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Why Indian Film Students Have Been Protesting for More Than a Month

Screenshot from the FTII Press conference video

Screenshot from the FTII Press conference video

Since 12 June 2015, students have been protesting in Pune, India, regarding the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). The post has previously been held by dignitaries like RK Laxman, Shyam Benegal and U.R. Ananthamurthy.

FTII is one of the most prestigious government institutions established in 1960, known for its notable and respected alumni. The longtime perceived neglect of the institution by the current government and previous governments have fuelled student discontent, as well as what protesters say is Chauhan's lack of credentials. Chauhan is most famously known for his work as ‘Yudhishthir’ in the 1980s popular TV serial Mahabharat.

Fatema Kagalwala, a current student of FTII participating in this protest, explains on Campus Diaries Blog:

The credentials of Mr Chauhan and the other four members, show no such connection to or aptitude for the same. Their political affiliation hence becomes worrisome for us.

Chauhan is a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and some speculate that his appointment is a means to extend the party's nationalistic ideology and restrict artistic freedom and expression at the institute. The other four members appointed are: Anagha Ghaisas, Narendra Pathak, Pranjal Saikia and Rahul Solapurkar. All known to have affiliations with the BJP or the hardline Hindu group RSS.

Although to some, such as an ex-student belonging to the 1983 class Bina Paul, believe that the problem runs deeper than meets the eye:

[…] Successive governments have been unable to articulate the need for the institute to continue, the dynamics of the profession itself have changed, film schools have sprung up all over the country, and technology has become available to everybody. But there has been no one within this premiere institute with an ear to the ground. Mantras such as short-term courses and vocational studies have been floated, but the bigger picture has been lost.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting paid heed to the qualms of students and organised a dialogue meeting with them, but did not succeed in justifying its appointment of Chauhan. Oscar winner and former student of FTII Resul Pookutty, who was also a part of this meeting, expressed his disappointment over the current state of things.

Affable support for the protesting students has poured in from both veteran and contemporary actors and other members of the Indian film fraternity like Ranbir Kapoor and Salman Khan. Several social media users have urged transparency and the immediate removal of the recently appointed authorities.

In recent revelations this week, the director of the film institute, D J Narain, issued a warning letter to all students protesting, asking them to end the strike or face expulsion. Undeterred, students continue their fight, calling for a second round of communication between the FTII Student Association and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that leads to a concrete decision. Students from all over India have shown support to FTII in their cause.

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