Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Agitation at Film and Television Institute of India

[Note: This Reportage was published in CRITIQUE, Vol-1, Issue-3. Critique is a Quarterly brought out by the Delhi University Chapter of New Socialist Initiative (NSI)]

Prateek Vats


Set up in 1961 with the aim of promoting good alternative cinema and setting new standards in film-making both aesthetically and technically, the Film and Television Institute of India has provided free space for thinking and learning to generations of would be film-makers. Over and above setting critical benchmarks for the film industry while nourishing it with highly professional and focused people, specialised in various aspects of film-making, FTII resonates in the halls of world cinema with its sensitive understanding of life and film as a post-industrial art practice. Along with the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), the Films Division and the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), it has played a crucial role in the creation, preservation and propagation of our cross cultural heritage through the medium of cinema.

Market forces, mounting over the past five decades, have plagued the Institute regularly. Almost in apology of FTII’s founding Nehruvian plan, various governments have, on more occasion than one, shown active interest to withdraw its support from the running of the Institute. Crisis is not a stranger to us. This could only happen once academic interests became slaves to a numb blindness and indifference parading in the name of marketability. Cynical opportunism and short-sightedness prefer instant lotteries to lasting values. Constant hikes in fee structure and the recent trend of launching exorbitantly priced short term, ‘industry oriented’ courses without any corresponding increase in the physical and intellectual infrastructure, are cases in point. In recent times, repeated attempts have been made to change/re-cast the independence, concerns, structure and functioning of the Institute. The crumbling globalised economy, its gambles and disasters have only pressed on harder to turn the Institute into a mere profit machine. We are witness today to a complete subversion of FTII, its cultural death imminent like most of its counterparts across the country. 


Over the years, students have raised their voice regarding demands of transparency, inspiring work climate, academic inputs and an overhaul in the failing infrastructure. The authorities have systematically thwarted all such attempts by conveniently bypassing all democratic processes. This has not only preserved status quo, but also swept under the carpet the petty and ambitious autocratic misdeeds piling up over the years. Citing vague dictates in the name of the I&B Ministry, the authorities have time and again tried to create miscommunication and prejudice between the ministry/governing bodies and students. 

Early in 2010, the authorities hired Hewitt Associates, Gurgaon, to do a study on what was dubbed as an "upgradation of FTII to international standards”. On clarifying about the premise of the study, students were told that it was being done to look into the pending issues of the Institute. The arbitrary appointment of the company along with ad hoc manner of their functioning raised a number of doubts regarding the intent of the study. The DPR prepared by Hewitt Associates clearly reflects actual premise of making the Institute self-reliant/profit-generating instead of having anything to do with the prevalent scenario. In essence it lays down a blue print for the government to withdraw all support from the Institute. 

Following prolonged agitation by the students, the authorities admitted to certain fundamental flaws in the methodology of preparing the report. Students were assured by the Joint Secretary (films), The Chairman, Director and the Registrar that there was no 'hidden agenda' of disinvestment. A group of about forty filmmakers, ex-students and artists was formed to deliberate on the DPR over a two-day workshop. 

This workshop took place on the 29th and 30th of September 2010. Within the course of the discussion the DPR was found to be thoroughly unsatisfactory. Citing the fundamental lack of understanding and a flawed methodology used for preparing the report, the workshop passed a resolution regarding the dropping of the DPR. The members present also advocated the setting up of a national level panel for doing a study regarding the various prevailing issues. 


Over due course of dialogues at various levels, it became amply clear that the concerned authorities were just buying time without making any real reconsiderations about the report. Realizing that all the available constitutional platforms were being systematically subverted, the students went on an agitation by trying to arouse national opinion on the crisis faced by FTII as symptomatic of the relentless neoliberal assault on higher education in the country. The agitation consisted of sit-ins, letter campaigns, and associating with other cultural organizations, civil liberty rights groups, student organizations and numerous filmmakers, artists, writers etc. Some of the leading film schools like FAMU (Prague), EICTV(Cuba) sent in their support letters strongly urging the Government to reconsider their proposed plans. The overwhelming pressure generated from within the Institute (the entire staff association with some members of the faculty openly supported he students association during the agitation) and from outside (ex-students, filmmakers, artists, academicians etc) peaked when Mr.P.K.Biju, an MP from Alathur, Kerela made a speech in the Parliament against the proposed structural changes at FTII. Finally in the face of the ever mounting pressure an emergency Governing Council Meeting was called where the students reiterated their main demands: 

1. The DPR prepared by Hewitt Associates be dropped in toto and the service contract with Hewitt terminated. 

2. A national level committee be set up under the chairmanship of Mr. P.K. Nair, former chairman of the National Film Archive, to look into the issues pertaining to the Institute and furnish a fresh report to ensure FTII is committed to its stated objective of plurality and accessibility for all. 

3. The intake of the new batch of students be differed till the report is tabled and concrete steps are taken to ensure that there is no qualitative depletion in the education offered. 


The first and third demands were met. However, the authorities shied away from granting official status to the Nair committee, citing myriad bureaucratic complications which seem to come up with frequent and convenient regularity. Instead, the status given is that of a “Group of Experts”. The struggle is an ongoing one, given that even after the tremendous support that we have received, there is no assurance that transparent processes to bring in better quality education relevant to students of diverse backgrounds will be accepted. The recommendations of the committee set up are yet to come. 

Also, continued victimisation of staff members and faculty members who were supportive during the agitation, filing of flimsy police complaints against students association and continued subversion and appropriation of previous reports (namely the Khosla Committee Report, 1972) raise serious doubts about the intentions of the government authorities. Only time will tell whether the government is finally ready to answer questions pertaining to the cultural importance of institutions like FTII, its moral commitment towards ensuring plurality of cinema in the country, and ensuring accessibility to all sections of the citizens of the this country. 2011 being a golden jubilee year for FTII, it seems an apt time to acknowledge and correct historical mistakes and pave way for a future where such institutions can inspire confidence and faith in the citizens of this country. The fresh report prepared will be tabled in the governing council in the coming months .The next phase of the struggle will resume then. 
The speech made in Parliament, the support letters from FAMU, EICTV, Jansanskriti Manch, as well as videos of the student protest, are all available on
Prateek Vats is a student at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India)


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