The guns have fallen silent at the Film and Television Institute of India after students returned to classrooms, calling off their 139-day strike for the removal of institute chairman Gajendra Chauhan. But the disquiet lingers as the government had stone-walled their demand. Now the students have vowed to carry on the struggle through their films and scripts. Shouldn’t the government assuage the deep sense of hurt felt by the entire film fraternity? The answer lies in reconstituting the general body of FTII. That’s the first step towards restoring the health and wellbeing of India’s premiere film institution which has produced some of the finest talents in the industry besides training 4,000 to 5,000 top order technicians in its 55-year-old history.
To let this imbroglio drag on is even an insult to the chairman who is anyway unfit for the position. He may have got a lot of publicity but it is all bad publicity. Have you heard anyone saying good things about the choice of the chairman whose claims to eligibility are all based on those few TV serial bit roles he played?
The FTII chairman should be a person of calibre, of national standing. He cannot be just anybody. Mr Chauhan has a few others for company on the FTII body, whom students have pointed out. They should also go.
I was the FTII chairperson twice and this is not merely my personal opinion. Important filmmakers from abroad at the recent Goa film festival urged the government to protect this globally respected institution from further neglect and ill-treatment.
The government has made it a prestige issue, it seems. This is very strange. Even royals have rescinded their decrees when mistakes were pointed out by the wise and the experienced. We are living in a democracy and the government should be responsive. It has already invited a lot of flak and ill-will on this ground.
It was in the 1990s that the Centre decided to grant the FTII autonomy, freeing it from the administrative control of information and broadcasting ministry, thereby paving the way for availing the knowledge and expertise of outstanding professionals in the film industry. A society was constituted, incorporating experts in cinema, theatre, arts, literature, journalism and other allied fields. They and the nominated government officials make up the general body, which in turn elects the governing council. Men and women of excellence in their respective fields serve on the FTII society as laid down in its constitution.
Now, strangely and questionably, the government has acted in clear violation of the rules and regulations it had laid down. It has not cared to consult experts and professionals. Among members nominated were a few like Jahnu Barua, Santosh Sivan, Pallavi Joshi and Vidya Balan, who are either FTII alumni or well-known for their professionalism. But they all quit in protest against the government’s apathy and insensitivity to the students’ representations. In effect, the newly constituted general body now stands null and void without these members.
Students and the film fraternity had a valid reason to agitate and it was in a desperate move that they boycotted classes. It has to be admitted that the struggle was very quiet and dignified; there was no violence, nothing untoward. But extraneous elements, it seems, kept on provoking the students and tried to give the impression that the agitation was a law and order problem. Yet the students admirably kept their cool and insisted on discussing with the government the issues created by the new constitution of the society.
The government should have adopted the course of a dialogue, which is the hallmark of democracy. No one expects any government to be an expert in everything, not in the least cinema.
The government should have consulted experts before making the nominations. It was a clear lapse. According to information received through RTI, the people concerned had bypassed the list of professionals prepared within the ministry. Being attached to a party is no disqualification. But those on the governing council of the FTII should be professionals of eminence as specified in the constitution of the society.
The late U.R. Ananthamurthy, a Lohiaite, was twice its chief. He was versatile and highly accomplished. Having such men at the helm is necessary because it helps in meaningful interaction between professionals leading to cross fertilisation of ideas. What would non-professionals discuss when they sit together? What plan of action will they chart for the FTII?
The institute’s society and governing council play a crucial role in planning, designing academic schemes and the very future of the students that cannot be left to bureaucrats and laymen. The chairman should be one with vision and understanding to guide the administration as well as the academics.
Student strikes are not new. When I took over as chairman, a strike was on already. A student without sufficient attendance was barred from appearing for the exam. We talked to students and convinced them it was a violation of rules. It would also be a bad precedent to let such a student sit for the exam. “So return to class and earn the attendance to take the next chance,” I told the students and they did. Being genuinely good to students and just being nice are different.
I am afraid culture and now education come last on the government’s priority. They are systematically cutting down funds for them.
The institute requires a revamp. The upper age limit for admission had been pegged at 45 years to attract talent from diverse fields. Miklos Jancso, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, joined the Hungarian film institute at the age of 45. We were learning from such instances.
It is a pity that the government has not paid heed to recommendations to improve working conditions and emoluments for teachers, whose salaries do not match even University Grants Commission scales. They have to mould diligent professionals, who are selected from among thousands to the 10 seats in each department.
Duration of the courses at the institute should be brought down to two instead of the present three years. Classes should be from 9 am to 6 pm. There should not be scope for laxity. The three-year syllabus can be taught in two years. The administration and students should work in tandem, without the least coercion. The government should pull this prestigious institute from the depths it has been pushed into. No government is infallible. To correct a wrong is simply democratic.
The writer is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in the country