These are not students who are vandalising property or venting their ire on the streets. The campus is alive with music, theatre, film and art. Students have organised “Yearn to Learn” where they have invited academics and practitioners to come and give talks and lectures under the wisdom tree (our name for the mango tree where we routinely gather). This is not the usual scene of a strike of a bunch of disgruntled students.
Yet, not a single representative from the ministry has bothered to come to campus to address the students in the past one month. Student representatives and established alumni met with the minister, Shri Arun Jaitley, but that led to no assurance of any kind.
Now students stand threatened with rustication!
Many within the faculty are sympathetic to the students’ objections. We can well imagine their apprehensions towards the new FTII Society.
We, the ex-students who hold dear the campus that nurtured us, share the students’ misgivings about the current appointees in the Governing Council.
It is unfortunate that the students are being stone walled and intimidated.
They have our complete support. We are spread across different cities, we work in the mainstream industry, in regional cinema, in independent filmmaking, in advertising and television industries. We recognise the value of a place like FTII and feel reassured by the current students who are jeopardising their own careers and lives as students to fight for the idea of FTII.
We urge the representatives of the ministry to address our agitation over the fate of an institute that should be considered ‘A Centre of Excellence’. All our energies must be focused on resolving the issues so that students can resume their studies. Their individual careers are at stake and it is our responsibility to pay heed to their concerns.
‘Misconceptions about the students’
There are a range of charges made against the students and the institute in the media in the past few days. A slew of absurd figures have been brought into the public domain without research or serious considerations backing them. We would like to address some of these misconceptions.
Highly subsidised student life
One of the figures that have been put into the public domain is a figure of 12-13 lakhs — which is supposedly the expenditure made by the state each year on an individual student at FTII. While we do acknowledge that education in FTII is highly subsidised thus making film making accessible to students of modest means as well, the figures being thrown about by spokespersons of the government and opinion makers is baseless. Dividing the total budget of an institute with the number of students on campus is a flawed method of computing.
Taxpayers subsidize a whole plethora of activities to nurture talent and enhance the prestige of our country. We spend on cricketers, artists, professionals like doctors, engineers and architects, scientific research, as well as, on cinema education. These sums of money are not arbitrarily decided nor expedited. They are in keeping with the vision and aspirations the citizens have for the country. Over the last few years the taxpayers have rejoiced on the one hand, over scientific achievements like the ISRO led expedition to Mars and on the other hand, felt pride in cinematic accomplishments like the Oscar win of Mr Resul Pookutty.
If numbers are to be quoted, then let us also consider the returns on this supposed government expenditure on an FTII student. The graduates of this institute have contributed to the economy in the form of tax on their earnings, entertainment tax, service tax, etc, as has been pointed out by our alumni and prominent filmmaker, Mr Vidhu Vinod Chopra. In addition to this should be added the incalculable earning of international prestige and stature for the country.
Disruptive students who go on strike every year or two:
Another figure doing the rounds in the media is of students being responsible for 39 strikes in 55 years. There have been 7 strikes and occasions when students have protested. A strike and a protest cannot be conflated. These are not students who are ever eager to abandon work. It might be useful to see if every batch has produced the stipulated number of exercises and films before they leave the campus on completion of their course. You will find that an overwhelming majority of students have completed their work and the general standard of the work would seldom be substandard in technical terms. That is the mark of the commitment of the students. Student films win national and international awards every year.
If students are unable to complete their work within the stipulated time period then clearly the reasons would have to be beyond individual laziness. Being subsidised on campus does not mean that the students are on a free ride, their families are paying for their fees and expenses.
Willful non-completion of work by students:
Students are accused of being freeloaders. Media reports have delighted in making elastic the number of years that students spend on campus. The figures have stretched from 4 to 6 to 10 in the most recent opinion piece on NDTV. The period between 2004-2014 has been significant to the world of cinema practice, as well as FTII. Manufacture of celluloid started waning from 2010 onwards and in 2014 the last Kodak lab shut in India, marking a clear shift into the digital domain. While these events unfolded, FTII in a bid to generate a large part of its expenditure, started several short-term courses. The students to equipment, as well as student to residence ratios tipped, and the shift could not be adequately handled. In 2010, post a resounding struggle from the students, a bid to privatize the institute was halted and the Nair Committee was set up. To respond to the moment, the committee looked into and suggested, extensive measures that could be taken to deal with the technology shift and syllabus upgradation. However in the following years, the implementation of the Committee’s findings have not been properly followed up. The “delay”, has been a direct result of this.
Students are being pilloried to focus away from the pressing issues they have raised. We must pay close attention to their demands.