Students of the premier Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) announced on Thursday they would continue with their protests over actor Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as chairperson despite the school director’s
threat to rusticate
them if they did not call off their stir.
Nearly 150 students have been protesting over Chauhan’s appointment for a little more than a month, saying he lacks the "stature and vision" to head the Pune-based institution and has been appointed because of his political leanings. They say the work of the actor, a BJP member best known for his role of Yudhisthira in TV epic Mahabharata, is “irrelevant” to what is taught at the FTII.
“We will continue with our protests. We stand united against attempts to quell the protest,” Vikas Urs, a protesting student and secretary of the FTII Students' Association, told HT.
“The threat to rusticate us is very sad. And this comes at a critical point of time when we were expecting a closure in the matter through talks. We are saddened and depressed by the notice.”
The students said they expect another round of dialogue with the government after no breakthrough in earlier meetings with information and broadcasting ministry officials.
Did not speak ill of Rishi Kapoor, Anupam Kher: Gajendra Chauhan
Their announcement came a day after FTII Director J Narain’s letter to the student’s association saying that strong administrative action, including rustication, would be taken if the students did not call off the strike immediately.
“The notice threatening to rusticate the students is good in a way because it exposes the fact that the government wants to quell our dissent using undemocratic means,” said Kislay Gonzalvez, a former student participating in the protests.
“Now that public opinion and sympathy is with the students, hence the government is scared and wants to end our protest without addressing our concerns.”
The FTII controversy is one in a string of such rows involving the appointment of people with close ties to the BJP or its ideological fountainhead, the RSS, to premier bodies such as the censor board or the Indian Council of Historical Research, triggering allegations that the government is trying to influence academic and cultural institutions to peddle its agenda.
Eminent film personalities including director Adoor Gopalakrishnan, actors Anupam Kher, Rishi Kapoor and Amol Palekar have also voiced their opposition over Chauhan's appointment.
But Chauhan has been unfazed by criticism and has maintained he would like to continue as the head of the institute. He has said he was appointed on the merit of the 34 years he has spent in showbiz, but critics say many of his films such as Jungle Love, Khuli Khidki and Vasna are B-grade.
His supporters maintain that Chauhan should be given a chance before making a judgment on his capabilities. They say students should focus on other problems faced by the FTII such as lack of technical infrastructure instead of raising a hue and cry over Chauhan’s appointment.
While the protest against Chauhan’s appointment has hogged the limelight, students are also opposing the appointment of four of governing council’s eight members -- Dr Narendra Pathak, Anagha Ghaisas, Pranjal Saikia and Rahul Solapurkar -- under the ‘Persons of Eminence’ category. They say all four have strong pro-Hindu leanings.
(The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990 )