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FTII Class of '04 raring to go

FTII's first acting batch in 28 years is ready to graduate. Saibal Chatterjee assesses their chances.

india Updated: May 08, 2006 15:39 IST

This May, the lives of 18 young aspiring actors could change forever – and so could a bit of Bollywood.

These boys and girls constitute the first batch of acting students to graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 28 years. They are due to perform a play in Mumbai this Saturday and Sunday in a bid to showcase their talent before the bigwigs of Bollywood.

These youngsters, drawn from different parts of the country, entered the Pune institute in 2004, when the long dormant acting course was revived, with Naseeruddin Shah providing inputs to the design of the training programme and Ravi Baswani assuming charge of the course.

Minor hiccups apart, it’s been a smooth ride for the Class of 2004. Two of the selected students had to be weeded out because they were found wanting, while Baswani himself quit mid-stream to be replaced by another veteran Bollywood comic actor, Paintal.

The upheavals are now firmly in the past and all that this batch of young actors is interested in doing currently is looking ahead. Opportunity is knocking at their doors. The play that they are staging in Mumbai is Talghar, a three-hour adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths, and each of the 18 aspirants are likely to get the time and space to make a lasting impression.

Bollywood actors Jaya Bachchan and Paintal are both former students of Films and Television Institutre of India.

The play was first staged at the institute before an audience of 400 people. But the Mumbai performances, at the Bandra Rangsharda, are expected to attract upwards of 2000 people, including some of the biggest Bollywood filmmakers and stars.

These aspiring actors, who are currently engaged in a course-ending workshop in Pune with established filmmakers, will also be involved in two one-hour diploma films designed to provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate their wares. They are on a strong wicket, having been trained by the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Subhash Ghai, Benjamin Gilani and Raza Murad, among many others.   

The last batch of actors to leave the portals of FTII was way back in 1978. In its heydays, the institute gave the Mumbai film industry many of its finest actors and brightest stars – Om Puri, Jaya Bhaduri, Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Shatrughan Sinha, Satish Shah, Tom Alter, Mithun Chakraborty, Danny Denzongpa, Suresh Oberoi, to name just a few.

The discontinuation of FTII’s acting course led to a vacuum in Bollywood. Stars were available at every street corner, but true-blue actors were difficult to come by. So the industry turned to graduates from the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi, besides sundry teaching shops in Mumbai and the national capital. The success achieved in recent years by several NSD-trained actors like of Anupam Kher, Irrfan Khan and Rajpal Yadav and Barry John protégés such as Shahrukh Khan and Manoj Bajpai has repeatedly established the importance of formal education in the craft of acting.

With the FTII acting course is back to feed Bollywood’s insatiable need for young actors, the industry’s leading lights, therefore, have reason to be happy. It is rumoured that one of the boys from the Class of 2004 has already been able to secure a five-film contract from a leading Bollywood director. Do not be surprised if many of his batchmates follow him into the reel world with the same intent.