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Seen against the hullabaloo that followed the appointment of Gajendra Chouhan as head of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) society, Tuesday passed off quite calmly. Students did not raise the pitch nor did TV channels hold any debates although a decision taken yesterday may have far-reaching consequences for India’s best film school.
The Governing Council meeting held at the Films Division premise in Mumbai was low profile by design. For the first time in recent times, the meeting was held outside the institute campus in Pune, away from the students and the trouble they might have created. The trick succeeded as only two news reporters reached the venue to cover the meet. And none of the students were there to gherao Gajendra Chauhan or shout slogans against the changes they oppose.
What’s The Big Plan?
The Governing Council of FTII, it’s highest decision making body, gave the go-ahead to convert the institute into a Digitial Media University which will conduct about two dozen courses in the fields of films, television and allied arts. The new courses – some of which will be full time courses while others short term modules — include MBA in Media Management and Research; Broadcast Journalism; Advertising; Music Composition; Internet Media and Video Games; Dubbing and Voicing; Make-Up and Hairstyling; Costume Design; Radio Programme Production and Special Visual Effects and Stunts.
It’s important to note that this ‘ambitious’ plan was proposed by B P Singh, creator of the crime investigation series CID who is also an alumni of FTII, and not by contentious President Gajendra Chauhan. Singh was appointed by the Ministry to dilute the opposition to Chauhan as well as four other appointees to the society, who had clear links to the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Singh was appointed as Vice-President of the Governing Council – a deputy to Chauhan – and President of the Academic Council, a post that in the past has invariably been occupied by the President of GC. FTII Society rules had to be modified to accommodate this change.
Since then, Singh has assumed complete charge of the functioning of FTII. And bypassing Chauhan, Singh has held several meetings with the administration, staffers, faculty and students visiting the institute almost every month since his appointment, while Chauhan is yet to visit the institute after his first visit on January 7 when he assumed charge.
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It’s important to mention here that like Chauhan, Singh is not popular with the students and ex-students. Reasons: his belief that the institute should be run with an iron fist, and his idea of future of the institute. In his half a dozen visits to the institute, Singh has repeatedly made it known that students will have no say whatsoever in the functioning of the institute.
This is in complete contrast to the way FTII has functioned for last 55 years. Students (as also ex-students) played an important role in several academic matters including syllabus and choice of visiting faculty. The students’ union has been active in giving voice to contractual teachers, technicians and labourers who often have faced harassment at the hands of the administration. It’s hardly a surprise that the new syllabus which was passed by Chauhan and Singh on Tuesday has been prepared by a Syllabus Review Committee in which students played the most active part, a fact accepted by faculty members and heads of different departments.
“The appointment of Singh was a clever move by the Ministry. They can do whatever they want to do to the institute in his name because being an alumnus provides him a certain legitimacy,” said an ex-student who recently moved to Mumbai after finishing the course from the campus.
The vision plan of the Digital Media University shared by Singh is too sketchy and scant on details for it to be objectively judged. However, the 32-page power point presentation which sketches out Singh’s vision makes apparent the similarities with a 2010 proposal presented by Hewitt Associates – a Gurgaon based firm – about six years ago. The firm employed by the institute to suggest reforms had submitted a draft report in November 2010 making almost identical recommendations.
These recommendation, at the time, were opposed by the students, ex-students and faculty who argued that it aimed to convert the creative space of FTII into a factory to train technicians to enter the commercial film industry in Mumbai. They had also argued that high fee structure for the short duration courses would mean that students from only economically sound backgrounds would be able to afford the institute, thereby replacing the existing diversity of the student community with a uniformity which not only harms the development of a filmmaker’s mind, but will also show in the kind of cinema they will produce. Post this reaction, the then GC headed by veteran director Saeed Mirza had shot down the report as being impractical.
What Are Students Saying?
While the students have maintained their opposition to the latest proposal, it is beyond their powers and influence to stop it. Singh, who is said to have the full backing from the I&B Ministry, is bent on change. Tired by the four month-long strike, the student community is unlikely to come up with a strong response to the proposal.
To implement Singh’s plan will require a huge amount of investment — financial, administrative and academic –- on part of the Ministry which continues to control the institute as its ‘media unit’. In the present state of affairs, the institute is not able to complete the 11 courses it conducts on time. The vacancies are so many that several positions of Heads of Departments are either vacant or occupied by contractual employees and even high offices like that of Dean (Films) and Dean (TV) are occupied by part-timers who hold the position on per day basis.
The administration has said that it will soon form subcommittees that will come up with recommendations and practical solutions to make the Digital Media University a reality.