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September 13, 2000


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Battlefield FTII!

Fifteen days. Of boycotting classes. Of fighting for justice. Media attention and newspaper headlines. Endless meetings and letters to the director. Appeals to the Information and Broadcast Ministry and other personalities in the industry.

Of hope and anxiety.

The Film and Television Institute (FTII), Pune, has seen all this and more.

In fact, it's seen everything but good cinema in the last fortnight.

Empty classrooms at FTII The classrooms wear a desolate look, the editing room is deserted, the main theatre looks haunted, the equipment, untouched, unmoved... Around 300 odd staff members are left with no work.

The main gate is where the action is at. With students milling around and about in silent protest. The reason: they have been on strike since August 29.

Initially, it was a students' uprising. Today, the situation has taken an about turn, with faculty members joining them.

The first was Dr Shreehari Marathe, Consulting Advisor, Multimedia laboratory. Then there was Surinder Singh, Assistant Professor, Screenplay Writing. The latest to join them are some senior professors of the institute who represent various departments like acting, art-direction and sound.

Today, the students and teachers alike are screaming for a fair decision. Kanchana Suggu reports:

THE culprit is the newly designed and implemented 1+1+1 structure.

Where the action is at Eighty students can join in for the first year, a diploma course. Forty-eight of those students then proceed to the next level: the certificate course. The final diploma course has only 32 students, thus eliminating the student strength by over 50 per cent at the end of three years.

And that is precisely what has the students and staff up in arms. They see this structure as fundamentally faulty.

In 1996, the governing authorities had decided to replace the prevailing three-year integrated course, which was in practice ever since the inception of the Institute 35 years ago. The new two-year course had sparked off several protests, with students going on hunger strikes, and some of them even hospitalised.

It was the first time that the students were protesting against the academic structure. Earlier, the most that sparked off strikes were lack of facilities or denial of access to some equipment.

Headed by chairman Mahesh Bhatt in 1996, the Academic Council had to accept that a two-year course structure would only churn out 'half-baked technicians'. The faults inherent in the structure were identified and the damage rectified. And the Institute reverted to its three-year integrated course.

FOUR years later, history has repeated itself.

Mohan Agashe Only this time, the man at gunpoint is the director, Dr Mohan Agashe, who was appointed in 1997. And this time, there is no hunger strike and pleasantries are still being exchanged between director and the students.

G-14, a body comprising 14 faculty members from television and films, and appointed by Dr Agashe himself, is said to be instrumental in approving the 1+1+1 structure as well as the contents of the current syllabus.

First, the current structure includes a newly evolved system of compulsory elimination -- a system unheard of in 35 years of the Institute's history.

The result of elimination? Students competing with one other.

The fear is that the once free, open, and encouraging platform for cinema lovers is now inculcating the wrong values in them. And that defies the very concept of learning.

Students' protest SAYS an art direction professor, who has been working with the Institute for 15 years, "A student, therefore, is always worried that he might not make it to the next year. Usually, every batch has experienced and inexperienced students. Fifty per cent of this batch (comprising 64 students) has industry experience.

"But what do I see? The experienced students are unwilling to discuss their ideas openly in class, fearing that they will be stolen. Earlier, students with industry experience eagerly helped their classmates. Now I do not see that happening.

"Filmmaking cannot be taught on blackboard. Students get most of their knowledge by interacting with one another. Here, there is no scope for a mutual discussion. Now, students are busy trying to impress their teachers."

This professor was amongst the G-14 members responsible for the new structure. But, unfortunately, all protests on his part met with no response. Some staff members believe that this is a deliberate attempt on Agashe's part -- with this structure, students will be under so much pressure that they will have time for little else, much less strikes.

Jayakrishna Gummadi, 26, has a bachelor's degree in photography from the Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University in Commercial and Fine Arts. After working in the Hindi and South Indian film industry for a few years, he opted for the basic course at FTII.

He claims, "This system of elimination is working against the students -- I'm competing with my own roommate. When I joined the course, I thought the elimination would be based on sound principles. After coming here, I realised how arbitrary it was.

"I was third assistant in the industry. If I were still around, I would have been promoted to operative cameraman by now."

The FTII student's charter of demands: One

THE average age of students in FTII is 24. Graduation is compulsory for admission to any of these courses. But some students are double graduates and even have industry experience. Posters of protest!

