I would like to begin by establishing my modest credentials to speak about the present FTII strike.
I have been close to the FTII since 1971, as a student, as a visiting professor; I have served on the Academic Council and the FTII Society. I have been on the selection panel for students of the direction course.
The FTII students are chosen for their performance in the rigorous aptitude and knowledge tests (and not for faked and scammed certificates or testimonials, common today from various students to ministers). They are talented adults and have made the choice of their profession consciously, with care and financial risk. They need to make their mark in a highly competitive profession. They have no time to waste on non-issues.
I have seen several strikes of the FTII students from the side of the students as well as from that of the faculty. I would like to make the following observations about the past and present strikes of the FTII students.
Those who criticise the striking students of FTII, today or in the past, fail to realize or turn a blind eye to the fact that none of the strikes have been for personal and trivial grievances. At each time, it was the only option left, when the very basic reasons for the existence of FTII as an institution of advanced centre of learning of cinema were threatened by the powers that be.
Such strikes, especially the present one, are an indication of the mala fides of the various governments on specific issues that have threatened this international centre of excellence in cinema. They are indications of the ever-vigilant student body, which has to have a say in what they study. This is even truer today in the age of the Net, when the students know what is happening at the cutting-edge of world cinema.
The present strike is of a special importance, because the issue it addresses goes beyond the FTII and is of vital importance to preserve the life of our democracy and the constitution of our country.
The appointment of Mr. Gajendra Chauhan and some other members of the ruling party is the tip of the iceberg. The common ground in the appointments of Mr. Gajendra Singh and others of his ilk, favoured by the rulers, is their utter mediocrity and pliability. Mediocrity and pliability have become the necessary and sufficient conditions for appointments to national bodies today. Those who are neither mediocre nor obsequious and possess merit and talent, like Jahnu Barua, Pallavi Joshi and Santosh Sivan, cannot function with the weathercocks.
As always with mediocre yes-men and women, the less their merit, the more they will bend backwards to please. The propaganda video made by one of the nominees to the FTII society, showing every face, from a child’s to an adult’s, covered by the same mask, unmasks such persons. They do what the masters want. Res ipsa loquitur = The thing speaks for itself.
Undoubtedly, the Congress party has been the writer of many scams and has a hundred other faults, but it also founded key institutions for science and culture. It appointed persons with exceptional national and international achievements in various fields, to govern these bodies. But never were mediocrity and party affiliation the necessary and sufficient conditions for their appointments.
If people of merit and achievement are appointed on important national bodies, be it FTII, Censor Board, TIFR, IIM, Nalanda University, or any other institute of excellence, they are a risk to an authoritarian government. They would stand for their own values and policies. The rulers just want complete and total assent from every person they appoint. In fact, the rule of mediocrity is the manifestation of the same malignancy, affecting different parts of the body politic. It is high time that genuine talent, be it in the field of science or culture, gets together to challenge the rule of substandard string puppets.
The well-informed, conscientious and purposeful strike of the FTII students is the silver lining of a large and ever-advancing dark locust-cloud that is out to devour vigorous intellectual and spiritual seed, crop and creatures of every variety in this country and turn it into wilderness of uniform sterility and mindless consent. Aur acche din ab anewale hein.
Arun Khopkar obtained his Diploma in Film Direction from FTII in 1974. He has directed two feature and several non-feature films. His films on arts and artists have won over fifteen national and international awards. He was awarded the Golden Lotus, the highest National Award three times for his short films. His book on the film director Guru Dutt won the National Award for the best book on cinema. He is a film scholar and has contributed papers on film aesthetics to international journals. He is an internationally recognised authority on Eisenstein. He has taught film theory and practice at various institutions like Moscow School for Advanced Cinematography, Jawaharlal Nehru University, FTII, National School of Drama, etc. He was a Homi Bhabha Fellow. He is widely travelled and knows French, German, Russian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, English, Italian and Japanese.