The Film and Television Institute of India at Pune has produced the likes of directors Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Subhash Ghai, Kundan Shah and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, stars Shatrughan Sinha and Jaya Bhaduri, and editor Renu Saluja. Its prominence also owes to its monopoly as the only government-backed professional training institute for films and television in India.
That is set to change.
A Ghai-backed film institute named Whistling Woods is positioning itself as an alternative to the FTII.
The Whistling Woods Institute for Films, Television and Media Arts has a catchy tagline: Unlearning films, learning cinema. It plans to be a conservatory that will train students in the aesthetics of cinema as well as its business.
"Today most of us in the industry are products of individual and instinctive talent without much professional training," the filmmaker explains. "We want to change that. If the Hindi film industry needs to achieve pre-eminence and be able to address a global audience, it needs to have greater professionalism."
Spread over 20 acres in Mumbai's Film City, the institute is currently under construction and expected to open by the end of 2004. It will teach eight disciplines -- direction, cinematography, sound engineering, screenplay writing, editing, art direction, production and acting. All programmes will be two-year full-time courses, consisting of a one-year foundation course followed by the specialisation course.
There will also be short-term courses of three months and intensive creative 3 to 6 month programmes. Internships will be offered to students on completion of their specialisation.
"I strongly believe we are at a turning point in the industry now," filmmaker Aruna Raje says. "What we need to go ahead with is a marriage of aesthetics and business. The goal of Whistling Woods is to nurture and hone creativity. The talent is out there, but it needs to be trained."
The Indian film industry has been growing at more than 30 per cent over the last two years. In 2001, 1,031 films were produced. Revenues are expected to grow from Rs 13,000 crore [approximately $2.71 billion at the current exchange rate] in 2001 to Rs 29,300 crore [$5.86 billion] in 2006. A vibrant television industry has been sparked by the growth of satellite television and over 90 channels were available to 68.5 million homes by the year 2000.
Despite this, 80 to 90 per cent of those employed in films and television have no formal training, as a result of which cost overruns and unprofessionalism are rampant in the industry. "These things need to be changed," says Ghai. "That can be done with creating students who are trained and who understand not only the creative aspect but also commerce. We need not just one institute in the country doing that, as is happening today, but many more that can fulfil the need for trained professionals."
Whistling Woods was in the concept stage for about eight years. Then, some two years ago, a meeting with Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilas Deshmukh finally got it moving. Ghai found a willing partner in the state government, which was quick to lease land to the proposed institute at the sprawling Film City complex.
Whistling Woods is a joint venture between Ghai's company Mukta Arts, which is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, and the Maharashtra government. Mukta Arts has an 85 per cent stake in the joint venture; the government holds the rest.
The institute is expected to cost $18 million to set up. It will take in 200 students a year. The students will be chosen on the basis of their portfolios (previous work done), academic background and area of competence as measured through various aptitude tests.
"For most of the courses, we will be taking only students who have done their graduation," said Olivia Augustine, vice-president of faculty. "But in rare cases, exceptions could be made. The admission process has not yet been finalised, but what is certain is that each of the applicants will be evaluated on a case by case basis."
The foundation stone ceremony for Whistling Woods was performed on October 18, 2002. The institute will have both full-time and visiting faculty. Augustine said international filmmakers and technicians will also be regularly invited to talk to the students.
The institute's advisory board has actors Aamir Khan and Dilip Kumar, and Ghai among others.
"There will be two different groups involved in the running of the institute," said Augustine. "The first will be the academic council that will ensure high standards of teaching and excellence. Second will be the advisory body that will provide the vision."
Facilities will include a television shooting floor/control room, professional sound recording and mixing studios, dubbing theatre, 300-seat conference hall, cinematography studio/DV and Arriflex cameras, photography studios and dark rooms, professional lighting systems, Internet-connected classrooms, and post-production equipment.
The institute has already started compiling its syllabus and gathering teaching material. Aamir Khan, a keen supporter of Whistling Woods, has donated the rushes of Lagaan, his blockbuster movie, so that students can watch the print and understand how the film was made and how it was cut.
"This kind of learning organisation is something I would have loved to do," says filmmaker Vijay Anand. "I am glad Subhash has done it. It is a great moment for the industry and an idea that will make a difference."