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Adoor Gopalakrishnan: Why don't they privatise the government?

Former FTII chairman Adoor Gopalakrishnan questions I&B minister's veiled 'warning' about passing on the institute's administration to the film industry

The ongoing students' protest at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has gathered steam with National Award-winning actress Pallavi Joshi quitting as member of the FTII Society.

Pallavi Joshi
Pallavi Joshi

The agitation, which entered its 25th day on Monday, was launched to seek the removal of TV actor and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan (Yudhistir of the '90s Mahabharata) as the institute chairman. While filmmaker Jahnu Barua and cinematographer Santosh Sivan had earlier rejected a position on the FTII board, Joshi's resignation in support of the students has been a setback for the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry which has been unsuccessfully trying to resolve the impasse.

Students protesting outside the FTII, Pune
Students protesting outside the FTII, Pune

Meanwhile, a row has erupted over I&B minister Arun Jaitley's alleged warning to students on transferring administration of the famed institution to private hands. The ministry, however, has strongly denied that such a reference was made at the talks. Expressing disapproval of the idea of privatisation, former FTII chairman Adoor Gopalkrishnan says, "The students' stand is justified. They feel that the institution will be in great danger because those who have been inducted into the general body do not have adequate credentials to hold such positions. Other than a few students in the community, others don't have any sense of eminence. Besides, Chauhan and others make it sound like FTII is just another school. It is a place where mature people across the lengths and breadths of the country come to become filmmakers."

The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has come to a virtual shutdown, following a students’ stir. They are protesting against the appointment of TV actor and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the governing council, as is evident from the spray-painted pillars at the entrance
The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has come to a virtual shutdown, following a students' stir. They are protesting against the appointment of TV actor and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the governing council, as is evident from the spray-painted pillars at the entrance

On Jaitley's veiled threat at privatisation of the institute, the renowned filmmaker asks, "Why don't they privatise the government, or the high court for that matter?"

Spray-painted walls at the FTII echo the students’ demands for the ouster of institute chairman Gajendra Chauhan
Spray-painted walls at the FTII echo the students' demands for the ouster of institute chairman Gajendra Chauhan

Joshi, who has written to the ministry saying she does not want to be a part of the FTII governing council, also scoffed at the idea of transferring the reins of the institute to the film industry. "It is the government's responsibility to make sure that the film industry finds talent, just like it does with engineers and management graduates through IITs and IIMs," she says.

Govind Nihalani, filmmaker
Govind Nihalani, filmmaker

With the industry having three government-run film institutes — National School of Drama, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and the FTII — privatisation would prevent many students belonging to economically weaker sections from realising their dreams, she argues. "The film industry is not a puny little organisation that you can ignore it. Look at the revenue it generates. Look at a private institute like Whistling Woods, their fee structure… do you think young students living in smaller towns or those who come from poor households can afford that? I am surprised that the film industry is not supporting this. I hope they do. This is going to affect the whole industry," she adds.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, filmmaker and former chairman of FTII
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, filmmaker and former chairman of FTII

Talking about her resignation, Joshi states she didn't want to be part of an institute where the students were unhappy. "Whatever I have to share with them, if they think it will enrich them in matters of experience, my doors are open for them to communicate with me. But I don't want to be part of a controversial council, as once you sit in that position your loyalties are going to be challenged. I am totally aligned with the students and I think they are old enough to protest against what they think is not right. I was hoping their meeting with the I&B minister will help and there would be some kind of a compromise, but that didn't happen," she says, letting out a sigh.

Vikas Urs, who was part of the students' delegate that met Jaitley asserts that while the government has made promises for the future of the institute and is possibly working towards fulfilling them, the primary demand of the students — Chauhan's ouster — is yet to be addressed. "It is essential for us to make the ministry realise that it's their responsibility to patronise art education in India. And FTII represents the best filmmaking talent in the world. We are only asking them to consider our demand because we all know that Chauhan's appointment was unwanted. We will continue the strike till the government comes up with some solution," he says.

Support is slowly but surely pouring in for the agitating students. Filmmaker Govind Nihalani, who firmly believes that the government must consider the students' demand, says: "FTII is one of India's most prestigious academic institutes and therefore, rather than making it a prestige issue, the government should consider the stats and success of the institute. There should not be any political interference. The students are the future of the industry, so their views have to be taken into serious consideration. They are passionate and committed about their work and are fighting to maintain the artistic integrity of the institute. I support the students' struggle and their point of view."

The FTII alumni is also throwing its force behind the protesting bunch. Says ex-student Divyendu Sharma, "The panel that went to meet the minister has submitted a proposal which suggests ways and means to resolve the current impasse as well as procedural corrections for future appointments for the FTII Society.

I hope the authorities concerned give serious thought to it. FTII is an institute of international repute and should be handled with the respect it rightfully deserves."

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