When Anupam Kher threatened to oust Rita Koiral from Bollywood for wife Kirron
| Tuesday | 23rd June, 2020
The 47th National Awards were mired in a kind of controversy that most Hindi movie buffs haven`t yet forgotten.
And even if they did, an old video doing the rounds on social media will bring those memories rushing back.
It was the year 2000, Rituparno Ghosh`s Bariwali was in the running for the Best Actress and the Best Supporting Actress awards (both of which it bagged), apart from others. But then, it almost got disqualified.
Mumbai: The 47th National Awards were mired in a kind of controversy that most Hindi movie buffs haven`t yet forgotten. And even if they did, an old video doing the rounds on social media will bring those memories rushing back. It was the year 2000, Rituparno Ghosh`s Bariwali was in the running for the Best Actress and the Best Supporting Actress awards (both of which it bagged), apart from others. But then, it almost got disqualified.
Yet that wasn`t the worst news of all. Bariwali starred Kirron Kher in the lead, in the role of Banalata, a lonely widow with a bari or a haveli almost, in this case, to take care of - both a blessing and a curse, but not so much in disguise. The film was shot in Bangla, and was produced by Anupam Kher. It was a beautiful film. Those of us who watched it back then were instantly sucked into this world of pathos that Ghosh so masterfully created in all his cinema. About 15 minutes into the film, you realise that Kirron Kher talks like the late Rita Koiral, a popular Bangla film and television actress of the time. So the role was dubbed. That should not be a problem. Frankly, we`d take dubbing over forced and distorted pronunciation any day. Koiral, however, wasn`t credited. Now, that`s a problem.
When the film was selected for the National Award, one of the jury members, Gautam Ghosh, a veteran Bangla director, quite like us, also realised at the screening of the film that Kirron Kher spoke like Rita Koiral. He rang up Koiral in Kolkata and asked, "Tui dub korechhish? Bol tahole. Jodi tui kore thakish, tor o ekta National Award paona hote pare (Did you dub for the film? Tell me then. If you have, you could also win the National Award)." Apparently, dubbing artists could co-win the Best Actor/Actress National Award along with the performer. In this case, it could have been jointly won by Kirron and Rita, if only Rita admitted that she had dubbed for the role. The video that is currently going viral tells you what happened after she did.
Gautam Ghosh wouldn`t take no for an answer because Rita Koiral`s voice is just that distinct. He told her if she doesn`t tell the truth, and the jury finds otherwise, the film could be disqualified. She panicked, and let loose a secret that the makers of the film had made her promise she wouldn`t leak.
Watch the viral video clip here: Rita Koiral talks about Anupam Kher trying to bribe her, bully her and oust her from the industry.
"I was paid my fee for the dubbing work I had done for Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh)," Koiral says in the now-viral clip from a Bangla talk show with Saswata Chatterjee as the host - yes, the OG Bob Biswas, if you need an introduction. The show itself was a Zee Bangla show, perhaps still available on the regional tab on Zee5, if you want to cross-verify.
"But later that night, I got a call from Anupam Kher. He asked me to quote the sum I was paid. I told him. He said he had set aside a different amount for my dubbing work, and quoted an exorbitant sum which no dubbing artiste in India would ever get paid. `Do you want it in cash or a cheque?` he asked, and I said, `Whatever suits you.` He promised to send me the money in cash - provided I told the media the next day that I hadn`t dubbed for the film," Rita narrates in the clip. Anupam Kher, Rita goes on to say in the clip, then threatened her that if she doesn`t agree, he will ensure she never finds work in Bollywood. "I will make sure you never enter Bollywood. And I will see how you find work in Kolkata," Rita said. The clip ends there.
Kirron Kher has always maintained that it was her own voice and not Rita Koiral`s in Bariwali. She apparently took a six-month language and diction course to get her Bangla pronunciation right. How at the end of the course she ended up sounding exactly like Koiral is still a mystery for cine-lovers. Anupam Kher had said back then that this controversy hurt him so much that he`s decided to never produce a Bangla film. "Instead of applauding that a non-Bengali mainstream actor has spent Rs 40-50 lakh producing a film that has won several international awards, they are trying to discredit a person who spent six months learning the language. It`s a shame. Obviously, I won`t be producing any more Bengali films," Anupam Kher was quoted in an India Today Magazine article from September 2000.
The trailer of Bariwali is unavailable. Fast-forward to the 7.45-minute mark to catch a clip from the film featuring Kirron Kher. The National Award jury was divided over this. Yet, they had to act upon the written declaration submitted by the makers, which here stated that the film was not dubbed. Kirron Kher won her Best Actress award, Rita Koiral`s name was nowhere to be found. Years later, Rituparno Ghosh, the director, admitted that he regretted whatever happened and even offered to share his National Award money with Rita. Anupam Kher being the producer of the film made it difficult for him to come clean earlier. The damage, however, was done.
This old clip finds a place in our social media feed and the nepotism discourse today, and we don`t need to tell you why. For those who need a little bit of shaking by the shoulder, nepotism is not only when a star kid finds a cushy launch pad or a godfather to sail them through their down phases. It is also when an Anupam Kher manipulates, bullies and threatens an actress to ensure that his wife, Kirron Kher, doesn`t lose her claim to a solo Nation Award-win.
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