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Why government is not keen to put an end to FTII fracas

Shekhar Gupta
Shekhar GuptaAug 19, 2015 | 11:16

Why government is not keen to put an end to FTII fracas

There is, actually, very little doubt the government will ultimately prevail in its war on agitating students at FTII. Governments are much too powerful at any time, but in this case, the opposition is also just a small number of students at an institution that features only marginally in the popular imagination. If it was an IIT or an IIM or AIIMS, involving a large number of students and parents, popular anger would have been greater.

There are many facts that go against the protesters. The institute has a history of chronic unrest - one count puts it more than a strike a year, almost like Air India used to be. A convocation hasn't been held for 15 years. The distinguished alumni group is large and formidable, but it has also not increased as it should have.

Then, it isn't popularly seen as a conventional "academic" institution. In our country a professional institution is seen like any other conventional college with studies by rote, exams, ranks and on-campus placements.

Creative education too is valued, say, only when it comes to more conventional fields like architecture, design or even art. These are conventional in the sense that these logically lead directly to employment, which FTII doesn't.

In fact, very few of the top stars are FTII alumni, or even with any formal film training. None of the top 25 stars today is probably from FTII. It is partly a tribute to the hereditary succession of stardom in Bollywood. And partly also to the messy decades at FTII.

The institute has also suffered from chaos in years when commercial cinema has boomed. Bollywood has not been hesitant to find new talent from Hindi, even Marathi, theatre, for example. But FTII has got left out. That's because its leadership has failed the institute, and so has its biggest beneficiary, Bollywood.

The second problem is, the institute belongs to the wrong ministry. It was an act of great foresight on part of the government to decide to set up FTII as far back as 1960. Successive governments kept on funding it even though, as usually happens with creative and liberal institutions, its larger impact was anti-establishmentarian, irrespective of who was in power.

But because it was under I&B, the ministry which believes its primary responsibility (under any government) is to ensure that its bosses get good press, it grew institutionally resentful of FTII over time.

The current dispensation is taking full advantage of it. Problem with Gajendra Chauhan is not that he is a BJP appointee. The Congress also appointed its own choices, not its opposition's. Problem is, his CV simply doesn't cut it.

His appointment is not part of some vile saffronisation plot. In that case, the BJP had several eminent worthies available, from the Khers to Vinod Khanna again. Or any of the saffron culture commissars. But that wasn't the idea. There was need to find a "job" for one of the "boys". Just as one lightweight had been appointed to head the censor board, FTII was chosen for another.

The sad truth is, the job at the top of FTII was seen as a faltu sinecure for a marginal hanger-on. Sadder, that the government will most likely prevail unless the courts can somehow intervene or Chauhan himself withdraws. But saddest is the silence from within the top pantheon of Bollywood, barring a handful.

Where is Jaya Bachchan, for example? She is among the most famous - and now even politically influential, yet respected - alumni of the FTII. In fact, I recorded a wonderful Walk The Talk with her in the FTII and she happily made the drive to Pune out of her love for her alma mater. If only she and some others like her take up the cause of saving the institute, it may still have a future.

(This first appeared on the writer's Facebook page.)

Last updated: August 19, 2015 | 20:53
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