Newsclick interviewed Kislay, Ex. General Secretary of the Students Association of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) on the issue of appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairperson of the FTII governing council, which led to widespread protests. Students of FTII are on indefinite hunger strike on this issue. Kislay explains that the student’s body is not against Gajendra Chauhan because he has acted in B-grade or Soft Porn films but questions his ability to deal with serious film studies. He explains that as the governing council has power to take major decisions regarding the institution, induction of people who do not understand films as a medium, will degrade premier institutions such as FTII.
Pranjal: Hello and welcome to Newslclick. Today we are going to discuss about Film and Television Institute of India which has seen appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as it's Chairman which has met wide range of resistance from people, from students, from Alumini. There has been a protest across the country to discuss the issue with us we have Kislay who was a student of FTII and also the Ex-General Secretary of the students union. Hello Kislay.
Pranjal: To start the discussion we wanted to know what is the role of Chairman of the governming council of FTII.
Kislay: See, first of all let's discuss about what Governing Council is. Governing Council is the highest decision body making of the institute. So basically, FTII is an autonomous body under the I&B Ministry which means governing council takes all the decisions of the institute. Now, Chairperson heads the governing council. You know he chairs the meeting of the council. In that sense all academic decisions, all the decisions about financial structure, all decisions about new courses, new teachers everything has to be passed in the governing council. So it becomes a very very important body as the Chairman not only takes calls on the academic decisions but also in terms of what new courses have to be introduced. If a new wing has to be set up then where it has to go plus Chairman also in it's day to day functioning represents the institute with I&B Ministry and different awards goes to places and represents the institutes. So it is very important that whatever the Chairman or Chairperson thinks about the institute what that person feels about the films of the institute has to be in sync what the institute represents. What kind of films institute churns out on a day to day basis. In case of Gajendra Chauhan, he has done some work but unfortunately that is not the kind of film which institute is been known for making it. It's laughable because it's I&B Ministry which also selects say judges for national awards. Suppose it suddenly takes up some actor you know who has been working in some serials and makes him or her the main jury for judging films for national award. Now, there will be uproar among film makers because the national awards are the country's premier awards. One has to have a certain standing for to judge that award. In the same way, FTII is also a premier institute. If one reads the earlier committee report why the institute was set up, it very categorically remarks of course the one of the aspect is to produce quality technicians which can improve our film making but other than that, it was to seriously think about the film practice, to give a boost to the regional cinema. Now, if we see Mr. Gajendra Chauhan and we see his record we see he has never ever made any thoughtful or engagement with any kind of artistic work be it cinema, be it theater, be it painting, be it any other art work. On the other hand, we see him regularly on Bhajans singing praise of Asaram Bapu, doing all those things, selling brands selling all these tele serials. So I am not passing a judgment on him per se. One is free to do that. But, a person like that we feel is not suitable to head an institute like FTII. Please remember that he is being the Chairperson. He keeps talking on the interview that I will learn on the job. I mean if he is taking admission as a student, I would say okay fine. We students go and we learn on the job beside but he is going to be the captain.
Pranjal: There has also been claims on the media from the people side it is the politically motivated movement which FTII students have raised. What's the main reason behind opposing appointment of Gajendra Chauhan and other members of the council.
Kisley: I&B Ministry appoints Chairman. There have been many committees and we have also an issue that an artistic institute head should not be solely appointed by the Ministry. In many other institutes there is a practice that a committee or membership proposes three names and the government selects one name out of that three names. It is not like a complete choice of the government. So we have also been opposing that because then in a systematic manner reduce the interference of the political party at the helm of the power. Now the congress government appointed the last Chairman was Mr. Saeed Akhtar Mirza. People can have their own thinking. People can have their own politics but Saeed Mirza is a known name doing a certain kinds of films and he has come under the institute. He has taken our workshops and he has been regularly involved with the institute, so of course, why should we oppose it? Here is somebody who seriously thinks about the cinema, give interviews about the cinema and then comes to the institute and then engages with the students. Before that, there was Mr. U.R. Anantha Murthy. Now, let me tell you that we did oppose Ananth Murthy when the institute passed, appointed a private consultancy firm. This was Huwit Associates and asked them to do financial analysis of the institute. So then we did then oppose this decision appointing that particular firm but we did not oppose him per se because again he may not be from film making but he is a known artist, a known author who has overall vision about whatever art he or she is engaging in. For what we demand from Chairperson, that what we think a Chairperson should be. So it's not about BJP or government but it is about government blatantly appointing Mr. Gajendra Chauhan. Not only Mr. Gajendra Chauhan, if you look at other members of the governing council then they are not like unknown names either in films or theaters. Any artists who has done certain practice ten year practice or fifteen year will have a certain name beyond the political ideology which artists believes in. will have a body of work you know, would have given opinion interviews related to art and through that art at least you can engage, beyond that personal politics, how he or she thinks about art. I think that is what is very important and all the appointees is including Mr. Gajendra Chauhan five members who have been chosen in this particular governing council, we feel have solely been chosen on their political ideology.
