The fight between the striking students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and Gajendra Chauhan, the small-time actor who has been appointed chairman of its governing council, is getting shriller. The institute has warned students of expulsion if they don’t get back to the classroom. But the students are not relenting; they want Chauhan out. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, a veteran filmmaker who headed the FTII for two terms, tells Namrata Joshi that the students are right. Excerpts from an interview:
Are you worried about what’s happening at FTII?
Yes, I am anxious about the situation. It should be settled as soon as possible. Cordial atmosphere should be restored and politics should be kept out of it. All that students are asking for is the appointment of someone they can trust. It's not just the chairman, they are agitating against the appointment of some other members of the FTII society as well. Unfortunately they are being treated like green-horns. FTII is not like any other institution. The students here come from different walks of life from all over the country after having gained considerable experience of life and living. They are not raw from colleges. The Institute’s upper age limit for admission is kept at 45 years to not leave out genuine aspirants. They (students) are clear about what they expect from the institution. Naturally, they are upset by the non-serious approach of the decision makers.
There are reports that the government spends Rs 12 lakh on a FTII and only Rs 6 lakh on a medical student. Do you think it would be fair to say that students at the FTII are oversubsidised?
I do not know how authentic the data is. Granting that film education is substantially subsidized, we should not forget that filmmaking itself is a very expensive proposition. How can training in film production be made cheaper? The Patil committee appointed by the Nehru Government found that the quality and content of Indian films were far below world standards and it recommended the setting up of the film institute and other allied institutions like the International Film Festival of India, the Film Finance Corporation, National Film Archive of India etc. All these institutions are run at heavy expense. They cannot be compared with a primary health centre. Are the IITs self financed?
There is also talk of privatising FTII...
It will have disastrous results and we need to resist it at all cost. You will be barring a great many deserving aspirants belonging to the middle and the lower middle class – the mainstay of talent - from entering the film profession. Take a look at the several film training institutions in the private sector and their exorbitant fee structure.
They say FTII students are always making trouble. How was your own experience as its head?
True, there have been strikes in the past. Sometimes for very genuine reasons and sometimes for wrong ones. I can recall that it was in the midst of a strike that I was appointed the chairman. And we had talks with the students and everything was amicably settled. The real problem is that bureaucrats with no understanding of cinema are sent in as directors at the FTII. They perceive every problem as an administrative one and deal with it heavy-handedly. This has very often caused prolonged strikes and agitations.
Apparently, there were many big names from the industry, including you, who were in the reckoning to lead FTII, but they chose Chauhan.
Nomination of members to the FTII society should not be done light-heartedly. It should be conceded that no government is a know-all. In a democracy, in order to ensure quality and efficiency, an expert committee is constituted to advise the government on issues like the one in question. Things could have gone smoothly if only this consultation had been gone through. In fact, the rules and regulations of the FTII society are very clear. Only persons of eminence in the fields of cinema, theatre, arts, performing arts, television, journalism etc should be nominated. I do not know Mr. Chauhan. In fact I had not even heard about him before his appointment as Chairman of the FTII. The institution deserves someone who can perceive its expectations and can lead it with a vision for the future. Obviously, he is not the right choice. It looks like he (Chauhan) is very innocent about his role as chairman. In all fairness it would be proper for him to resign and save the face of the government who have obviously made a wrong choice.
"Every government appoints its own people.." is another defence doing the rounds for Chauhan's appointment...
Every Government has its right to appoint people to various positions. No one can question that. Obviously, what has not preceded the decision-making is proper consultation.
Do you see any hope in the dissent from within? When BJP supporters like Anupam Kher also take a stand against the appointment?
We are a democracy and it is only just and fair that we listen to another opinion and make the necessary correction when we realize we have made a mistake inadvertently. The Government will earn more credibility and honour by doing so. After all it is a people’s Government.
Why hasn’t Bollywood and other regional stars come in support of the students?
I think more emphatic expression of support is under way. The problem is that many fear that they should not annoy a government which has promised so much. The industry does care. I personally think we should separate politics from it and look at the issue objectively. Here is a genuine issue and we should put our heads together to solve it for the betterment of the institution and the future of our cinema.
Arun Jaitley had promised better status for FTII in his budget speech. Why are they going back on it?
We hope the minister sticks to his pronouncement. FTII deserves a better deal than threats of closure and privatization. One needs to only consider its track record.
What is the significance of an institute like FTII? Why does India, the Indian society need it?
Look at the Indian film scene of the last half a century. Every worthwhile film produced in this country, whether commercial or artistic, has FTII graduates behind it. The Government of India went in for another institute in Kolkata – the SRFTII primarily to cater to the East and North Eastern Region. Cinema is very much a part of Indian life. It has thus become more of a major cultural input than sheer entertainment. Good cinema can equip people to face up to life.
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print