Film Institute Vs the State

In Delhi on Monday, 700 people marched from Jantar Mantar to Parliament along with students from the Film and Television Institute of India who have been on strike for 54 days in protest against the opaque manner in which the chairman and members of the FTII society have been appointed. The Society, which now has Gajendra (Yudhishthir) Chauhan as chairman, has been headed in the past by Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mahesh Bhatt, Girish Karnad, Vinod Khanna, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Saeed Mirza.

Representatives of the government tend to categorise the striking students as bacchas, which they are not. They are post-graduates, mature men and women who have made a difficult choice to compete for and win the dozen or so seats available each year at the FTII. Their fight, which began with Chauhan's appointment, has gone beyond that. It must now be seen in its broader implications as a fight for an idea of India where freedom of thought is encouraged and creativity, which springs from questioning the status quo, is nourished.  

Let us forget Chauhan who has done himself enough damage on television news programmes where all he could say was, "Give me a chance" and "The government has appointed me because they have seen my worth." Let us remember, however, that he will preside over FTII's Governing Council, which makes all major policy decisions of the Institute and over the Academic Council and the Standing Finance Committee which advise the Institute on how to implement these policies. The larger plan behind appointing such a man in a position of such power must be glaringly evident to anyobdy who is not wilfully blind and deaf. Chauhan will be putty in the hands of the forces that are trying to gain control over our finest educational and cultural institutions.

The plan is also evident in the choice of the other people who constitute the FTII Society under the category, "persons of eminence". After Pallavi Joshi, Santosh Sivan and Jahnu Barua withdrew from it, the society is left with the following four. One, Anagha Ghaisas who has made a film entitled, Shri Narendra Modi -- Gatha Asamanya Netrutva. Two, Shailesh Gupta who has made a shorter film entitled Shapath Modi Ki. Narrated in a voice that sounds like the akashvani from a mythological film, it tells us in rhyming couplets of euphoric praise how Modi the child tea vendor, and later the "Gir ka sher", became "apna chowkidar" in Delhi. Three, Narendra Pathak, a former ABVP president, under whose leadership members of his organisation thrashed FTII students at a cultural event. Four, Pranjal Saikia who is an office-bearer of the RSS-linked Sanskar Bharati. Some of these people have gone on record to say that their vision for the FTII is to ensure that the students go out with nationalistic feelings besides film-making skills. Since unpacking that thought, if you can call it that, will require another column, let us turn to voices accessible on YouTube, that make more sense -- the voices of parents, aunts and sisters raised in support of their wards.   

"It is utterly wrong to mix politics with education."

"Please respect the students' thoughts and feelings. How can you threaten them with rustication when we are waiting for them to emerge as fine film-makers?"

"They are courageous and creative. They are standing up for a principle. All they are saying is give us a man of calibre to head our institution."

"Lokmanya Tilak said freedom is our right. We now wonder whether that right is for some others, not us. Our wards are fighting for freedom and you are calling them Naxalites."

"You have set the bar for admission to the Institute so high and now you say the students are lazy, naxals, druggies. For your own integrity, don't call these creative people by such dirty names."

"My nephew gave up a corporate job to join the FTII. As a working woman, I know we have to pass many tests to get a job. How can a man say give me a chance and become head of an institution?"

"When my brother joined the Institute we had only heard of it as a prestigious place of learning. Then we saw how passionate the students were about their work. What's happening to them is just so wrong."

If the students are brave, their families are equally so. Together they have stood up democratically against the all-powerful Indian State. That in itself must be counted as a victory.  

Published On : 05-08-2015