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Everyone only speaks of the Yudhishthira he played, but has anyone researched Gajendra Chauhan‘s full range of roles?


Let’s get a perspective first. FTII has long been a den of adharma, despite the presence of a wisdom tree on the campus. Most fellows there turn up their noses at films “poorna swadeshi”, favouring “sampoorna videshi” foreign cinema instead. Walk on that campus and you’ll only hear weird names like Tru-phot, Goddard (goda-dard yani knee-pain?) or some Alfred trying to mysteriously “hitch” his unmentionable c*ck. Or that Menzel fellow – impossible to figure if his first name is Yiri or Jiri! And what is Makhmal-barf – can vomit ever be reshmi?

Tell me – why are they so fascinated with cinema from the country of Sonia Gandhi’s origin – always talking Fellini, Rossellini, Passolini or Antonioni! If they like filmmakers with names ending in “ni”, why not our own Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Nihalani, whose cinema can never be called neorealistic; it is beyond any surreal that Federico-bhai could ever dream of. Isn’t Govinda as stylish, if not more, than Marcello Mastroianni? Tell me, if Pahlaj-bhai decided to make La Kulchey Khila, won’t it be a far bigger hit than La Dolce Vita, in the process, also weaning our youth away from the disgusting Italian pizza culture?

They rave about Hiroshima Mon Amour, but has any alumnus ever produced Kurukshetra – Mera Pyaar, about our own ancient nuclear war? Why can’t we have a Nagarik Kaney (amcha Marathi manoos), stuttering to say on his deathbed – gu, gu, gu, gulukand? Orson can go jump in wells, with his citi-jhan! Or get ready for Hindustani (not Japani) Kuru-swaha…

All Indians must applaud our honourable ministers for finally focussing their attention on FTII, after straightening out ICHR, UGC, NCERT, TISS, IITs and the IIMs.

Let us now turn to the burning issue of the day – why has FTII erupted in protest against Dharmaraj Yudhisthhir, the very epitome of truth and virtue, even before he has set foot in his kingdom at Law College Road, Pune?

But first a disclaimer about a potential conflict of interest: Around the time the newly-crowned chairman of FTII, Gajendra Chauhan, was busy gambling away his kingdom and allowing Draupadi to be disrobed on the Mahabharat sets, I was working as an assistant director on Shyam Benegal‘s Bharat – Ek Khoj (Discovery of India). We shared the same costume company (Maganlal Dresswala), the same location (Film City), the same junior artist “arranger” and the same animal supplier. In fact, if you look carefully, you can probably find our Mughal-Mongol warriors in some of their Kurukshetra battle scenes shot the next day, riding the very same horse, albeit wearing shinier costumes and tinnier gold-plated headgear.

Naturally, I’m going to be favourably inclined to anyone from my own prehistoric period, including the elephant who ate BR Chopra’s grass, but deposited the processed output on Benegal’s battleground sets. But that’s not the only reason why I support Gajendra Chauhan and his team of pandavas for FTII. Here’s a brief list:

Fast forward to the past

Indian cinema, like life, has to come full circle. Our cinematic journey began with Dada Saheb Phalke and his mythologicals. From Mohini Bhasmasur and Kaaliya Mardan to Jai Santoshi Ma and Sampoorna Ramayan, the Indian film history landscape is dotted with bhakti-shakti markers. Is it wrong if the minister wants FTII students to get a first-hand taste of our cinema heritage and return to their roots? They are anyway going to try for jobs in Ekta Kapoor shows or EPIC channel dramas – so why not provide guidance from our own mythological drama veterans?

Gajendra Chauhan is an exemplary choice – he knows how to carry himself in a golden dhoti-angavastram combo and how to hold his head high, despite a shiny mukut on top, while speaking in that wonderful TV dialect of hey maatey and bhraatashree, et al. He can ride horses, shoot arrows, roll the dice and shed tears with effortless ease. What more can anyone ask for?

Yours mythologically

Everyone only speaks of the Yudhishthhir he played, but has anyone researched his full range of roles? Like Bhagwan Vishnu, he’s lived on the idiot box in many avatars. As Lord Krishna himself in the TV show Radhe!And as King Dashrath in the TV serial Raavan. Dashrath, as we should know (especially future FTII students), was the pitashri of Lord Ram (of the Mandir wahin banayenge fame)! Tell me – is there anyone else with such a commanding presence over the mythological firmament?

