Why Are FTII Students Again On Strike?
By Ajithkumar B. and Kamal K. M.
16 June, 2015
The students of the Film and Television institute of India (FTII), the premier film institute of the country are on a strike. This is no news, as this has happened countless times in the last few decades, while student activism was becoming more and more out of fashion all over the country.
FTII is a benign monster - a daring projecct of the Frankenstein-like aspirations of socio-cultural engineering harboured by the Nehruvian socialism of the 50's and 60's. The idea was to make institutions to nurture good cinema. National Film Development Corporation, Films Division and Children's Film Society of India etc were part of this project. NFDC and FD were cramped by bureaucracy and stunted. But FTII was not to be of the same fate, because young blood flowed in every year to invigorate it in spite of the clutches of bureaucracy. Fed by a daily diet of world cinema, it went far beyond the expectations of its fathers. It can't be reined in now, its aspirations and dreams of creative thought and unbridled expressions cannot be erased. FTII has been targeted time and again by the right wing, because somehow, though not explicitly political, FTII always epitomised the values that the right wing held as anathema: freedom of thought, lack of reverence to authority, critical attitude, courage to dream, universal solidarity, non-recognition of sectarian borders in matters of culture, appreciation of higher values in art as opposed to commercialised entertainment, vulgar demagogy and lying propaganda.
FTII produced stalwarts of Indian cinema like the directors Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravally, KG George, Syed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bansali, David Dhavan, Kumar Sahani, Subhash Ghai, Mani Kaul, John Abraham, Ketan Mehta, Vinay Sukla, Jahnu Barua, AK Bir and Shaji N. Karun, cameramen like Santosh Sivan, Venu, Ramachandrababu, Anil Mehta, KK Mahajan, Madhu Ambat, Editors like Bina Paul and Renu Saluja and sound recordists like Anup dev, Devdas, Krishnanunni to name a few. In the recent decades it has produced film makers and technicians who have established new standards of excellence in Indian cinema, like Rasool Pookutty, Setu, Rajeev ravi, Umesh kulkarni , Amit dutta, Avinash Arun... The list goes on. Hundreds of directors and technicians from FTII has played a prominent role in nourishing the thriving film industry, art house cinema, educational and documentary films and television in the country. That has not stopped the powers that be from aiming the axe on FTII.
The attack on FTII began in earnest in the late nineties, as globalisation took over. The attempts to end the subsidised education and to hand over the institute to the industry, degrading it to a polytechnic were resisted by the students in the last 20 years through a number of strikes, because the student community at FTII was always conscious of the value of the education that they were getting and wanted the future generations to be able to get access to that.
Now comes the last straw on the camel's back. The central government, in blatant disregard to all conventions regarding academic administration appointed Mr. Gajendra Chauhan, whose claim to glory is having acted the part of Yudhishtira in the TV series Mahabharata. He has also acted in a number of soft porn flicks. He is a ruling party man. Except four members from the film fraternity who have resigned, all other appointees to the newly constituted GC are functionaries of various organisations of the saffron brigade who have nothing to do with cinema.
Why such a drastic move? The answer is evident from the responses of the newly appointed bosses. They want to teach FTII some lessons in "nationalism" and "Indian culture". They want to finish off one of the last remaining spaces where freedom of thought and creative criticism still remain. The move is part of the systematic execution of an agenda that started from destroying the well known Fine arts department in M. S. University, Baroda. Then we saw what happened with the Indian Council of Historical Research, Aligarh Muslim University, IIT Chennai etc. The rulers want to choke till death any remaining freedom of thought and speech.
The RSS accuses the students of being anti-nationals. There is a tough entrance exam to select students for the very few seats from thousands of applicants. Does the entrance exam somehow efficiently select anti-nationals? - No. The problem is that the stuff that is being taught - culture - the very best dreams of the very best human minds of the last century has the effect of nurturing in students these values that the right wing so despises - freedom, justice, equality, solidarity, sanctity and social purpose of art. When these are attacked, the students are compelled to rise in defence. Perhaps that is why FTII is targeted again and again, and the students, cleverly and strongly defeat every time the effort to kill off the spirit of the institution. Let us hope this time too, they win, although the odds are high.
Ajithkumar B. and Kamal K. M. are former students of FTII
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