Says a faculty member, who teaches acting, "First of all, the decision to quit a job and join films is a major one -- one which could have you encountering strong opposition from your family.

"I know -- I experienced it myself. Students come here hoping to learn some good cinema. We have MBA students with us. But reality is far different from what they expect. The students demands are very legitimate. They must be met."

AGASHE for his part claims that the new 1+1+1 structure will resolve the "unending problems" (read student unrest and strikes), posed by the three-year integrated course.

But the professors feel that this structure keeps the student so busy that he has no time to go to the library or the time to assist senior students in their films -- an integral part of the FTII culture.

Says Abhijeet Majumdar, 27, General Secretary, Students Association. "We did follow the syllabus for seven months. Then we realised that it really is of no use. I have been working in the industry and I realise how much the students have been cheated.

"For one, it is not up-to-date. None of the equipment given to us have any professional relevance. For instance, we've been working on VHS. We waited for five months, hoping that things would get better.

FTII students "Video has been introduced in this course, but there's a huge cutdown on films. Lots of other theory and exercises like slide projects have been cut down.

"We approached the authorities, to no avail."

As for the strike itself, some of the other reasons for prompting the strike are:

The hike in fees from Rs 3,500 to Rs 22,000
The number of library cards were reduced to one as against four for the previous batches
The basic course students were denied access to the video cassette library and the number of film screenings were reduced to three per week, as against the previous eight
The introduction of an unprecedented modular assessment system with a total of 25 marks (10 marks for attendance, 5 for professional medium and 10 for application of the medium).

Says Amala Popuri, 25, a post-graduate in sociology, joined the course after a stint with NDTV: "There is more emphasis on a physical facelift than an academic one. All kinds of construction work are being undertaken here. How is this useful for propagating education?

"The film property is rented a lot these days. We pay a lot to do this course. But we really don't see any constructive use of the money."

The FTII student's charter of demands: Two

Vinod Subramanian, winner of special mention at the 47th National Film Festival, and an ex-student of FTII, says, "Eight screenings a week is not enough. Students need to be exposed to as many films as possible -- they need to know what good cinema is all about. That's what they're here for.

"Filmmaking is definitely not a luxury, and definitely isn't passive viewing. Not here. When they're watching a film, their mind constantly noting the camera, the dialogues, the lighting, etc."

Agashe is said to have called film-viewing a passive exercise and that if students find watching films so important, they should get out of FTII and join a Film Club.

The FTII student's charter of demands: Three

Other cause for complaints are:
Departments like editing and cinematography, which really need teachers, are not being looked into.
Half the faculty has not even met Agashe in the last three years -- he is hardly ever on campus.
Decisions on buying equipments are taken by people who have no knowledge of them field
The structure of the new course was not sent to the industry people for approval, the equipments are not up to date and so on.

The FTII budget is Rs 11 crore (Rs 5.5 crore planned and Rs 5.5 crore non-planned). And though money has been coming in, there were no admissions in August 1998 as well as 1999, thanks to the problems at the Institute. And the two years have been declared zero years.

A section of staff members even contemplate foul play. "I have to incur so much expenditure even when the classes are not on," claims Agashe. Around Rs 5 crore is said to be spent on faculty and staff salaries.

The FTII student's charter of demands: Four

AND this is the very place that gave birth to filmmakers like Subhash Ghai, Saeed Mirza (Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai), Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Parinda, 1942 - A Love Story), Santosh Sivan (Terrorist) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali; actors like Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah; and technicians like Manmohan Singh, Virendra Saini, Subhash Sehgal and the late Renu Saluja.

This is the place that commands so much respect that, even today, when some of these celebrities visit, they bow at the gate before stepping in.

Only today, they would find a battlefield instead of a minefield of talent.

A team of FTII students had visited Information and Broadcast Minister Arun Jaitley a fortnight ago. They are also trying to garner support from governing council members, industry personalities and the ministry. No decision has been taken yet and the strike promises to go on for another ten days.

Now, a team of FTII students have gone again to Delhi for talks with some governing council members. Whether their demands will be met or no is still to be seen. But one thing is for sure -- they will not give in.

Also read: 'Do you think I can threaten the students?': Mohan Agashe

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