August 02, 2015

FTII Students Protest Saffronisation of the Institute


SINCE its foundation, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), has been a nursery for cinema practices and education in the country. This unique institute has been a space which has always encouraged, cultivated and protected freedom of thought, expression and experimentation. The stature of FTII is clearly reflected in the collective body of work of its students - both in the mainstream film industry, as well as in vibrant regional cinema. VISION AND CONTRIBUTION Set up in 1961 with the aim of promoting good alternative cinema and setting new standards in film-making, both aesthetically and technically, FTII has provided free space for thinking and learning to generations of would be film-makers. FTII has constantly endeavored to set critical benchmarks for the film industry, while nourishing it with highly qualified professionals who are specialised in various aspects of film-making. FTII resonates proudly in the halls of world cinema with its sensitive understanding of life and film as a post-industrial art practice. Along with the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), the Films Division (FD) and the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), FTII has played a crucial role in the creation, preservation and propagation of our cross cultural heritage through the medium of cinema. In the course of its existence, FTII has produced stalwarts of Indian cinema including directors such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravally, KG George, Syeed Mirza, Kamal Swaroop, Neerad Mahopatra, Kundan Shah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bansali, David Dhavan, Kumar Sahani, Subhash Ghai, Mani Kaul, John Abraham, Ketan Mehta, Vinay Shukla, Jahnu Barua, Rajkumar Hirani, , Shaji N Karun, Sriram Raghavan, Anoop Singh Batla, Rajat Kapoor, Balu Mahendra; cinematographers such as Santosh Sivan, Venu, Ramachandrababu, AK Bir, Anil Mehta, KK Mahajan, Avik Mukhopadhay, Madhu Ambat, Sunny Joseph, Mrinal Desai, Sudeepto Chatterjee ; editors such as Bina Paul and Renu Saluja , Suresh Pai; and sound recordists such as Anup Dev, Devadas, T Krishnanunni, Subash Sahoo, Madhu Apsara, Sateesh PM to name but a few. In addition to the above roll of cinema greats, several FTII graduates have been instrumental in pushing the established boundaries of documentary cinema. RV Ramani, Saurabh Sarangi, Nishtha Jain, Pankaj Rishi Kumar, Surabhi Sharma, Rajula Shah, Arghya Kamal Mitra, Nakul Sawhney, Arghya Basu, Sameera Jain, Amitabh Chakravarty and Soudamini, Ranjan Palit, Arjun Gourisania are among the many of such pioneer documentary film-makers who have graduated from FTII. In the recent decades, FTII has produced film makers and technicians who have established new standards of excellence in Indian cinema, including names such as Resul Pookutty, Setu, Rajeev Ravi, Tushar Kanti Ray, Satya Ray Nagpal, Anjali Shukla , Savita Singh ,Umesh Kulkarni , Amit Dutta, Gurvinder Singh, Kamal KM, Harshvardhan Kulkarni, Raaghav Dar, Vibhu Puri, Abhijeet Mazumdar, Avinash Arun, Ajitha Suchitraveera, Bela Negi, Puvali Chaudhury, Tushar Paranjape. Recent graduates such as Raj Kumar Rao, Jaideep Ahlawat, Divyendu Sharma, Pitabhash Tripathy, Sayani Gupta and Rasika Duggal are only some of the many actors who have already made a mark in the field of film acting, to carry on the legacy of the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Mithun Chakravarty, Shatrughan Sinha, Jaya Bachhan, Shabana Azmi, Naveen Nischal, Rakesh Bedi, Om Puri, Tom Alter and Benjamin Gilani who have set formidable benchmarks in the field. Anita Rajgopalan, Donald Reagan Stanley, Sumon Roy Mahapatra, Siddharth Tatooskar, Apurva Sondhi, Prashant Bidkar and Ramakrishna are some of the recent art direction and production design students who have passed out and made significant contribution to film and media. As is evident from the above names, hundreds of directors and technicians from FTII have played a prominent role in nourishing the thriving film industry, art house cinema, educational and documentary films, television and academics in the country. The works of the students have been showcased and recognised at almost all possible national and international platforms, festivals and forums including Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Oscars festivals. This varied spectrum of work has been possible because the institution has been guided by the principles and work ethic of personalities such Sayeed Akhtar Mirza, Dr UR Ananthmurthy, Vinod Khanna, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, N V K Murthy , R K Laxman, Gulzar and such others who have held