Pranjal: Kislay, people are also saying that FTII is an elite institution. The films which they make are not for the common people. This is just for awards and goes to award functions and it wins awards but it is not for the common people. Also the nature of their protest which they say, the student who study are not the common what people are saying. What's the nature of the student organisation is just like any political organisations which work in other universities like we say in Delhi University. You have been part of Delhi University also. So what is the nature of the student organisation and what is the nature of the films that FTII produces.
Kislay: I think I will first talk about the kind of students which come to the institute. In popular imagination people almost compare it with IIM which invites, attracts certain kinds of students. They feel that FTII is perhaps an institution like that. I will say largely middle class students comes over there but it's not like that people from a certain cities come here. The two regions which really dominates in FTII is one is West Bengal and the other one is Kerala. Now why that happens because both the regions have a strong film practice. They have a tradition of film makers, regional film makers since 1950s, 60s continuously doing film making. So because of that there is a strong film culture over there. There are many film clubs. That's why even from very small small places and regions the students from these particular regions come over there. Now we are consistently trying to spread it out so that we have All India representation. That's why you have a lot of focus you say attracting students from not so, which don't have rigorous tradition of film making. That's why you know some four years back earlier FTII exams used to be held in five or six cities. It was increased to almost fifteen cities you know in very small places like Agartala, like Allahabad. Very small places, the not so metro cities so that students are able to know and give exams in these places. Student council also propose not only in Hindi and English but even in say regional language all those entrance exams should happen. We are consistently doing that. In terms of fees you know because we are very careful what fees the institute charges. There are private institutes even government institutes and national institute of design. If you see their fee structure specially a video course you will see anything between five lakh to fifteen lakh per annum. Now, that's an exorbitant amount. Ordinary student, a lower middle class student won't be able to afford it. That's why consistently we have been putting the pressure on the government, even though there is a lot of pressure on the student that every year the fee should increase they have been saying no. This is a student where a student from a marginal background will come and study and that's why we will not allow you to increase the fees at any cost. FTII has 50 percent of students from non upper caste. More than 50 percent and it has also has teachers from different regions, from different castes. What I am trying to say it is not an institute like IIM which only has a certain kind of people, a certain kind of student coming in. You see, student association is not just concerned about of only protesting in a certain sense. I mean media unfortunately highlights when issue takes place in national imagination. Otherwise, in it's day to day activities it is consistently thinking about what kind of campus it is. What kind of campus it will be in ten years if we don't oppose certain things. In that sense having a large vision about institute and not just opposing A person, B person, C person. Now, let's come to you second question which was about elitism of certain kind of producing films of certain kind which is considered elite. Now, you see it is a travesty of film making in India because we have huge monolith called bollywood which dominates in everybody's imagination in their film viewing practices because of that the regional films made on the margins, the independent films they are not yet taken up in the mainstream they are not discussed much. In the universities they were earlier film clubs used to show these films but now they are absent. So because of that the common persons, the common students may not have been able to engage with these kind of cinema. But there is a larger politics in keeping it elite. A film like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Haata Hain, a film like Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho they are about common people, they about predicament of common people. They talk about the politics of that place. They talk about in what sense individual lives get defined by the larger political forces and it will be very good if say a common person, a working class human being, a dalit family is able to see this films and in that sense question it, rate with it, engage with it and that will be the beauty of Cinema. I mean we as all film practitioners as somebody who had involved with films will want to have a world like that and not just show the films in festivals. But unfortunately, these kinds of space has consistently been reduced in the industry and the only space and I do feel is almost like, I won't say it's a conspiracy but that is the times we live in that the only kind of space which is open for us remains festivals.
Pranjal: Kislay, this would be my last question. If we look at the current government, the practices which it has been following is the similar pattern of putting end to the voices which you are raising. Putting an end to the resistance. So what's the way ahead because the Ministry has told the FTII students that if you don't agree by what we have said you all will be expelled. You will have to leave. So what is the way ahead for FTII students, what's your demand and where is this strike leading towards.
Kislay: See in terms of demand we are very clear that we do want this governing council to be dissolved or at least all the four or five members on whose credibility there is a question mark, who doesn't have a serious body of work they should be removed and then only talk can begin. In terms of our demand we are very clear. Strike will go on until this immediate issues are resolved. Thankfully we have received a lot of support from different organizations across the India. There was a protest in Kozhikode, there was a protest in Thiruvananthapuram. There was a protest in Jadavpur University, a regular march happened in Kolkata. Two days back there was a protest in Delhi. So the cultural organizations political organizations, students, generally they are coming out and supporting us. So you see this has actually touched a chord with people and students across India because they have been seeing how the government has been functioning. So that has already encouraged us a lot. Definitely, till the government accepts our demand still is able to accept it okay we roll this back and also in fact sets up a mechanism so that this random interventions by the government should not happen. Until this is placed I think the strike will go on. This is like a very important movement we have come to and I do feel there is a lot of expectation from the people across you know that his kind of highhandedness by the government have to be opposed. Otherwise, it is going to get worse and worse.
Pranjal: We would like to end here on a positive note that the struggle is the way ahead. Thankyou Kislay for giving us your time as the things proceed we will come back to you. Thank you for watching Newsclick.