Kher dumps Hitler, India has takers

Mumbai, June 18: Actor Anupam Kher has pulled out of Dear Friend Hitler, a planned Bollywood film that has sparked protests by Jewish groups and revived the question why a universally hated dictator has so many takers in India.

Kher, 55, who was to play Hitler in the film, decided to opt out after the Jewish community objected to any glorification of one of history’s worst mass murderers.

“Sometimes human emotions are much more important than cinema. When I signed the film, I did not expect that it will make so many people unhappy,” Kher said in a statement.

Mumbai’s Jews welcomed Kher’s decision and renewed calls for a ban on the sale of Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf on Mumbai’s streets and bookshops — one instance of the steady market the German dictator enjoys in India.

The film’s director, Rakesh Ranjan Kumar, however, claimed his movie did not glorify Hitler but merely portrayed his personality and his relationship with long-term mistress Eva Braun, to be played by Neha Dhupia.

He claimed the film drew its title from two letters written by Mahatma Gandhi to Hitler urging him to prevent World War II. The letters began with the salutation “my dear friend”.

The Mahatma’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi, however, told The Telegraph: “This does not mean he (the Mahatma) considered the Nazi dictator a personal friend. In all his letters, he would use this salutation.”

He added: “Gandhiji wrote this letter when he was incarcerated, but the British confiscated it and it never reached Hitler. It is reproduced in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. It is a small letter.”

Tushar Gandhi said Kumar’s attempt to make a film on Hitler, as well as the title he has chosen, smacked of a “publicity gimmick” to attract global media attention.

However, it’s not just the film that has caught the world’s eye. A BBC report has noted how the business around Hitler is “emerging as a small-scale industry in India”, with Mein Kampf a perennial best-seller and books, T-shirts, bags, bandannas and key-rings with his photo or name doing brisk business.

Most of Hitler’s Indian fans are among the youth, whose yearning for a “strong leader” to solve the country’s problems apparently leads them to admire the German’s “patriotism” and ability to enforce discipline.

While the majority of them would claim they do not approve of his racist policies and the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews, a sizeable number is ready to forgive these “negative sides” of his personality while playing up the “positive sides”.

Indian Jews have been campaigning against any glorification of Hitler. In 2006, their protests had forced a Navi Mumbai restaurant, which had named itself “Hitler’s Cross” and was displaying the swastika, to re-christen itself “Cross Café”.

A home-furnishing manufacturer that introduced a brand of bedspreads and named it “Nazi” too met with strong protests from Mumbai’s 5,000-strong Jewish community.

Kampf conundrum

However, the Jews have so far had to accept defeat in their fight to prevent the roaring sales of Mein Kampf.

“We sell 30 to 40 copies a month,” a spokesperson for the Strand Book Stall in south Mumbai said. An Oxford Book Store sales manager confirmed the book was a “good selling product”.

The BBC report found that Jaico, the largest publisher and distributor of Mein Kampf in India, had sold more than one lakh copies in the past 10 years and that Crossword had sold more than 25,000. It quoted Jaico’s chief editor R.H. Sharma as saying: “There has been a steady rise of 10 to 15 per cent in the book’s sale.”

Mumbai’s roadside book stalls prominently display Mein Kampf’s pirated version, a fact many visiting foreign Jews find shocking, said Jonathan Solomon, a lawyer and chairman of the Indian Jewish Federation.

“It is disturbing to see Hitler’s autobiography selling so briskly. It is equally shocking to see leaders like Raj Thackeray and Narendra Modi openly stating they admire Hitler,” Solomon said.

“The lack of education and awareness about the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities is one of the reasons why the book sells so well. The rising Muslim fundamentalism has also led other fundamentalist forces to strengthen, and they see Hitler as their hero.”

Many in the Hindu Right wing have down the decades been open about their admiration for Hitler.

Some foreign scholars have suggested that most Indians have never understood the scale of the Nazi horrors, as reflected in their tendency to jokingly describe bossy family members as “Hitler”.

The BBC report quoted academic Govind Kulkarni as saying: “The youth look for a hero, a patriot, and Hitler was a committed patriot. He is seen as someone who can solve problems. The young people here are faced with a lot of problems.”

He added: “Young people have no sense of history. The book (Mein Kampf) is thick and not easy to understand unless you know the history of Germany.”

To be fair, the book sells well elsewhere too, notching 26,000 copies in the US last year and one lakh copies in Turkey in 2005. Its first sales in Germany were so good that they allowed the imprisoned Hitler to buy a Mercedes.

Tushar Gandhi does not agree with the calls for a ban. “I don’t see why anybody should be considered a Nazi sympathiser if he reads Mein Kampf. In fact, reading it would enable people to understand Hitler’s psyche. I don’t become a communist if I read Das Kapital,” he said.


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