No institute for a stooge

No institute for a stooge
Stasis is a Greek phrase which may refer to a state of stability, in which all forces are equal and opposing, and therefore they cancel out each other. In political history, however, stasis is defined by Thucydides, as a set of symptoms indicating an internal disturbance in both individuals and states. For long, India’s centres of academic and vocational excellence seemed to be in a state of perpetual stasis. There was not much progress, but there was not much regression either. To be fair, during the previous UPA-2 regime, it was amply clear to seasoned educationists that no real progress was being made as far as institutes of higher learning were concerned. The status quo was being retained because when lethargy sets in that is the easiest route to take. Fast forward to the present day scenario and even the aforementioned status quo is under threat. 

In fact, it is safe to say that what we are witnessing is unnecessary meddling and an erosion of the autonomy of such institutions. The most recent controversy revolves around the parachuting of Gajendra Chauhan into the quaint campus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. Barely had Chauhan occupied his seat that a vociferous protest broke out and quickly escalated into a strike. The students of the FTII have been on a strike since June 12, protesting the ad-hoc appointments to top posts, including Chairman and others, with dubious credentials and affiliations.

A lot of commentators on this issue have argued that since Gajendra Chauhan is a card carrying Bharatiya Janata Party supporter he is automatically disqualified from heading an institution as important and hallowed as the FTII. This argument does not possess much merit considering that supporting a political party is not a deterrent to election/selection in any way. What is problematic, however, is the fact that Chauhan’s resume is cleaner than M Venkaiah Naidu’s starch white mundus. In other words, Chauhan’s resume has nothing remarkable on it to merit him leading an institution where Ritwik Ghatak taught once. Proof of Chauhan’s ‘illustrious’ career is not hard to come by.

Log on to YouTube and one discovers that the highlight reel of Gajendra Chauhan’s career is now one of the top trends on the video sharing site. In fact, one could argue that being a YouTube personality is Chauhan’s greatest role after the role of Yudhishthir. In a career allegedly spanning two decades, Chauhan has starred in epic films like Jungle Love and Khuli Khidki (open window). One of <g data-gr-id="68">the most hilarious</g> snapshots of his career is to see Chauhan endorsing an “<g data-gr-id="69">asli</g> <g data-gr-id="70">ratno</g> <g data-gr-id="71">se</g> <g data-gr-id="72">jada</g> <g data-gr-id="73">sarvabadha</g> <g data-gr-id="74">mahakavach</g>” (roughly translated as studded with real gems all obstacle <g data-gr-id="75">megarmour</g>). Dressed in a red sherwani, probably borrowed from a wedding scene he was shooting, Chauhan asserts emphatically, “<g data-gr-id="76">kaha</g> <g data-gr-id="77">jaata</g> hai ki <g data-gr-id="78">mann</g> <g data-gr-id="79">mein</g> <g data-gr-id="87">ho</g> agar <g data-gr-id="80">astha</g>, <g data-gr-id="81">toh</g> band <g data-gr-id="82">darwaaze</g> <g data-gr-id="83">mein</g> <g data-gr-id="84">bhi</g> <g data-gr-id="85">milega</g> <g data-gr-id="86">raasta</g>”(it is said that if one has devotion in one’s mind, then even closed doors suddenly reveal hidden ways). This is not all. At one point, he is seen endorsing rape and murder accused Asaram Bapu vigorously. That Chauhan was a tele-brand salesman and brand ambassador of corrupt <g data-gr-id="88">godmen</g> is perhaps not revealing. What is revealing is that he intrinsically seems to think that he is fit to lead an august filmmaking institution just because he has been a career political lackey and stooge.

Within a week, the protest against his appointment has received consistent support from the film fraternity. Illustrious film personalities such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli, Anand Patwardhan, Sriram Raghavan, Rakesh Sharma and Ajita Suchitra Veera have expressed their solidarity with the students. Not surprisingly, a large number of student bodies such as the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), All India Students’ Association (AISA), Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union (JNUSU), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Jadavpur University, National School of Drama (NSD) and several others have joined hands with them, some even holding marches and shutdowns for the cause. There is much more to this, a general all-pervading concern that is not confined to just FTII.

The disagreement between students and authorities may not be the ideal state of affairs, but it is a very important state for the evolution of learning. Disagreement brings in new critical thought as a challenge to old ones and keeps the momentum of search going. This is one of the ways in which the stasis of learning processes is challenged. Without search, there can be no learning and without questions there can be no search.

On one level, we have to thank the students of the institution who have stood up against the gradual deterioration in the film institute’s standards. The institute suffers from rampant overcrowding in its hostels, a directionless syllabus, a lack of modern technology and equipment and finally a whimsical selection process. Quick fixes will not work. 

A passion and commitment to serious cinema and pedagogical practice are required. To revive FTII, a lightweight like Gajendra Chauhan will just not do. When Chauhan was appointed as the chairman of FTII, little did his political masters know that his appointment would cause an avalanche of reaction. It is <g data-gr-id="56">high</g> time his political masters heeded the clarion call of the students and resolved this issue decisively.

Nikhil Thiyyar

Nikhil Thiyyar

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