certified and shown in special theatres. Anand's predecessor Asha Parekh, the dancer-actress also invited her share of controversies, but had managed to complete a full term before returning to television.

Other famous film personalities who have been censor board chiefs include Atmaram, brother of the late Guru Dutt and Shakti Samant.

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