various administrative positions in the FTII. These stalwarts have always maintained and encouraged the universal tenets of freedom of thought and expression and the right to dissent championed by the great film maker and visionary Ritwik Ghatak (also the former vice principal of FTII). The above mentioned have guided and encouraged plurality of expression and constant questioning amongst students, which is the hallmark of any premiere institution. Their presence has ensured the spirit of non-conformist ideas and has helped steer FTII to a position which is independent of any particular political affiliation, thought or world view. This unique place has to be respected, preserved and nourished. This legacy of fierce independence of FTII has unfortunately not stopped the powers that be from trying to come in the way of its integrity. CURRENT CRISIS The students of FTII have been on an indefinite strike for more than 45 days now, because there is a pervading sense that many members (President Gajendra Chauhan and Anagha Ghaisas, Dr Narendra Pathak, Rahul Solapurkar, Shailesh Gupta) of the proposed new Society to administer the institute do not have the same credentials in the field of art education and practice as the names mentioned above. Their body of work does not reflect any contribution worth naming which is expected of members of bodies such as the FTII Society and Governing Council. The concerns of the students have been echoed across the country by various student organisations, artists, civil rights groups, cultural organisations and political groups. When seen in the background of appointments at institutions like NFDC, CFSI, CBFC, NBT, IIAS, IIT, ICHR and NCERT, the resistance of students at FTII assumes greater significance. The protest is fast becoming a banner for all those who are concerned at the inevitable throttling of independent and non-conformist voices which institutions such as FTII are meant to cultivate and encourage. It is of utmost importance that we recognise the true spirit and potential of this strike towards galvanising the struggle to preserve the multiplicity of our cultural and artistic expression which is under relentless threat of “one India, one vision”. The proposed appointments at FTII have raised grave questions regarding the logic and process of the selection procedure. The presence of certain members (epitomised by the selection of the chairman), and their high handed dismissal of the students' protest, is disheartening and proves that the said members do not share the pluralistic vision of FTII which has nourished the institution for the past 55 years. The unidimentionality of their avowed political affiliations and their extreme polarising positions, reflected in their work, do not bode well for the future of FTII as an autonomous, independent educational institute (Our fears are amply evidenced by the statements made by the elected members in the Indian Express dated June 15, 2015 – these statements leave us with no doubt that their vision is not consistent with that of FTII). Further, the presence of a former president Dr Narendra Pathak of a political student organisation (ABVP) in the proposed body does not inspire much confidence as this was the same person who in his tenure as president in 2013, was responsible for a violent attack of FTII students for screening a film at the National Film Archive of India. Court cases are still on going on some of the FTII students attacked in the incident. Several members (Jahnu Barua, Pallavi Joshi, Santosh Sivan) of the proposed body have also openly declared their displeasure at the composition of the new Society and have voluntarily resigned from their position. MEETING WITH ARUN JAITLEY The panel representing the concerns of the students of FTII met with minister of information and broadcasting and ministry officials on July 3, 2015 The main concern of the panel that met with the ministry was to hold in a passive state the newly formed Society and, in the interim, constitute a committee of experts to suggest norms and guidelines for setting up the FTII Society, which would make such appointments diligent and transparent. However, the concerns raised by the panel did not get the due attention of the minister who felt that the FTII Society is an ornamental body of little consequence in the academic discourse. The students felt this to be in contradiction with the by laws which empower the president of FTII Society to chair both the Governing and Academic Council which work in tandem with each other to make policy decisions in the areas of academics and management. In view of the inclusive meetings, students are left with no other option but to continue with their strike.