Frankly, the flash point at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was waiting to happen. For a very long time, the FTII has suffered the dual punishment of neglect and interference. At least for the last 11 years that I have been teaching there, the anguish of the students and the faculty has been palpable. The teachers are underpaid, with most of them being on contract, without any job security, nor any incentive or support for an upgrade. Teachers, who should be the architects of an educational institution, feel ignored here and have become cynical. You can imagine how seriously unhealthy this makes the teaching culture here. And, then, the infrastructure needs an immediate upgrade, systems need to be improved, and resources are urgently required.
To top it all, the post of the FTII director is a rotating bureaucratic appointment, usually with no background in cinema or television, or academics. Barely is he able to make sense of long-term solutions when he’s transferred. The mess inexorably multiplies. A three-year course extends to six years. Hence, out of frustration, students become proactive in a bid to protect their dreams, which are tied to what they expect the FTII to be. It shouldn’t be their call. Students shouldn’t determine what and how they ought to be taught, but they feel they don’t have a choice but to take the lead.
Given this long history of mistreatment that the FTII has suffered, Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment was the last straw – the proverbial spark that seems to have lit the prairie fire. And now, the students’ aggressive protest has also brought into national focus the politics of appointments of the government. Institutions such as the FTII and Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI); Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC); Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR); Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are of national importance, and not the playthings of political parties. Their autonomy has to be vigorously defended.
The FTII is a wonderful institution, which genuinely encourages the independence of student filmmakers, infusing a much-needed plurality in our cinema culture, which has otherwise been dominated by the monoculture-inclined mainstream. India needs the FTII, so that the tremendous potential among its budding filmmakers and screenwriters can be tapped and encouraged. We are poised to make a mark on the global filmmaking horizon. But it needs very urgent care and attention. And, Chauhan and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) appointees are not the answer.