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FTII Has Bigger Problems Than Gajendra Chauhan

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: NDTV.com
Date: July 11, 2015
URL:   http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/ftii-has-bigger-problems-than-gajendra-chauhan-780405

Ideally, Gajendra Chauhan should not have been named chairman of the governing council of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. He does not have the weight and the body of work as a cinema artiste to merit the appointment.

The government's argument is that bigger names were approached but were unwilling to devote much time to FTII, while Chauhan was. Indeed, some of those from the film industry who have been railing against Chauhan in television studios were themselves requested to head cinema-related public institutions that would require them to give time to their nominated positions. They were unwilling to do so. For these people to now attack Chauhan is disingenuous. Of course, that does not take away from legitimate questions about Chauhan's suitability.

 Having said that, it is worth asking whether the government should be running FTII at all. This is not to suggest that the government has no role in supporting universities and institutions of higher learning; it does. Yet, why the government should be running a vocational educational institution of this nature, especially one related to an industry that is well-established and provides lucrative, market-linked jobs and salaries, is mystifying. After all, film and television technical institutions exist in the private sector, and though of admittedly uneven quality, are flourishing.

 It could be argued the government should not be running Indian Institutes of Management that churn out management graduates or the Indian Institutes of Fashion Technology as well, or at least charge market rates for these, with need-based scholarships and student loans where required. That would be a fair argument and indeed should be made. A greater degree of autonomy, and the ability of these institutions to raise funds from alternative sources, needs to be not just encouraged but also written into their mandates.

 Reports that the government spends Rs 13 lakh a year subsidising the education of an FTII student - in comparison the subsidy per Indian Institute of Technology student is about a quarter of that figure - are astonishing. This is especially so as film-makers and technicians and television artistes who graduate from FTII go on to work in the open market. It is not as if they are obliged to spend three years producing documentaries that chronicle India's heritage, culture and society, then passing on this work to a freely-available public archive.

 It is difficult to altogether sympathise with the FTII students and community. While they may find Gajendra Chauhan beneath them and not measuring up to their sense of aesthetics, does this really justify the 39th strike in 55 years of FTII's existence? If previous governing councils and administrators were so remarkable, why has no convocation taken place in 17 years? No convocation has been held since winter 1997, when the chief guest, veteran actor Dilip Kumar, was booed and hooted.

 Students are supposed to leave FTII in three years, having completed their coursework. The hostel facilities in Pune are obviously inviting, as is the subsidy by the tax-payer. As such, students stay on for five or six years. The students who entered in the academic year 2007-08 should have moved on in 2010-11. They are still on the FTII campus, part of the protesting students, propelling the strike.

 Two points stand out here. First, it is fairly clear that given the political orientation of a vociferous section of the students, any BJP government appointee would have faced protests and been told he or she was not welcome. Gajendra Chauhan's credentials - and this writer iterates he is not defending them - are, to that extent, secondary.

 Second, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the FTII student community is now in the grip of a strong freeloader sentiment. A three-year post-graduate course extending to almost a decade, with middle-aged folk claiming subsidised benefits under the guise of being students, is indefensible. Any harsher action by the government, especially a BJP government, will then easily be sought to be converted into a "right-wing attack" on the "creative community". The slippery slope will inevitably lead to a false debate on "freedom of expression", and familiar arguments will be heard.

 That is what this is really about; Gajendra Chauhan is only a convenient excuse.

(The author is senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation. He can be reached at malikashok@gmail.com)
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