The climate has been pretty hot in university and academic politics since 2015. The appointment of Gajendra Chauhan to the post of the chairman of FTII – followed by persistent calls for his removal, and the non-stop demand, from a large section of the students and faculty of Pondicherry University, for the removal of VC Chandra Krishnamurthy, drew the attention of the whole nation in mid-2015. I was a part of the latter – yet I could not support the former. Because the two demands were not the same, and the first one seems illogical to me. I wish I could have spoken out regarding the issue then, but better late than never.
From the very beginning, the intelligentsia of our nation cited two main reasons for opposing his appointment: that he is a ‘B’ grade film personality, and that he is not at all equivalent to his predecessors. Let me take up each point separately.
What is a ‘B’ grade film? Why are these made? Films with mild sexual content in their scripts are generally categorised as ‘B’ grade, known as ‘soft porn’ too. And these films are made because people watch them. So ‘B’ grade films, and their stars, like Gajendra Chauhan, have a target audience. And this target audience is not some alien race – they are part of our society. Every filmmaker has their own class of spectators. For me, I am a Tarantino and Hitchcock fan. Now, it is generally presumed that the section that watches Gajendra Chauhan films consists of the so-called ‘lower working class’. After shedding their blood and sweat throughout the day, they presumably find entertainment in these films. Assuming that this presumed target audience for these films is true, here’s the catch – so Gajendra Chauhan is not eligible to become the FTII chairman, just because urban elites and liberal intellectuals are not his target audience?
Some may argue if his target audience is really bothered about ‘art’. My answer is – even if they aren’t, that doesn’t make art the exclusive property of a certain class. If urban elites and left-liberals think that they hold a patent or copyright over art, they are sorely mistaken. Because this is art, not science. Art is relative, whereas science is absolute. Art is about personal feeling whereas science is about objective proof. I can argue that the art teacher at my school is better than Van Gogh. It is my personal opinion. But if I say that my physics tutor is a greater scientist than Albert Einstein, that is unacceptable. I can say Ritwik Ghatak’s films are full of shit, and I am not bound to explain myself. But I can’t just say that Newton’s laws of motion are invalid. Because if I say so, I have to come up with mathematical proof in support of my argument. If that is found to be correct, only then will Newton’s laws become invalid, leading to a paradigm shift in physics. Basically, in the case of art, different perceptions about a single thing can exist, but science doesn’t necessarily permit that.
Let’s come to the second point. I saw that FTII students came to Rahul Kanwal’s India Today Conclave and many other prime time debates during the mess, and said that their institute had been running horribly for the last 20-25 years. A three-year course needed five to six years to be completed, etc. So in all these years, all the famous film personalities who rocked the chair of FTII, who were apparently much greater in stature to Chauhan, failed to do anything to change this state of affairs? Yet, no one dared to point fingers at them, because they were big names. But the same people were so eager to stage protests against Chauhan even before he assumed charge, just because he is not a big name. Is this not hypocrisy? Is this not elitism?