After 139 days: FTII students call off strike but will not stop protest

FTII students will return to class after calling off their nearly five-month strike, but will continue to voice heir discontent through others means such as films

After 139 days, the agitating students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) may have called off their strike yesterday, but their movement only gathered more heat, as 10 filmmakers returned their National Awards on the same day, to express solidarity with the protest against the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s chairman.

FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan
FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan

Nearly five months ago, the film institute and students reached an impasse over the appointment of Chauhan, best known for playing Yudhisthir in the TV show Mahabharat, as well as a few other appointments to the college management. Having missed out on academics all this time, the students decided to call off the strike so they could return to classes, but are adamant that the protest will go on.

FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan
FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan

Speaking to mid-day, Harishankar Nachimuthu, president of the FTII student association said, “We have been struggling with this issue for almost five months. I think our voice has reached the masses, but our pleas to the government have certainly fallen on deaf ears. During our agitation, many renowned personalities have come forward to support us. Our agitation will continue with these personalities and other former students.”

Surprise move
The announcement that as many as 10 filmmakers, including Dibakar Banerjee and Anand Patwardhan, had returned their National Awards came as a surprise to the students as well.

“Today, we had only planned to announce that we had called of the strike, but 30 minutes prior to the press conference, our seniors and other film personalities announced their decision to return their awards. This was not planned,” said Nachimuthu.

Nevertheless, the move has once again brought the FTII protest to the forefront. Students themselves are keen to get back to class, but will continue to voice their dissent with other methods, including making movies about their experience with the government during the stalemate.

“For the last 20 days, we had five meetings with various officials from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. But, they still claimed they needed more time. In the past, they had asked us to be a part of their committees, but those committees were purely superficial. We will continue marching ahead and we hope our voices will be heard,” Nachimuthu added.

Amey Gore, another member of the student association said, “In face of the monstrous sacrifices the students of FTII have made for 139 days, we have decided to resume academic activities. But we will figure out new ways to voice our discontent.”

BJP speak
BJP chief spokesperson Madhav Bhandari welcomed the FTII students’ decision of calling off the strike, but slammed the decision to return awards.

“This is a blatant act of intolerance. I want to ask them why were they silent when so many incidents had happened in the last 10 years. Why didn’t they come forward (to return awards) then? The common man is not at all concerned about such acts (of returning awards). These awardees too are not doing anything for the common people.”

Shaina NC, politician and BJP spokesperson, said, “Those returning their awards are doing it with an agenda. One should check their background; they come with a leftist agenda. Let Chauhan perform first before giving a judgment on his capabilities.”

— Inputs by Dharmendra Jore and Varun Singh

'This move is our only weapon'
Harshavardhan Kulkarni explains why returning the awards was the only way to get the government’s attention

Even after 139 days of protest if no action is taken by the government, it is worrying. Some of us have been part of the process since the beginning and we are appalled by the government’s attitude.

(From left) Filmmakers Kirti Nakhwa, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Nishtha Jain, Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan and Paresh Kamdar at a press conference returning their National Awards yesterday. Pic/PTI
(From left) Filmmakers Kirti Nakhwa, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Nishtha Jain, Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan and Paresh Kamdar at a press conference returning their National Awards yesterday. Pic/PTI

Almost a month back, about 200 national award winners got together to write a letter to the PM and the President about the issue. Forget addressing our concerns, they have not even bothered to write back to us. This is our last resort.

It is very difficult for us to return something we cherish and consider prestigious but we seemed to be left with no other option to get the government’s attention. This move is our only weapon. This is not a revolt but a desperate plea to be heard.

All we are asking for is transparency in the selection of the FTII chairman. The selection process is flawed, and it reeks of nepotism. We have nothing against the government or BJP. We were part of a strike earlier during the Congress government too.

At that time, the government had responded and tried to find a solution. But this time, nobody is even bothering to respond. We are not resorting to violent methods and this is the least we could do. I hope more national award winners will join in.

Excerpts from letter to President, PM
>> The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has appointed people with a narrow vision in the institutions under them. FTII, Children’s Film Society and CBFC are examples that the film fraternity has objected to.

>> The lynching and murder of an ironsmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, in a village at the edge of our national capital has shattered our faith in the spirit of tolerance that is the core of our robust democracy.

>> Condoling deaths without interrogating the forces that scripted those murders reveals a tacit acceptance of the ugly forces distorting our country. The Government of India must urgently reveal its commitment to protect the freedom of expression of each citizen.

>> Our cinema represents a rich diversity of political opinions and aesthetic expression. It was a matter of great pride for us that the government of India had awarded this plurality. If we do not stand up and register our protest now we are in the danger of being a part of the process that is flattening out our beautiful landscape of diversity.

Those who returned awards
Dibakar Banejee
Khosla Ka Ghosla (2007)
Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2009)
Anand Patwardhan
Bombay Our City (1984)
Paresh Kamdar
Rasyatra (1995)
Nishtha Jain
Gulaabi Gang (2014)
Kirti Nakhwa
Lost & Found (2008)
Harshavardhan Kulkarni
Lost & Found (2008)
Hari Nair
Sham’s Vision (1997)
Rakesh Sharma
Final Solution (2006)
Indraneel Lahiri
Aamar Katha: Story of Binodhini (2014)
Lipika Singh Darai
Gaarud (2009)
Eka Gachha Eka Mainsha Eka Samudra (2012)
Kankee O Saapo (2013)

Voices

Returning my very first National Award, which I received for ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, is not easy. It was my first film and for many, my most loved. — Dibakar Banerjee, Filmmaker

I haven’t seen so many incidents happen at the same time. This is a sign of what is beginning to happen and that is why people are responding in different ways. - Anand Patwardhan, Filmmaker

1960
The year in which the FTII was established

1954
The year in which the first National Film Awards were distributed

— As told to Shubha Shetty-Saha

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