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Kher cut out, Sharmila steps in
- Ousted Censor Board chief cries foul, vows not to take it 'lying down'

Mumbai, Oct. 13: Anupam Kher cast his vote today, but lost his chair to Sharmila Tagore.

The Union information and broadcasting ministry has summarily asked Kher, the 'Uncle' of Bollywood, to step down as Censor Board chairperson and has appointed the seventies' 'Sapno Ki Rani' the new chief.

Tagore, the Satyajit Ray discovery who made waves by appearing in a bikini in An Evening in Paris way back in 1967, assumed charge this morning in the capital . Kher was left fuming.

While many are wondering if the censors' scissors will be a little more sensitive under Tagore, given her liberal values and illustrious career that started off as Aparna in Ray's Apur Sansar and includes several films with the biggest stars in Hindi and Bengali cinema, Kher is not amused.

He confirmed that he has been asked to quit and said he will address a news conference in New Delhi tomorrow. He said he was being made a 'scapegoat' and would not take it 'lying down'. 'I have never come across such amazing high-handedness,' Kher said.

He said the Left was responsible for his ouster and he would complain to CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet. So far, the government's 'detoxification' drive has been largely confined to the human resource development ministry.

Sources close to Kher said he received a letter from the ministry this morning, but has refused to submit his resignation, defying orders from the board to step down. They said Kher would rather be 'sacked' than resign on his own.

Tagore, whose honorary post will be for three years, is a known Congress sympathiser.

Kher's ouster, if expected for a long time, is surprising in its timing. The actor, a veteran of many films, especially in comic roles, was reportedly the 'target' of 'progressive' forces within the UPA government which wanted him to quit after the Censor Board took a few decisions regarding films on the Gujarat riots.

But it seemed that Kher, appointed during the BJP reign at the Centre, was keen on buying peace with the current dispensation in Delhi. The last important decision taken by the board was seen to be a step towards that.

Under Kher, the board revised its stand on the documentary Final Solution ' a film on the aftermath of the Gujarat riots that won several prestigious international awards. It had been banned outright by the Censor Board after the first screening in August as it then felt that the film would incite communal passion.

Last week, Kher appointed five eminent persons from the world of cinema and culture, including Shyam Benegal, as external members for a review panel and cleared the film without any cuts, even calling it a 'testament of history' and 'very well-made'.

The move, however, did not soften hearts at the Centre. He was asked to go. 'It comes as a surprise,' said a filmmaker, 'because we thought that he was buying peace'.

The filmmaker hoped that Tagore will be different from her immediate predecessor, or even the one preceding him, Asha Parekh, a known BJP sympathiser.

Tagore has acted in Ray's movies like Apur Sansar, Debi, Aranyer Din Ratri, Seemabaddha and Nayak, and in several commercially successful Hindi and Bengali films like Aradhana opposite Rajesh Khanna and Ananda Ashram and Amanush opposite Uttam Kumar.

She is widely admired for her graceful presence both on screen and off it, as the wife of the former cricket captain, the Nawab of Pataudi, and mother of actors Saif and Soha. Her debut in Hindi cinema was accordingly demure in Kashmir Ki Kali in 1964.

But she set the big screen ablaze by appearing in her two-piece opposite Shammi Kapoor in An Evening in Paris (where she also mistook him for a Frenchman).

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