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Why Anupam Kher faces an uphill task as FTII chairman

The appointment of the 62-year-old thespian as the FTII chairman was a brave move, given how the government met with nationwide protests over Gajendra Chauhan.

india Updated: Nov 06, 2017 08:21 IST
Yogesh Joshi
Noted film personality Anupam Kher has been appointed as the chairperson of Film and Television Institute of India on October 11.
Noted film personality Anupam Kher has been appointed as the chairperson of Film and Television Institute of India on October 11.(AMAL KS / HT File)

The BJP-led central government’s decision to appoint noted film personality Anupam Kher as chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has evoked a mixed reaction on its campus.

This time, the mood was decidedly different from what it was like in July 2015, when the government named Gajendra Chauhan – best known for his portrayal of Yudhishtira in television epic Mahabharata – as the head of the prestigious institute.

A section of the respondents (mostly members of student bodies) were unhappy with the decision, although they were unable to come up with a proper explanation for their dissatisfaction. Others were overjoyed because they believed Kher, with his colourful cinematic career, was the most appropriate person to helm the 61-year-old institute.

The actor-administrator was joyed too. After arriving at the campus on becoming chairman, Kher said, “Forty years ago, I came to this place as a student. This is the place where I learned how to face a camera and at NSD I learned how to act.”

The appointment of the 62-year-old thespian as the FTII chairman was a brave move, given how the government met with nationwide protests over Chauhan. It undid some of the damage to the Information Broadcasting ministry’s image, but many still remained disgruntled.

Protests are nothing new on the seemingly tranquil FTII campus. Only a few chairmen and directors did not face resistance from students in the past. Kher, of course, is no exception.

Within hours of his appointment, the campus witnessed a fresh flashpoint that triggered yet another controversy. Around 47 FTII students from the film wing of the 2016 batch decided to boycott the dialogue exercise, a mandatory part of the third-semester project, after the administration refused to extend it to three days per batch instead of two.

A week later, Kher – who also runs a private film school in Mumbai – asked the administration to accommodate the students’ demand. The move paid off, with students deciding to call off their boycott and return to academics.

An open letter that the FTII students association wrote to the veteran actor even before he assumed office reflected several concerns. They raised nine broad issues, such as short-term courses launched by the FTII; money spend on events at the cost of infrastructure; classes being cut down in the new syllabus; light-men being reduced to contractual labourers; and inadequate resources for finishing courses on time.

“If we start on a positive note, we will achieve what we have to achieve,” said Kher on October 16, the day he took charge. Acting on his promise, the actor began his stint on a positive note by going beyond the mere symbolism of having lunch with students at the FTII mess. However, he may need to do more to bridge the gap between students and the administration.

Kher has taken over at a time when the FTII is undergoing a transformation that hinges largely on a plan to convert it into a holistic institute offering a varied range of subjects related to cinema and digital media. As many former directors faced opposition from the students to the very idea of change in the years gone by, ensuring that FTII undergoes a smooth transition to its new avatar is unlikely to be anything short of a challenge.

The institute admitted fresh students this year for the first time since 2015. Despite strong opposition, it also introduced a new syllabus that aims to complete courses in a time-bound manner and prevent backlog. Through this, the FTII has brought in a new choice-based credit system for annual assessment that would primarily evaluate the weightage of learning in various courses.

The students, in their letter to Kher, opposed most of the changes introduced in the last few months. “Dear Sir, you must be busy taking congratulatory messages, but we would like to bring your attention to the following issues persisting in the iconic institute that you will be heading as chairman. Also, we are curious to know your take on these issues,” the letter said, before listing out all the issues.

The new syllabus found a prominent place in the letter. “(It) has issues like workshops and classes being arbitrarily cut down from the syllabus during the course of the semester. Confusion exists even among the faculty on the new credit-based system. It has been a year since the syllabus has been in place. Hence, a proper audit of the new syllabus has to be done, and such issues need to be rectified,” it said.

When asked to comment on these issues, Kher – on his first visit to the campus – said: “Students come here to learn. If they have issues that need addressed, I want to be the facilitator. I want to be the person who wants to take their point of view to the authorities.”

Another issue raised by students pertained to the short courses launched by the institute at various places across the country. “The country’s premier film institute, which is meant to impart learning on different aspects of filmmaking, is now slowly being turned into an establishment that runs short-term crash courses for generating funds,” said FTII Students’ Association president Robin Joy.

The administration, however, defended itself by stating that the courses in question are being offered at a much cheaper rate than those at private institutes. “We are offering these courses across the country, including the northeast and places like Ladakh, with the objective of providing film and direction-related skills to people from far-off areas. The fee is very less,” said FTII director Bhupendra Kainthola.

FTII’s present plans are in line with a 2010 report submitted by Hewitt Associates. To make the institute self-reliant, the Gurgaon-based firm had prescribed introducing expensive short and long-term courses. The issue of funding became even graver after a recent report tabled by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the Lok Sabha claimed that non-completion of courses by FTII students has caused a loss of Rs 11.83 crore to the exchequer.

It is for Kher now, to restore the lost glory of FTII and keep students involved in academic activities.

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