Updated: June 16, 2015 12:00:16 am
Is the Film and Television Institute of India an incubator for the best of India’s visually creative talent, or should it impart artisanal training to prospective propagandists? The clash of diametrically opposed views about the nature and function of creativity is at the heart of the epic disaster now playing at the premier film training institute in Pune, where students have rejected the political appointment of Gajendra Chauhan. His appointment as president is perceived to owe less to his prowess in cinema than to his membership of the BJP, which has given him some prominence in cultural affairs. Other contenders reportedly shortlisted by the ministry of information and broadcasting included veteran filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal, and Gulzar, who is also a lyricist, poet and author. Chauhan is best known for his small screen role as Yudhishthir, the eldest Pandava. The FTII president is expected to be a practitioner of stature who can guide and inspire creativity at the institute.
Besides, four out of eight “persons of eminence” appointed to the FTII Society also have pronounced RSS connections. They are as problematic as Chauhan, for they believe that film students should be equipped with a strong sense of nationalism along with the necessary creative skills. These are people apparently so remote from the creative process that they think it can be press-ganged for political agendas. Their appointment to the FTII, which the government hopes to make an institution of national importance, can do enormous disservice to the institution and to Indian cinema and television, two visibly successful industries and brand ambassadors for India abroad. The FTII has been headless since Saeed Akhtar Mirza left in March 2014. Having given itself more than a year to seek a successor, surely the government could have done better.
The BJP seems to be committing the very sin that it has always accused the Congress and the Left of: stuffing academic and cultural organisations with political appointees. This revenge tragedy will bring in no dividends, since every attempt at appropriation devalues institutions. The appointment of Y.S. Rao as chair of the Indian Council of Historical Research a year ago, shortly after the NDA government took office, had reignited fears about the saffronisation of academia. The appointment of Mukesh Khanna, who has played Bhishma on TV, to head the Children’s Film Society, once more stoked those fears. Chauhan’s appointment establishes that they were not misplaced.
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