Students of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune (FTII) are going on an indefinite strike starting from 12 June 2015 as a mark of protest against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the new Chairman of the institute.
All activities – classes, practicals, shoots – have been stopped till their demand is met. The student council’s immediate demand seeks for a different Chairman, who is qualified and promises – through his/her past records – to do justice to the Institute.
There is also a demand for a new system in place to appoint the Chairman. A system where 51% of the Governing Council will be FTII alumni and the Governing Council electing a Chairman, is being proposed by the students’ council.
FTII earlier has had the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, U.R. Ananthamurthy as the Chairman. The list of Chairmen who have served also includes Saeed Akhtar Mirza following the end of whose term in 2014 FTII remained without one.
While names of Jahnu Barua, Santosh Sivan, Rajkumar Hirani were floated as the possible candidates following Saeed Akhtar Mirza by the Information and Broadcast Ministry the final appointment – that of Gajendra Chauhan – came as a shock not just to current students and the alumni, but also the film fraternity across the nation.
The appointment has met with great criticism because of the inadequate experience – both in terms of quality and quantity – of Gajendra Chauhan in the realm of cinema in particular and art in general. Chauhan, whose popularity stands on his role as Yudhishtir in the mega serial Mahabharat aired on Doordarshan during early 90s has no significant contribution/ work to even qualify as a footnote or a passing reference in the history of Indian cinema and television.
Not surprisingly, Chauhan’s appointment is related to his close association with the BJP for over 20 years, he has been an official member of the party since 2004. The appointment of Anagha Ghaisas and Shailesh Gupta into the Governing Council has also shocked the film and the FTII student fraternities, for the two are known for their propagandist films for the Hindu right wing. “This makes the agenda behind these appointments clear i.e. to colour the educational space saffron,” the students are saying.
Jahnu Barua is said to have resigned from the Governing Council and few other FTII alumni whose name appear in the list of the members of Governing Council are also, it is being said, considering resignation and are just waiting for the orders to reach them officially.
FTII is not just an Institute but a space where not just students but a certain kind of culture is nurtured. Those who earlier took the position of the Chairman were not just rooted in the art of cinema and culture but also had a vision. Unfortunately Gajendra Chauhan’s body of work speaks for neither qualification nor any vision which could justify his appointment as the Chairman of FTII. This can become a severe limitation to the space, culture and the very idea of FTII.
The students, and those in solidarity, believe that this appointment “not just undermines the relevance of the post but also sets a wrong precedence for the future.”
The author is an alumni of the Screenplay Writing Department – Film and Television Institute of India, and is currently a freelance writer based out of Karnataka.