The ongoing strike by students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, received an impetus when more members of the film industry turned up in their support.
On Friday, GraFTII, the alumni association of FTII, organised a press conference in response to the warning issued to the students that “strong administrative action” that could include rustication would be taken if they didn’t call off the strike. The warning was issued by the institute’s director, D J Narain, whose term ended on Friday.
Among those who turned up were filmmakers Dibakar Banerjee, Sriram Raghavan, Victor Acharya, screenwriter Jaideep Sahni and actor Kalki Koechlin. The students are protesting against the appointment of TV actor Gajendra Chauhan as the chairperson of the FTII society and a few other members as part of its governing council.
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The film industry members explained that focusing on Chauhan’s appointment was steering away from the key issue.
“Chauhan is only part of the bigger problem. If you look at the qualifications of the other recent appointments for the FTII society, such as Anagha Ghaisas, you will know they have been appointed because of their political background. Better options are available for these positions,” said Banerjee, who appealed that the focus of the debate be the larger issue of transparency in the selection process.
The alumni condemned the manner in which the students were being “intimidated”. They said the protests, on since June 12, had been peaceful and the campus was “alive with music, theatre, film and art”. “How else do people in a democracy point out to the government, media and the masses when something wrong is happening,” asked film editor and former FTII student Umesh Gupta.
GraFTII also pointed out that certain erroneous facts were being circulated in the media, such the number of strikes held on the campus over the last few years and the state’s spending on each FTII student. This, they said, was being done to take the focus away from “the pressing issues the students have raised”.
Sahni said there was a growing concern about the issue within the film industry. “The government has shown contempt and ignorance in the manner in which they want to run the institute. You don’t need to teach nationalism in an art institute,” said the acclaimed writer of Chak De! India, referring to the comment by some of the newly elected governing council members on their plans.
It was also clarified that the issue wasn’t to fight against the BJP-led government but to bring in a reform and resolve the long-standing problems at FTII. “We are hoping to work with the government by partnering with them. We all want it to excel. But we can’t move forward if they don’t want to engage in a dialogue,” pointed out National Award winning filmmaker Aruna Raje. The GraFTII members said they were writing to the Prime Minister on the issue.