It was my first trip to Film City. Driving inside, I suddenly saw a man holding five, oddly ungainly leopards on a leash. When I came closer I realised, the leopards were really dogs in leopard costumes, headed for some villain's den no doubt. In later years I saw much here to gladden my filmi heart -- my favourite was a dance set featuring Phantom's skull-cave.
Illustration/ Satish Acharya
It seemed apt then that the king of high kitsch, Subhash Ghai, should start a film institute here, complete with an Enid Blyton name --Whistling Woods International. The website informs us it is rated by Hollywood Reporter as one of the "top 10 film schools in the world."
Is that "one of the top 10 film schools built on public land sanctioned at one twentieth its value under a Chief Minister whom we will call an Aadarsh balak?"
Given these irregular origins, the High Court has now ordered the school to return the property to the State. Stressing the emotional angle, Mr Ghai said he will fight to save his "dream." An acting course alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Mr Ghai's imagination for his institute seems to have been quite different from both -- that film institute as well as the decidedly desi flavour of his own films. He wanted "a world film and media institute." The unspoken implication is that a school of 'international' standards will benefit the nation, somehow -- and so, it deserves to be given public land.
A school whose annual fees is Rs 7 lakhs and more, however, seems to have a very particular idea of the nation's population. Like the word "development" once, "international" is the new term to justify mediocrity, and mimicry, prevent questioning and the human search for truth, and mask scams.
The increasing institutes named "international" are meant to fool millions of working, lower middle-class Indians into parting with large sums and taking loans they cannot afford so that their children could maybe, have a shot at this new global Indian dream sequence in which they are not even extras.
The media industry is touted as the new democracy, which provides this chance if they work hard and get a little education. In truth it is a highly nepotistic, feudal, cruel and mediocre place in which the slow but significant rate of suicide and violence among young aspirants, who can't make a living, much less a life, is something to worry about.
Mr Ghai points to yearly losses as proof of his good intentions. As usual privatisation is not everything it's cracked up to be, unless propped up by heavy, often illegal, state subsidies. India has some good film schools - the FTII, Pune, the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata and National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, turn out beautiful student work every year.
Their fees and reservations make them accessible to a wider cross-section of society -- and this also means they potentially bring a diversity of contexts that could enrich our cinema, rather than turn it into the tasteless BT brinjal corporates peddle.
These are public schools that many of our talented film artists and technicians who form the media industry -- and the faculties of such private institutes -- come from. They may have problems, but instead of improving and expanding them, the government with a little corporate and Bollywood help, has long been trying to discredit and shut them down so that land can be sold cheaply to private corporates to build "international" schools.
People have the right to private dreams of private profit but why should they constantly be financed at public cost -- and at the cost of the public's own right to dream differently?
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.