The problem with Gajendra Chauhan

Debate over the appointment of the FTII chairman has acquired an elitist hue.

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Updated: July 16, 2015 12:26 am
Gajendra Chauhan, FTII row, Gajendra Chauhan appointment, FTII Gajendra Chauhan appointment, FTII controversy, FTII chairman row, FTII protest Gajendra Chauhan, FTII student protest, pune FTII row, Film and Television Institute of India, FTII news, india news, nation news Some experts even asked Chauhan in television debates about his exposure to international cinema. Must exposure to global cinema be a prerequisite to be FTII chairperson?

As students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) intensify their agitation for the removal of Gajendra Chauhan as chairman of the institute’s governing council, more artistes are joining the chorus. That Chauhan was appointed merely because of his BJP credentials rather than his stature as an actor is indisputable. And, as many are saying, the information and broadcasting ministry’s decision is ill-advised and must be revoked. But the manner in which the debate over Chauhan’s credentials is shaping up and the arguments being made in support of his removal have acquired an elitist hue.

Take, for example, the argument that the seat that was earlier occupied by the likes of Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan cannot go to a person like Chauhan. That his predecessors are eminent persons is well taken, but are Benegal, Gopalakrishnan and Saeed Akhtar Mirza popular filmmakers? Compared to the overwhelming number of cinegoers, the craft of these filmmakers has been seen and appreciated by an extremely small audience. Their films do not resonate with the vast majority, a strange irony considering that their works are realistic and are mostly about the poor sections of society. So should we argue that they didn’t deserve their coveted appointments? Are we arguing in a classist fashion when we cite the names of these great filmmakers?

Of course, Chauhan, whose only claim to fame is his portrayal of Yudhishthir in the tele-epic, Mahabharata, doesn’t even make the popular grade. He gets disqualified even on that count. But, let’s not weaken the argument by citing the names of some undisputedly great — though unpopular — filmmakers.

And how about U.R. Ananthamurthy, another former FTII chairman? What were his cinematic credentials? Why was his appointment not opposed? Because he was a respected figure among artistic elites?

Some experts even asked Chauhan in television debates about his exposure to international cinema. Must exposure to global cinema be a prerequisite to be FTII chairperson? Let’s not forget that some of our best and most talented actors and directors have come from extremely underprivileged and ordinary backgrounds and had no formal training from any institute. Making occupying a position of artistic eminence conditional on some classist notions smells of elitism. If we go by such ideas, then the likes of O.P. Nayyar would never have been allowed to set foot in the film industry because they had no formal understanding of classical music. It is pertinent to mention here what Asha Bhosle once said about him: “We could reproduce only 80 per cent of what Nayyar taught us to sin.” Clearly, the world of art can never be and should never be held hostage to elitist notions of class superiority.

Witness how Chauhan is defending himself. He is not making false claims about his cinematic credentials. He is merely saying that he has been appointed by the government of India and that he will do everything possible to carry out his responsibilities without pushing an ideological agenda. He also asks how his incompetence can be pre-concluded. Isn’t that a fair question to ask?

Chauhan is hardly in a position to win the debate yet — but he is not losing it either. If the government doesn’t budge on his appointment, the civilised response would be to let Chauhan prove his competence — or incompetence. The challenge before FTII students would be to take him on if and when he vitiates the institution’s environment with ideological or political poison. He might not do that after all.

