Why appointing the redoubtable Anupam Kher as FTII head is a smart move

Unlike his predecessor Gajendra Chauhan, no one can point a finger at Anupam Kher’s credentials. But before expressing relief or congratulating Smriti Irani for making the right choice, we should also ask who the other FTII Society members are and why their names haven’t been made public.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Updated: October 16, 2017 11:21 am
anupam kher, ftii chairman, gajendra chauhan, ftii, ftii society, award wapsi, bjp, ministry of broadcast, Film and Television Institute of India, Narendra Pathak, Anagha Ghaisas,  Anupam Kher, the new Chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

The announcement last week that the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) would have a new chairman and that this man would be the noted film personality Anupam Kher, amply showed that the Information & Broadcasting ministry has learnt a few lessons from the Gajendra Chauhan fiasco of 2015.

Now the FTII has all the credentials and more that people have talked about over the years : India’s premier film institute, a fine global institution, ahead of the curve in the visual arts, out-of-the-box thinkers and filmwallahs, etc etc etc. Couldn’t the Narendra Modi government have found anyone else than a little-known film artiste like Gajendra Chauhan, everyone asked. Both shock and awe which followed in various measures – shock that a second-rater like Chauhan would head FTII and awe that the Modi government had actually thought they might get away with this incredibly lower life appointment – soon gave way to outrage. How Could They?

Well, they certainly had. But the clamour, instead of subsiding as the BJP’s cultural czars might have thought, grew and grew. The government, despite criticism from all quarters, including within the party, refused to budge. A man of such modesty with so much to be modest about – that much was acknowledged – but he would head the FTII. The BJP dug its heels in.

Sooner or later, something had to give. The “award wapsi” campaign was certainly triggered by the Gajendra Chauhan appointment as writers and artists across the country began to return their parchments of official recognition to the state. Nayantara Sahgal was the first, or was she? Soon, the trickle had grown into a deluge. The government’s image within and outside India took a severe beating.

Now Anupam Kher’s nomination is not fully devoid of controversy either as there will always be cantankerous and perpetually dissatisfied people who will blame the BJP for appointing one of its ‘un-official spokesperson’ to the post. Others may cite his firebrand speeches against what he has dubbed the “intolerance brigade” as well as the time he posted two-decade-old pictures of mutilated bodies of Kashmiri Pandits on Twitter. Some may point to a potential case of conflict of interest as the 62-year-old thespian runs his own acting school.

Certainly, though, no one can point a finger at Anupam Kher’s credentials. Love him or hate his politics, you cannot disagree that the man’s artistic skills must be reckoned with. And as has been seen in last four days, when you can’t question the person’s credentials, the steam in the opposition soon evaporates.

But the manner in which Kher’s nomination was announced shows that the Ministry has learnt its lessons in more than one way.

It was hardly noticed that the FTII Society doesn’t only consist of a President. In fact, the President is supposed to head the society comprising of about 20 members, half of which are ex-officio and usually belong to the I&B ministry’s various media units such as the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Films Division and so on. The rest, about eight to ten members, are eminent personalities from the field of cinema, television and the arts, also appointed by the Ministry much like its President.

In 2015, besides Gajendra Chauhan as President, four “controversial” appointments were made to the FTII Society, including Narendra Pathak, ex-president ABVP, Maharashtra and Anagha Ghaisas who acknowledged she is “100 per cent RSS”.

This time around the Ministry has not announced the names of nominated members at all. Those in the know say this is unprecedented. Every time the FTII Society is re-constituted, the nominations for President as well as members are made simultaneously. But so far the Institute is yet to receive any communication from the Ministry in this regard. Ministry officials refuse to talk about the issue. FTII Director said he had “no idea” when the Institute will receive information about other nominations on the Society. Kher himself refused to answer the question.

There could be two reasons for this. One, the nominations of members have not yet been made. Two, the appointments have been made, but the Ministry is unsure how student community and media will react when they were announced.

If the reason belongs to the first category, it shows the Ministry is being extra cautious. It shows that it wants to gauge the public reaction by announcing the Chairman’s name first and use this feedback before making the rest of the nominations public. Since a majority of reactions that followed the appointment have been positive and the even the students’ body at FTII has been forced to accept that there can be “no questions about Kher’s credentials”, the Ministry may be bolstered to experiment with the rest of the nominations.

If it’s the second category and there are indeed some surprises in store, the plan seems to be to let the media and students have their semi-outrages over Kher and then discreetly make the rest of the nominations without announcing them publicly. This strategy seems to be working as hardly anyone seems to have noticed so far. But it can’t work forever, because the names will become apparent once the first meeting of the FTII Society is convened.

Whichever the case, those closely involved with the Institute are relieved to see the moves to re-constitute the FTII Society. Earlier, there were indications that the Ministry was finding it much more convenient to run FTII directly through a Director – as it has been doing for the last seven months — and would like to keep it that way, rather than re-constituting the Society which is autonomous and independent with little control of the Ministry.

 

Atikh Rashid works with the Pune edition of the Indian Express newspaper. He tweets @taubaTOFsingh

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