Actor Gajendra Chauhan, best known for playing the role of Yudhishthir, the eldest Pandava in Mahabharata, was appointed the chairman of India’s premier film institute, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), on June 9. Chauhan is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and his appointment, say students, is a "political appointment," and an incomprehension of the "culture" of the institute.
Gajendra Chauhan succeeds veteran director Saeed Mirza. The announcement has raised Cain, the student community of FTII is on strike, and the film fraternity, left wondering at the selection of an actor whose body of work has included films of questionable taste.
An interview with Gajendra Chauhan:
Please give us a map of your career as an artist.
I am from Delhi. I began my career as an actor in the Eighties. I learnt acting from Roshan Taneja who had been a teacher at FTII. When he left FTII, he opened his academy in Mumbai and I was one of his students. I have acted in both TV and films. My first film was Main Chup Nahi Rahoongi.
What role did you play in your first film?
It was a revenge film about four boys. Four villains actually. I was one of them.
What are the highs of your acting career?
It was Mahabharata. I also did films with directors such as Sunil Darshan, Andaaz with Akshay Kumar, mythologicals like Jai Ma Vaishno Devi in which I was the lead.
You were shortlisted for Krishna in Mahabharata. What happened?
The serial was supposed to start in ’84, it finally did in ‘88. The interval was long, I put on a little weight. So many people were shortlisted in roles they did not ultimately play. Govinda was shortlisted for Abhimanyu, Nitish Bharadwaj who played Krishna was shortlisted for the role of Vidur.
Actors are said to imbibe the traits of characters they play. One of Yudhishthir’s virtues was patience. Over the FTII issue, are you having to channelise much of this quality?
This is a very funny question. No artist is influenced by a role all his life. But I am unable to understanding the meaning of these protests. Ruling parties have always backed people who backed them. One June 9, I got a telephone and was informed of the decision of the Information and Broadcasting ministry.
Are you a BJP member or a volunteer?
I joined the BJP in 2004. My ideology matches that of the BJP. I have campaigned for the party all over the northeast and in Delhi and UP as well.
Have you taken office? Since the protests have you met the students?
I am in Mumbai. I have not joined office. A governing council meeting has to be organised for the formality of taking over to happen. I have no information from the ministry when I should take over. I have not met the students but I have sent an open request through the media that I am ready to meet them and solve their issues, but have got no response.
What will be your top 5 priorities for fixing long-standing problems at FTII?
I have a long list. I will talk about them after I join.
You have had past administrative experience.
I was an executive committee member for 20 years of the Cine and TV Artistes’ Association and its president for a year. We brought in MOUs with producers’ bodies defining terms in favour of artistes, a Tatkal payment, study breaks for child artistes.
The students say their stand is not a personal attack, they are raising questions about the suitability of the selection given that FTII has been headed earlier by legends such as Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal. Benegal’s name was also in the panel of possible candidates this time.
These people got a chance and they became big. Why should the right of performance be taken from me? Students are mixing real life and reel life. They only project my work in films such as Jungle Love, Khuli Khidki, why not talk of Andaaz and Vaishnodevi?
Your next projects?
Brahmanand Naik, which means leader of the universe. It’s a semi-mythological, ie, a social story mixed with a Sai Baba story. There is also Nandan 1920, a thriller, in which I play the role of a jaadu-baba (magician).
Tell us about your personal favourites in cinema.
And in world cinema?
I don’t want to put it on record. I am only involved with Indian cinema.
Read: Nothing wrong with my ideology, says Gajendra Chauhan