An armed forces veteran on why Akshay Kumar's Rustom 'uniform' auction is offensive

Justifying a wrong and refusing to accept the difference between a costume and uniform show Twinkle Khanna’s immaturity.

 |  4-minute read |   01-05-2018
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A tweet by Akshay Kumar announcing the auction of the naval uniform he wore in the movie Rustom and the proceeds going for animal welfare has been questioned by many on social media. While the aim of the actor was honourable, many veterans felt it was a cheap publicity-seeking stunt.

The movie Rustom for which he wore the dress took its cue from the true life story of naval commander KM Nanavati’s case of 1959.

The reasons why the so-called noble gesture of Akshay and his wife Twinkle is wrong are plenty. The uniform worn along with the medals which adorned it were grossly out of place. Most of his medals dated to the current time, whereas the uniform was meant to represent the late 1950s, but represents the present. The uniform and body regulations have undergone multiple changes between then and now. While the common Indian, unaware of the errors in the dress would have ignored it, the veterans and serving did raise multiple issues on it.

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That apart, what Akshay and Twinkle failed to realise was that what was worn in the film was not a "uniform", but a costume. It may have been inadvertent, but despite all which has flowed on social media has yet not been corrected. Had the tweet indicating the sale stated that the "costume" worn by the actor was being auctioned, there would have been no objections. It was the term "uniform" which irked the veteran community. After all, once a member of the armed forces family, always a member of the same, irrespective of the age and rank at which an individual left or retired.

For those from the armed forces family, a uniform is earned with sweat, blood and tears. Years of training and the grant of a presidential commission only permits an individual to wear a uniform in the rank of an officer. A rank is earned with even more effort and sweat. A film star, despite all his social obligations and support to multiple charitable organisations, has no right to claim he has been granted the power to wear a uniform, solely because he represented a character who did adorn one. Further, terming his costume as a uniform was even more derogatory.

Even those national figures granted honorary ranks in the services, Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni being examples, are only permitted to wear uniforms on special occasions. Dhoni wore his territorial army uniform to march up to the president to receive his Padma Bhushan. Sachin is seen in his air force uniform when he attends special air force events, including the Air Force Day.

Within the veteran community, uniforms are never sold. While families of those who sacrificed their lives in the call of duty maintain a set of uniform in fondness and memory, as some social media posts have recently indicated, others who retire, destroy theirs.

In some cases, uniforms of known personalities, including high gallantry award winners are maintained in regimental museums or their units as an inspiration to those who follow. Auctioning or selling them is considered degrading.

The subsequent war of words on social media, by a veteran, was the expression of a soldier hurt by Twinkle and Akshay’s actions. The threats and counter threats was immaturity flowing from both ends. Justifying a wrong and refusing to accept the difference between a costume and uniform is Twinkle’s immaturity and using threatening language that of the veteran officer.

The difference being that for Twinkle this auction was a commercial venture to support her charity, while for the soldier it was his heart which ruled. 

The actor should realise that his attempt to raise funds for a charity using a term which could be avoided has hurt feelings. If his intention is still genuine, all he would need to do is change the word "uniform" to "costume", which in any case would have no impact on the auction, even if it ever takes place. A small line of apology would also restore the reputation of the actor in the eyes of the armed forces community.

In the ultimate analysis, I am certain that both, Akshay and Twinkle, being educated would have by now understood the difference between a uniform and a costume. Admitting their error is the issue.

Possibly, if they are ever considered to be granted honorary rank by any of the three services, then what they would adorn would be a uniform. Until then, despite any role that Akshay plays in any film, anything that he wears would remain a costume.

Also read: Why there is anger against Modi government this May Day

 

Writer

Harsha Kakar Harsha Kakar @kakar_harsha

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army and author of the book, Harsha Kakar writes.

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