Some of you will bicker and ask – why not make Bhagwan Ram himself the chairman of FTII? I agree it would’ve been an excellent choice, but why did that fellow Arun Govil have to go and contest elections on the “Khangress” ticket? (it is only right that he lost, while Sita Mata aka Deepika Chikhalia won the Baroda seat on a BJP ticket).

Work hard, play harder

Lest you think Gajendra-ji is all myth and no modern substance, it is only right to cast a brief look at the salient highlights of his career spanning a mind-boggling “150 films and 600 TV serials”, an output greater than the entire collected works of the other nominees on the shortlist, including Shyam Benegal and Gulzar, as well as all previous FTII chairpersons including Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Karnad, UR Ananthamurthy and Saeed Mirza. Pause and let that sink in first! And what a rich and varied professional life it has been…

In Billa no 786, he was Pinky’s dad, while in International Khiladi, he was Rahul’s father. Tell me seriously, is there anyone who doesn’t think FTII’s truant students need a father figure?

In Aaj Ka Raavan, he played a kadak cop – and no, not a drunk pandu or a slapstick constable like Ashok Saraf and Laxmikant Berde, but an ACP! An authority figure cleansing the system, precisely what the FTII needs!

This is a unique man, who has risen through the movie cop ranks through sheer hard work – as sub-inspector (Lallu Ram), Inspector (Himmatvar and Dharma Karma), ACP (Aaj Ka Raavan) and police commissioner (Hum Sab Chor Hain). I’m sure a movie stint as DGP is just round the corner, maybe even as the R&AW chief!

Along the way, he has taken a sabbatical to be a patriotic ex-armyman (Tumko Na Bhool Payenge) and put his law degree to use as a public prosecutor (Raja Ki Aayegi Baaraat) and sold cars to Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan (Baghban).

He does let his hair down from time to time and with sheer gusto – as a Ganpati dancer (Parwana) and in music videos like “Jungle Love”, thus also showcasing his assorted skills. Is there still anyone who doesn’t believe he can lead by example?

A captain is as good as his team

The Information & Broadcasting minister knows this better than anyone else, having been a long-term cricket czar at the DDCA and the BCCI. The list of governing council members includes several other luminaries, who are keen to assist the captain in fostering “nationalistic feelings along with filmmaking skills”. Let’s take a brief look, through an Indian Express report, at the distinguished team entrusted with steering and guiding the FTII:

1. Anagha Ghaisas: “100 per cent RSS and proud of it”, Ghasias is best known for her films like Ram Mandir – Adaalat aur Aastha (on the sub-judice Babri-Ayodhya issue) and Shri Narendra Modi – Gatha Asamanya Netrutva Ki (A Tale of Extraordinary Leadership). She believes “a new thought process should start at FTII. Students should have nationalistic feelings.”

2. Pranjal Saikia: An erstwhile office-bearer of the RSS-linked Sanskar Bharati, he too fully supports “upholding traditional, moral and ethical values”.

3. Rahul Solapurkar: An RSS member since childhood, he believes “there is nothing wrong in introducing a new line of thought that is beneficial for the nation and students…”

4. Shailesh Gupta: A former alumni of the FTII, he’s best known for his 2014 campaign film Shapath Modi Ki, a five-minute masterpiece.

5. Narendra Pathak: The Mahabali Bheem of the team. The ex-ABVP chief of Maharashtra, heading the BJP’s student wing for four years, believes “there shouldn’t be any anti-national activity at the institute. If there are mischief-makers who work against the government, to unko sabak sikhana zaroori hai(they should be taught a lesson)”. Hidimba would’ve beamed with unceasing pride!

So, as you can see, our Yudhisthhir-ji isn’t going to drive out adharma from the campus alone, he has the full Pandava team by his side. Let the FTII Mahabharat begin!

In conculsion – a grave worry and some serious suggestions

Since Chauhanji is very likely to gamble away his FTII kingdom to Duryodhana, why not make Puneet Issar, the original Draupadi-disrober, the chairman in the first place? He’s also a Shakti-man, who felled the mighty Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Coolie, sending the entire nation into bhakti-prayer mode! Or is he not a member of the BJP yet, and thus ineligible?

In which case, the mantle must fall on BJP’s Bappi Lahiri, who will surely steer the FTII into a “golden” age! And, umm, can we fit Mallika Sherawat somewhere – her “happy birthday, Modiji” tribute shouldn’t go completely unrewarded.

Let’s stop right here, before a sullen “khamosh” resounds in our ears, for, in the BJP star galaxy, the evergreen Shatrughan Sinha may have become no 17, but he remains a LI-ON!