Students of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune have launched an indefinite strike to protest against the government’s decision to appoint BJP member Gajendra Chauhan, who played Yudhishthir in the TV series “Mahabharat”, as its president.
The Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry appointed Chauhan as the president and chairman of FTII’s governing council. The move comes about five months after the government was accused of stuffing the censor board with BJP members or supporters.
Students described the move as “arbitrary” and a “political” appointment while noted filmmaker Jahnu Barua, an FTII alumnus, said it was a “matter of concern”. On Friday, the students skipped classes, practicals, diploma film work and shut down the campus by not letting the canteen and other facilities work.
They also expressed their disapproval through graffiti on the walls such as “Gajendra resign and leave”, “Dharmaraj Yudhishthir? No Way!” and “Politics or FTII, both can’t go together”.
“We have decided to continue with the protest,” said Harishankar Nachimuthu, a student of the direction course. Attempts to reach FTII’s administration were not successful.
Chauhan was picked ahead of lyricist Gulzar and filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who were learnt to have been shortlisted by the ministry for the top job, The Indian Express reported.
He replaced noted director Saeed Mirza, whose term ended in March 2014.
The government this week also named actors Vidya Balan and Pallavi Joshi, filmmakers Raju Hirani and Jahnu Barua and cinematographer Santosh Sivan as members of the FTII’s reconstituted governing council.
Barua and Sivan reportedly declined to join the panel. The Hindustan Times could not independently verify if they had turned down the positions.
Chauhan, who has served as the joint convenor for culture in the BJP, was appointed FTII’s president on June 9. His name had also been in the reckoning for the post of chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification, which was bagged by filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani.
Chauhan’s term will be for three years. Chauhan is best known for playing Yudhishthir in the popular TV series Mahabharata made by BR Chopra. He has been a special invitee to the BJP's national executive council.
According to students at the FTII, their protest was not against Chauhan alone but also against the way he was appointed. “We want the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to clarify what was the method in the appointment of the new FTII chief,” said Nachimuthu.
Other students, who did not want to be named, said the institute needs someone who can take the FTII through a time of transition in the field of digital technology and syllabus. The students said the FTII should be able to handle this change with efficiency.
Established in 1960, FTII has been India’s premier film institute that has produced many prominent film personalities.
Noted screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, who teaches at the FTII, said, “FTII is the best institute for cinema and is going through a phase where it needs a visionary. He (Chauhan) is an inappropriate choice. He has no experience, thoughts and vision about education in cinema.”
National Award-winning filmmaker Barua said he had “reservations” about the appointment. “I have nothing personal against Chauhan. But his appointment is a matter of concern. All well-wishers of the institute expect it to be headed by a stalwart. If that doesn’t happen, people don’t like it,” he said.
Referring to the protests against his appointment, Chauhan told media, “I got to know about it from social media and it seems that my appointment is being called political. But they don’t know that I have spent only 10 years in BJP and 35 years in the film industry.”