vivek.deshpande@expressindia.com

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  1. T
    TIHAEwale
    Jul 16, 2015 at 5:38 pm
    did we protest Smriti Irani a college dropout as our Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani , so no pointing in protesting against Gajendra Chauhan.
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    1. A
      Achal
      Jul 16, 2015 at 9:31 pm
      Well written article! It is true that elitism and English speaking or international exposure starved insutions have led to nepotism and kept us away from our culture. The country with great tradition of music, dance, drama needs foriegn exposure for holding the post of ftii. There are hundreds of insutions where chairpersons were made from completely different background which they were heading by previous governments but no one went on strike or showed the dissent that scholars per se are showing with this government. It is also true that some Indian insutions under elite have shown degradation. I don't understand why with this government people are not giving time to show its mettle.
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      1. I
        indian
        Jul 16, 2015 at 8:12 am
        RK Laxman and UR Ananthmurthy had no experience at all yet their appoinments not opposed ???? Opposition of Chauhan is political and his appointment must not be revoked.
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        1. a
          amoghavarsha.ii
          Jul 16, 2015 at 11:10 am
          ON what basis were you appointed to IE, was IE doing trial and error as you are suggesting. Did you need credentials to get appointed to IE?
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          1. A
            Anil Girotra
            Jul 17, 2015 at 2:55 am
            So called intellectual community seems biased against Gajendra Chauhan .The guy has not been allowed to take charge and being labelled uncharitably as b grade film actor etc etc.Whether FTII gave excellent actors or directors under so called big FTII directors last several years only film actors making mark are from film families.Also several strikes took place in the FTII in past despite these " intellectual " filmmakers as directors
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            1. A
              Anil Tandale
              Jul 16, 2015 at 9:06 am
              These opiumated opinion makers / critics have hangovers of communist - muslim league ideology to praise poverty, create social divide, support jehadis and maoists by using films as the medium of communication of their prejudiced ideology. These worthies cannot countenance that any other view point has also a right to audience.
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              1. D
                Dibyendu Dutta
                Jul 17, 2015 at 9:40 pm
                A post of a Chairman is not like that of a clerk where you allow a person to take charge and see if he is managing to do XYZ tasks well. A Chairman needs to be well-learned and a visionary person, who connects with what is being taught at the insute. FTII is a place for Film Studies: Social Science and Philosophy of Story Telling globally. It does not dissect Bollywood movies and Saas-bahu dramas and neither does it launch heroes into Bollywood movies, please understand that. It is a place that educates artists on vision, not how to make commercial block busters. If that is being called ELITIST, so be it!
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                1. E
                  emmy
                  Jul 16, 2015 at 7:09 pm
                  May be Chauhan got through Vyapam
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                  1. R
                    Rakesh
                    Jul 16, 2015 at 10:00 am
                    Only BJP die hards will stand by Mr Yudhishter. Its an academic insution which is being saffronised. Leave it out Mr Modi and Mr Shah.
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                    1. V
                      vasant
                      Jul 16, 2015 at 10:35 am
                      UR said he would leave India if Modi becomes PM. Shall I respect a person (sorry he is no more) for his disdain for democracy? What Benegal has said about agitation, please read carefully. Others like Amol Palekar enjo third rate talent in the name of new cinema bringing no laurels. It was Shwas and the likes who brought the name. Look at the agitators, do you see any V Shantaram, or A Bhalaji Pendharkar or Satyajit Ray? They look like ....
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                      1. G
                        GSY
                        Jul 16, 2015 at 9:44 am
                        It's wrong to say that opposition of Mr Gajendra Chauhan is elitist. What about his concept of good cinema. He says that any film that is commercially successful is good cinema. So, he clifies extremely mediocre and offensive films like ' Khuli Khidki ' etc as good cinema because lot of people watch such films.
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                        1. I
                          indian
                          Jul 16, 2015 at 12:02 pm
                          The article's logic is completely flawed - how can a demand for credibility or credentials become elitism ? One needs to be worthy to head an insution. No one opposed Vinod Khanna as the Chairman though he was a BJP MP. Even now if Shatrughan Sinha or Hema Malini or Paresh Rawal were to be nominated, no one would have opposed.
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                          1. I
                            indian
                            Jul 17, 2015 at 1:53 pm
                            What kind of argument is that ? Just because RKL or URA were Chairmen, it does not improve GC's merit to head FTII. Is it wrong for today's students to ask for an illustrious Chairman for FTII just because earlier appointments were not questioned ?
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                            1. R
