Time to shut down the FTII?

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 04, 2015 23:44 hrs

Before the current protests by the students of the Film and Television Institute of India over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as chairman, not many people were aware of its status.

Many thought that the FTII was a private affair and were surprised to find that it was a government institution, funded by tax payer’s money. 

Someone did a back of the envelope calculations and divided the annual expenditure by the number of students—it was found that the cost per student was Rs 11-12 lakhs, higher than IITs.

While students protested that this was an inaccurate way of doing it as several other variables were involved, the truth remains that this is not a “necessary” profession like say that of  doctors and engineers and the government can well do without it.

To make matters worse it came to light that many had been studying in the school for 5-10 years and were overstaying their welcome in the hostel, a further unnecessary expenditure and burden on government coffers.

Bollywood has become a huge industry and major films do business to the tune of hundreds of crores each. The industry can come out with as many private institutes as they like. A case in the point is Whistling Woods International, which was founded filmmaker Subhash Ghai.

Another point to be noted is that the Chairman is merely a ceremonial post and the day to day functioning is seen by the director and the governing council. So why is there such a furore over a token post? In fact one report said that past chairmen wouldn’t even visit the campus!

In the past the post (President previously) has been occupied by bureaucrats, a cartoonist (RK Laxman) and even a writer (U R Ananthamurthy). Now you can’t make the world’s greatest footballer a cricket coach can you?

In contrast, least Chauhan has at least acted in many films and TV serials for decades and has much more “filmi” and TV experience then these other distinguished names. A most curious part of the protest is that Chauhan is being called a “BJP man” and has been lambasted by the students. 

Since 1947 the Congress has always appointed its loyalists to all government posts. It is a fact and a given. Why did the students not protest that? Why is it OK for the chairman to be pro-Congress and not pro-BJP?

In fact two anti-BJP and Congress sympathisers in the form of Girish Karnad and Mahesh Bhatt have headed the FTII in the past. Interestingly even the case of Chouhan is not unique. 

Film star Vinod Khanna joined the BJP in 1997 and the BJP Government made him FTII head in 2001! Probably the most bizarre thing is that which school or college in the world gets to choose its principal or president or chairman? This point has been totally missed by most arguing for the students.

As a student you can fight for all the rights you want, but selecting the management has no precedent. The students are way out of line and had this not taken a political hue, then all of them would have been thrown out by now.

Another point to note is that in the age of Internet anybody can become a filmmaker. Indeed there are hitherto unknown people whose videos got millions of views making them famous. 

When American documentary maker Michael Moore was asked by a journalist on how to counter the closed club of filmmakers, he took out his smartphone from his pocket and said:  

With this anyone can become a filmmaker! Fifty years ago resources were quite limited but that is not the case in the Internet age. The Bollywood industry has also seen a sea change and today it is open and it is much easier for a newcomer to be an assistant and climb his or her way up the ladder.

FTII was formed in the 1960s and received full government funding in the 1970s. Today things are totally different and it makes no sense to waste the tax payer’s money for a film institute—Let Bollywood launch as many film institutes as they like!

Chauhan’s appointment was made on June 9 and so it will be six months of protests on December 9. The students didn’t have a leg to stand on in the first place and still have been protesting gracelessly non-stop for the past six months.

They have been missing classes, they gheraoed the director, they defaced walls with graffiti, they threatened a hunger strike, they tried to make it a national agitation, they refused to cede any ground in talks with the Information & Broadcasting Ministry and even called Chauhan a “porn star”. 

Police action on the FTII campus was also a new low for the institute and the director even reviewing the performance was opposed by the students who have gone totally out of control.

They have exposed the reality where it no longer makes sense for a government to fund something like a film institute on tax payers’ money. The government should either shut down the FTII or sell it to the highest bidder and use that money better elsewhere.

The Prabhat Film Company premises (of the legendary Bollywood filmmaker V Shantaram)  were converted to the FTII at its inception. You could say that the time has come for the film institute to turn full circle!