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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      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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        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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          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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            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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              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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                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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                  emmy
                  Jul 16, 2015 at 7:09 pm
                  May be Chauhan got through Vyapam
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