A cursory viewing of Arnab Goswami’s news programmes on Republic TV gives a clear idea of the channel’s philosophy: ultranationalism. Everything the Narendra Modi government does is great. The government cannot be criticised, except if it is in a state run by a political outfit that is not the Bhartiya Janata Party.
But even Goswami cannot keep informing the nation on topics he feels they should know about. Every Saturday evening, fellow patriot and nationalist Anupam Kher is allowed a go with his talk show People. Each week, Kher spends an hour with a celebrity, many of whom are his friends or collaborators during his long film career and are comfortable opening up in his presence.
So far six guests have appeared on the show: cricketer Kapil Dev and actors Kangana Ranaut, Akshay Kumar, Anil Kapoor, Paresh Rawal and Kamal Haasan. In keeping with the loose format and allowing for a sense of intimacy described in the show’s tagline Kuch dil se… Kuch dimaag se, each actor is interviewed in a different location: Rawal in a hotel in Ahmedabad, fresh from a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram, Kumar on the sets of Padman, Ranaut in her home in suburban Mumbai.
With most of his guests, the 62-year-old actor explores their professional experiences and self-help tips. Ranaut discussed her outspokenness and statements about the film industry’s nepotism on Karan Johar’s Koffee With Karan, while Kapil Dev talks about his life after retirement.
With Anil Kapoor, Kher’s real self slips a little. In a brief bizarre comment, he praises his CEO Arnab Goswami and how the loud-mouthed anchor revolutionised the news industry in India. Akshay Kumar, who stars in the series’s best episode, is initially asked to prove his nationalism. “What were your first memories of the country?” “What do you feel when people criticise the army these days?”
Kumar refuses to take himself too seriously, says that luck accounts for 70% of his success, and reminisces about his early childhood.
The only one who is allowed to criticise the government is Kamal Haasan, who lets loose at the Tamil Nadu government for censoring his films. In spite of being asked repeatedly by Kher if he will join politics, Haasan says that he doesn’t need to contest elections to be political or talk about it.
The show’s most overtly ideological episode features actor and Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Paresh Rawal. Kher and Rawal have been friends for a long time, and now have grown to share the same rightwing political leanings.
Both love the politics of Lal Bahadur Shashtri and Jayaprakash Narayan and feel that Modi is the direct descendant to these stalwarts. Rawal and Kher both hate any criticism of India in the foreign press, which is why Rawal singled out Arundhati Roy with a provocative tweet. On People, Rawal gets an opportunity to defend himself. There was nothing violent about his suggestion, Rawal claims. His suggestion of using the Booker Prize-winning novelist as a human shield was a “message of peace”.
Both the actors have fashioned a narrative around Modi that reveals him to be a demigod. Rawal has never seen Modi either yawn or shuffle around while seated, both apparently signs of a force of nature and a true world leader. This is what drew him to star in a film on Modi’s life. What is also interesting about Modi, Rawal says, is the “anguish in his eyes”. We can’t wait for the movie.