Updated: July 20, 2015 12:41:44 am
Just two months ago, overlooking the French Riviera, I was being congratulated by the minister of state for information and broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, for making the country proud — my film, Chauthi Koot was screened at the official competition at Cannes. The minister went on to ask me and my French co-producer for suggestions to improve the quality of films produced in India. Like enthusiastic kids, we started rattling off suggestions: more state funding for independent films and international co-productions, with special emphasis on nurturing debut filmmakers; domestic distribution and exhibition support for independent films; improving the quality of a festival like the International Film Festival of India, Goa; revitalising institutions like the FTII and the national film archives, etc. The minister asked us to put these down in writing.
Two months later, with a veteran actor saying the FTII has gone to the dogs and a ruling party spokesperson questioning the achievements of the institute, I would like to inform the minister that this filmmaker, who made him proud standing on the French coastline, is a graduate of the FTII. As are the many technicians who worked on my film, including the cinematographer and sound recordist, whose work received critical acclaim at the festival. The other Indian film in the official selection at Cannes, Masaan, also happens to have been shot by a highly talented recent graduate from the FTII, Avinash Arun, whose directorial debut, Killa, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and won an award. The highly acclaimed film, Court, which won the top prize in the Orrizonti section at the Venice Film Festival last year and numerous other awards, happens to have been shot by my classmate from the FTII. If I were to start compiling a list of FTII graduates whose films, fiction, documentary and shorts, have been showcased and appreciated at international film festivals in the recent past — or won national awards — it would be endless. Even if one were to look at mainstream popular cinema, the biggest blockbuster of the previous year was by an FTII graduate, Rajkumar Hirani.
I am citing examples of contemporary films because those from the past are too well known to doubt the contribution of the FTII to Indian cinema. If the New Wave of the 1970s was founded on state funding to recent graduates, the current new wave is riding as strongly on young FTII-ians who bring a sensibility nurtured by exposure to world cinema, both historical and contemporary, and their search for new paradigms of expression. This can only happen in an atmosphere where students are free to question “majoritarianism”. It requires an acute awareness of the world and one’s surroundings and an insight into what’s right or wrong in its evolution to be able to make the kinds of films that get noticed on the world stage. And along with this, extreme sensitivity to sensory experiences and emotional maturity. It’s no child’s play. Neither is protesting to keep alive this kind of questioning and nurturing space.
It’s no surprise that students are aghast at the appointment of a cultural novice to head this premier institute. They rightly see this as an assault on their artistic sensibilities and a degradation of the idea of arts education. It’s akin to picking up a roadside medicine tout to head an institution like Aiims. Is the government saying that the FTII is a worthless institution that only deserves the likes of Gajendra Chauhan to head it? Or could it not find a person of higher intellectual calibre related to the world of arts and films? Or, in its eyes, do Chauhan’s achievements constitute real art?
That the FTII has a multitude of problems is no secret. Its biggest problem has been a lack of quality teachers who can mentor and inspire. Institutes are not built on buildings and equipment, but nurtured by minds who bring out individual creativity. And when the government imposes on them a head who is not only symptomatic of this gap but actually aggravates it, one can only sympathise with the students’ angst.
The writer, a national award winner, is director of ‘Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan’ and ‘Chauthi Koot’
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