(This is the English version of an article published on BBC Hindi on September 22, 2015)
The Central government’s unrelenting propaganda against FTII’s striking students and the institution itself hints at a goal that goes beyond ending the current impasse
By Anna MM Vetticad
This week the Central Government is expected to begin “unconditional talks” aimed at ending the strike at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). About time too. In the 100-plus days since protests began against the Centre’s appointments to the prestigious institution – including actor Gajendra Chauhan as FTII Society president – the sarkar has run a blatant misinformation campaign against the striking students.
Apart from being embarrassed by the strike, the government’s antagonism could be attributed to the ruling BJP’s conviction that FTII is a bastion of Communists. The party insists that students would have objected irrespective of who this government had chosen. Facts indicate otherwise. When actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna helmed the institute under the previous BJP-led government, students did not question his appointment. His acceptability came from his eminence in the field of cinema.
Interestingly, government propaganda is also being directed at FTII per se, with the repeated suggestion that it has not produced noteworthy alumni for many decades. Chauhan himself has been widely quoted as saying: “Barring Rajkumar Hirani, the institute has not produced any important artiste.”
In reality, FTII has churned out numerous luminaries. Hirani’s batchmate from 1987, Sriram Raghavan, directed this year’s Hindi hit Badlapur starring Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. In theatres now is the Malayalam hit Premam with which actor Vinay Forrt, from the institute’s 2009 batch, has audiences rolling in the aisles laughing. 2014’s National and international award-winning Marathi film Killa is directed by Avinash Arun, who passed out in 2011, and written by fellow FTII-ian Tushar Paranjpe. The list is endless.
While the government is right in pointing out that the institute is battling major systemic problems (a matter that students themselves have been raising for long), it is insidiously misleading the public about the track record of the institute’s alumni.
A possible motive for this propaganda has been emerging from mainstream and social media commentary by prominent pro-BJP voices. One columnist asked the party to “yank central funding” from FTII and “create a new institution manned by the right kind of academics and intellectuals… friendly to its way of thinking”.
Another alleged that annual government expenditure per student is Rs 13 lakh, four times the amount spent on a student at the Indian Institute of Technology. The figure has since been proved dubious by an RTI application filed by a student, the response to which shows that institute expenses unrelated to the students are being attributed to them (such as a film appreciation course for outsiders, a contest for film schools across India and a contribution to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund).
FTII’s Students’ Association alleged in a press release that during a dialogue on July 3, I&B Minister Arun Jaitley indicated that if they did not end their strike, they could face “shut down and eventual privatisation.” The Ministry has denied this, but film personalities present at the meeting back the students’ version.
Was privatisation on the agenda in June when Chauhan was annointed? After all, a respected artist is unlikely to be as pliable as a non-entity entirely beholden to his sarkari bosses for the post. Besides, most heavyweights might avoid supporting a proposal that has been decried by students and many in the film industry in the past.
The widespread support for the ongoing strike would make it hard for the Ministry to openly propose privatisation for a while now… unless of course it succeeds in convincing tax-payers that the striking students are a talentless, expensive burden on the exchequer and that investment in the future of Indian cinema is a waste of public money.
(Anna MM Vetticad is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. Twitter: @annavetticad)
Link to original column in Hindi:
Note: These photographs were not sourced from bbchindi.com
Related article by Anna MM Vetticad: “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” published in The Hindu Businessline