                              Ravi Kumar Iyer
                              Jul 16, 2015 at 9:49 pm
                              This article is absolute thrash. Having an exposure to international cinema is additional qualification but not a an necessary qualification. Appointing a B- grade actor as chairperson of a film insute is comparable to Chetan Bhagat winning Booker prize instead of a much more talented writer. He was appointed not on the basis of merit but only because he was a member of the ruling party.
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                              1. L
                                Lovely
                                Jul 16, 2015 at 8:44 pm
                                You can try your luck?
                                Reply
                                1. k
                                  k.a.krishna rao
                                  Jul 16, 2015 at 11:37 pm
                                  IN ANY EDUCATIONAL INSUTE, STUDENTS LEARN THEIR SKILLS OR GET THEIR KNOWLEDGE, FROM THE TEACHERS. IN CHRISTIAN INSUTES, IT IS ALWAYS A CHRISTIAN, WHO IS THE HEAD OF THE INSUTE. BUT, FOR GENUINE STUDENTS OF SUCH INSUTE, THIS FACT IS OF NO RELEVANCE TO THEIR ACTUAL STUDIES. THEY LEARN FROM THE TEACHERS AND NOT FROM THE HEAD OF THE INSUTE. THEREFORE , STUDENTS DON'T REALLY BOTHER AS TO WHO THE HEAD IS. THEY KNOW THAT IT WOULD ALWAYS BE A CHRISTIAN, AND THEY CONCENTRATE ON THEIR STUDIES AND GENERALLY DO WELL. ONLY STUDENTS , WHO WANT TO PLAY POLITICS, MAKE AN ISSUE OF SUCH APPOINTMENTS, AS IT IS THE CASE WITH FTII. THE STUDENTS ARE THERE TO LEARN AND THEY SHOULD DO JUST THAT. MEDIA PEOPLE ALWAYS CONDEMNED MODI AND NOW HE IS THE PM AND IS DOING EXTREMELY WELL, NOT WITHSTANDING NDTV,INDIA TODAY,VINOD SHARMA, AAJ TAK, INDIA NEWS, NEWS 24, NEWSX, ABP NEWS ETC. THIS IS ONLY TO SHOW THAT EVEN MUCH-MALIGNED PEOPLE CAN, IN FACT, DO BETTER THAN MANY SO CALLED "DESERVING" PEOPLE. AS AN ADMINISTRATOR, CHOUHAN MAY DO WELL OR BETTER THAN MANY EARLIER HEADS.IF HE DOES NOT DO WELL,HE MAY BE REMOVED AS IN THE CASE OF SADANANDA GOWDA,WHO WAS REMOVED AS RAILWAY MINISTER AND WAS GIVEN THE LAW MINISTRY. MY ADVICE TO THE FTII STUDENTS IS TO STOP DOING POLITICS AND GO BACK TO THE CLROOMS TO LEARN AND LEARN.LET CHOUHAN DO HIS JOB AND LET THE STUDENTS DO THEIRS.
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                                  1. K
                                    Kamal
                                    Aug 21, 2015 at 11:15 am
                                    Serious flaws with the analysis. Are you more people read colonel ranjeet than say Mahadevi Verma. More people have watched Govinda's movies than say naseer ? If not in this case whom will you put in charge of a public funded organisation? Is it an elitist argument?
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                                    1. T
                                      Tomar
                                      Jul 16, 2015 at 9:58 pm
                                      Let us think about it another way. Imagine a person who is an engineer from an unaccredited private college on management quota. This person has not even done any notable engineering job after ping out from the college. Legally, this person can be appointed as the director of IIT by the government. Would this be acceptable? Elitism is bad at the entry level. When poor students can't get into IITs because of lack of coaching, that is elitism of IITs. But for top positions, elitism is actually a necessity. You cannot make an unproven person head of prestigious insutes, just like you cannot make an unproven person the PM.
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                                      1. K
                                        Kishore
                                        Jul 16, 2015 at 9:04 am
                                        Please give me the position of RBI Governor..let me perform...later you can judge...pls don't prejudge me..on credentials..on competency..unless you try me you do not know.....
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                                        1. M
                                          MajMaverik
                                          Jul 16, 2015 at 7:15 pm
                                          I completely agree with you - opposition to appointment is not about "elitism" but about "merit" - a factor for which we Indians have scant respect : sifarish, paisa, brown-nosing always trump merit & society pays the price. Working in "Khuli Khidki" & "Mahabharata" actually are evidence of the consistency-less amoral post-colonial psyche that VS Naipaul described so effectively in his book "India : An Area of Darkness". India has many "acting-finishing schools" that charge exorbitantly, are based in Mumbai & teach amongst other things - how to master dance steps, & how to ride a horse bare-back on the beach ! Mr. Chauhan is well-qualified to be the Director of one of those. Let the government replace him with Shatrughan Sinha or Vinod Khanna.
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                                          1. M
                                            Manoj
                                            Jul 16, 2015 at 7:58 pm
                                            Does anyone get a job without proving their competence and credentials through resumes, interviews etc? It is a strange argument from Chauhan and his supporters that in his case, he should be given the job first and then be allowed to prove his competence. Vivek - when you joined IE, did they hire you without asking for your resume and interviewing you?? Did they not interview other candidates and selected you because you proved to them that you are more competent?? Do o you see the fallacy in your argument? Also nobody is comparing benegal and gopalakrishnan with chauhan based on their pority. Ftii chairmanship is not a pority contest. They are being compared because they were among the best in their fields.
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