'The government says it is trying to improve the institute, but its latest appointments say otherwise.'
FTII students tell A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com why they won't back down.
The Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, has been constantly in the news for close to three months now after its students went on strike, protesting actor-turned-politician Gajendra Chauhan's appointment as the FTII chairman.
The students and their supporters have questioned Chauhan's creative credentials and his qualifications to head such a prestigious institution. Chauhan, the students claim, is no match for internationally renowned luminaries like Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad and Adoor Gopalakrishnan who have headed the institution.
The students have also objected strongly to Narendra Pathak, Anagha Ghaisas, Shailesh Gupta and Rahul Solapurkar -- who have been newly appointed to the FTII governing council.
The students have been on strike since June 12.
A few days ago, the central government asked a three member team from the information and broadcasting ministry to visit the campus and resolve the imbroglio. The team has returned to Delhi and its report is awaited.
Those who visit FTII will see an empty chair at the gate, with a question mark behind it. The gate itself is decorated with graffiti.
The most visible graffiti is 'Go back Chauhan.' Some of the graffiti asks governing council members Pathak, Ghaisas, Gupta and Solapurkar to go back as well.
Another message says, 'People should not be afraid of the government.'
The word 'strike' dominates the graffiti.
No policemen are visible, but FTII security personnel can be spotted.
There is a register for visiting journalists. Our identity cards are checked before we are let in.
A student directs us to the 'Wisdom Tree' where he says we will find most students. On the right side of the road stands a mannequin wrapped in film rolls. A board attached the mannequin reveals that it is Day 75 of the strike.
The Wisdom Tree -- under which the revered Ritwick Ghatak taught students -- is the focal point of the strike. A tent had been set up under the tree. There are mattresses for the students to sit on and chairs for visitors like us.
Two students are seated near the Wisdom Tree. Most of the other students are in a hall where LGBT films are playing. This, apparently, is part of the protest.
FTII Student Association President Harishankar Nachimutthu is a native of Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. An avid watcher of world cinema, his life changed when he watched Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar. That's when he decided "I must make movies."
Harishankar joined FTII to study direction. A second year student, he has been president of the students association for the past eight months. The strike, he emphasises, isn't merely about Chauhan. "There are other problems here," he says. "Nobody understands the ground realities."
"The government says it is trying to improve the institute, but its latest appointments say otherwise," he adds.
The FTII, the students say, is a democratic institution that concerns itself with the production of films and television content. "We have all kinds of ideology on the campus. We accept that. The government has not understood our problems. The directors too are bureaucrats," says Harishankar.
"Academics cannot be compromised. The plurality of students should be preserved," he adds. "After 6 pm, we sometimes sit in the classrooms watching movies, so classroom theatres should be open at all times."
FTII students pay Rs 45,000 as fees per year. In addition, they pay Rs 12,000 as hostel fees per year and Rs 1,500 for two meals a day every month.
When he applied to join the FTII, Harishankar says, there were 1,400 applicants for the course in direction. Forty were selected for the interview round and, finally, 12 were selected. There are 11 courses at the FTII, so the annual intake is 132 students.
The course Harishankar has opted for, direction, is spread over four years, but students usually complete it in four-and-a-half to seven years.
The students are not ready to compromise on their objection to Gajendra Chauhan and the four members of the 24-member governing council.
"We have done everything to show our protest," says Harishankar. "We hope that the three- member team who came from Delhi will solve our problem."
During the strike period, the students have been attending workshops with their seniors as they don't go to class.
If the FTII chairman does not know the ground realities, the students say, he cannot add value to the institute. He should know what the FTII stands for, they say. None of the students expected the strike to go on for so long, but they do not regret their decision to go on strike.
Harishankar expects a scholarship but wonders if he will get it now since there is a First Information Report lodged against him and four other students. "Only the government can resolve this," he says yet again.
Depending on what happens during the day, the students spend their time in meetings, press conferences and planning new strategies. They admit they are stressed and acknowledge that their parents are worried.
The students also allege they are being treated like 'criminals' on the FTII campus as 25 surveillance cameras have been installed since the protests started.
Opposite the Wisdom Tree is a tree without leaves. The students have dubbed this the Tree Of Ignorance. Under its bare branches, small origami doves are tied to a stand. Students explain this is symbolic of how they have been caged.
A bench placed nearby has gained importance after the protest started. Sitting on the bench -- which has been christened the Rebel Bench -- is an indication that you are protesting against the system.
"The strike has been an enlightening experience," adds senior student Reema Kaur. "We used to live in a cocoon. We know that Narendra Modi is good for business; we want him to be good for us too. This is not about Gajendra Chauhan; it is about the selection process." (Do read more about what Reema has to say: here.)
Himanshu Prajapati, from Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, is among the five students who were arrested from the FTII campus one night. A second year student of direction, he is also the hostel secretary.
The quintet were arrested for not allowing the FTII director to leave his office while they were asking him questions.
"I was making a video of the proceedings in the director's office," says Himanshu. "My sister was very worried when she heard what had happened."
After the students were arrested, they underwent a medical check-up before being made to sit at the police station. The rest of the students waited outside.
A few faculty members, Himanshu adds, accompanied them. "Many calls came from all over the country to the police station asking why we were arrested and asking the police to release us," he says.
The students were released on bail the next day.
"The purpose of our strike is to improve the governing council," says Himanshu. "Our seniors had gone on strike earlier against a fee hike; that's why students like me can afford to study here."