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FTII – The Student Revolution

FTII

Image Courtesy of FTII Wisdom Tree

The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) is an autonomous (on paper) institute under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India. Over the past 100 days, its students have been on an indefinite strike, protesting against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s Chairman, apart from four other members of the governing council.

FTII is India’s premier school for aspiring artists to pursue film making professionally, in its various aspects.
On closer observation, it turns out that FTII is more than a film school. It exists as a creative space for the genesis of independent art, culture and meaningful Cinema- Cinema that breathes in liberal values and ideas, while remaining genuinely rooted in India’s diverse cultural ethos.

Hence, it is a portal to a certain kind of sensibility.

To put this into context, some of the former Chairmen of the institute include heavyweights of Indian cinema such as Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and Girish Karnad among others.

“Amidst such auteurs of filmmaking, what credibility does the current chairman have in an institution where cinema is practiced as a serious academic endeavor? Why should a Babu be running a film institute?”

“Amidst such auteurs of filmmaking, what credibility does the current chairman have in an institution where cinema is practiced as a serious
academic endeavor? Why should a Babu be running a film institute?”

 

According to a reply to an RTI query filed questioning the cinematic merit of the newly appointed chairman, the ministry of I&B claims

Gajendra Chauhan is an actor who is best known for his portrayal of the eldest Pandava ‘Yudhishthira’ in the Mahabharat (TV series). He has worked in around 150 movies and over 600 TV serials.”


A quick google search reveals that a large chunk of the above mentioned body of work involves the Chairman playing cameos and bizarre roles in C-grade films, at times bordering on soft-core adult entertainment.

 

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Image Courtesy of Celebriot

 

As the protests slowly escalate into hunger strikes, here’s the set of reforms and systemic changes the FTII student body hopes to bring about through it all:

  • The immediate stepping down of the chairman and four other members of the administration who have no other credentials but their loyalty to the ruling party.
  • Granting absolute autonomy to the institute by delinking it completely from the ministry of I&B, similar to IITs and IIMs.
  • Declaring it a center of excellence with the President of India as its chancellor and no other political presence in its functioning.

Naturally, the question arises: Why should institutes of culture and humanities remain free from political influence?

Technical and scientific institutions are relatively less vulnerable to the enforcement of political ideologies in the sense that their core activities remain unaffected. Despite this, institutes such as the IITs and IIMs enjoy the privilege of autonomy.

 

However, what is unique about institutes of arts and humanities is that they are directly responsible for the shaping of modern thought,  aesthetics and sensibilities. Specifically, Cinema as a medium has the ability to capture the collective imagination of millions, dictating almost every nuanced aspect of what it means to be alive and human today.
Thus, when politics is allowed to manipulate creative spaces such as FTII, films turn into propaganda and documentaries reduce to obscure versions of the truth.

 Role of Dissent

“In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not its taste, but its effect.”
-J. William Fulbright

To dissent is to have or express an opinion that is different from the already established (mainstream) opinion. It is essential to encourage dissent in any society because newly emerging truths are always in the hands of the minority. In India, the truth that seems to emerge from the FTII deadlock is that there has been a steady infiltration of right wing politics into educational institutions which can be seen as a direct attempt to deny us our fundamental rights at the systemic level.

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Image Courtesy of World’s Most talented filmmakers

If successful, the revolution taking place in FTII could serve as a glorious
allegory in the intersection of India’s political and cultural history, necessary
to preserve in its pristine condition, the cycle of creation and consumption of cinema as art.