An actor whose main claim to fame is his role as Yudhistir in the television series Mahabharat may not be in quite the same league as the cinematic icons who have headed the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment to the top post in the FTII has triggered a huge protest from students, leading even former chairman Shyam Benegal to say that the students are jumping the gun and that political affiliations are not the criteria by which the new man should be judged. The fact that several of the newly appointed persons of eminence have Hindutva leanings is also being seen as a negative point, which indeed could be true, if they have no understanding of cinema. To be sure, some of their pronouncements about the need for nationalist sentiments in film and television have not gone down well and are misplaced.
The fact that several of the newly appointed persons of eminence have Hindutva leanings is also being seen as a negative point, which indeed could be true, if they have no understanding of cinema. To be sure, some of their pronouncements about the need for nationalist sentiments in film and television have not gone down well and are misplaced.
The controversy over Mr Chauhan’s appointment raises another issue which deserves some scrutiny. And this is the question of how much influence the FTII has had on popular cinema and television. Despite the Indian film industry being the largest in the world, it has been quite content to churn out formulaic films year after year.
It still needs to go by the usual song-and-dance routine and often implausible story lines to get the box office cash registers ringing. Now and again, a film-maker will veer off the beaten path and make a realistic and gripping film. The FTII has occasionally produced artistes who have made films which have got acclaim at international festivals like Cannes.
But these are few and far between. The quality of our television serials too is nothing to write home about. There was a time long ago and faraway when the FTII produced actors who went on to set the silver screen ablaze. But that does not seem to be happening anymore in a film world dominated by star children.
It is not so much the man or woman at the top that can make or mar the FTII. It needs more funds, it needs a drastic overhaul of its curriculum and its needs to upgrade its techniques and faculty. In other words, it needs to be a prime mover in the way cinema and entertainment television is shaped in the country.
It should be able to produce world-class actors, directors, cinematographers and so on. This is what the students should be fighting for more than the political credentials of the head of the institution who has not had a chance to make his views heard so far.