I finished my diploma course at the Films and Television Institute of India (FTII) in 1995, within the stipulated three-year time frame. Up until 2000, batches following mine too completed their course in time, give or take small delays.
When I was studying at FTII, there were four disciplines – direction, camera, sound and editing – which could take 10 students. So, in any given year, there were 120 students on the campus. But, around 1999, three more disciplines were added — production, acting and screenwriting. But, the infrastructure remained the same and soon, problems started.
In 1999, under the directorship of Mohan Agashe, the administration came up with a new course structure. Instead of a three-year course there would be three one-year courses. At the end of each year a student would have to reapply for specialization and they could be either eliminated from or elevated to next year. As per this decision 80 students were to be admitted in that academic year (as against 32 students earlier).
This was a seriously flawed decision and the idea of forced elimination of students was severely criticized. The old system was then reinstated within a year. The elimination process had half the number of students reaching the final year, but once it was removed, the entire batch was pushed up, adding 50 per cent more students than planned. This even as the infrastructure remained the same.
The 2008 batch suffered the most for these decisions because by then, a huge backlog of delayed projects had built up. It was clear to the faculty in 2000 itself that the incoming batch of students would not be able to complete their studies in three years. The faculty and the administration knew the 2008 batch was in for delayed courses. Then how can the batch be blamed for the delay? The faculty recommended that 2008 be declared a zero year. The crucial seat of the head of the department of direction too had been lying vacant for three years. But at the ministry’s instance, FTII announced admissions for 2008.
Around this time, the Supreme Court had asked the FTII to implement the 27.5 per cent OBC reservation without reducing the strength of the general category. So, in September 2008, 94 students were admitted including the acting students. The first year went of smoothly and then everything started falling apart. Late July, 2009, swine flu forced the closure of the hostels and the institute.
This was followed by other disruptions. The International Students Film Festival was held to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema, followed by the National Students Festival. In 2009 the government also appointed the consultancy, Hewitt Associates, to recommend steps to upgrade FTII. Its report, which led to an uproar, was a barely disguised recommendation to privatize the institute.
The government was forced to scrap this report. A new committee was appointed under the chairmanship of PK Nair, the former director of National Film Archives. Many famous alumni spent over a year analyzing various issues – the change from analogue to digital and possible ways to clear the academic backlog. This effort was made without any grant and everyone worked selflessly on it. But till date, the Nair Committee Report has not even been tabled.
The 2009 batch, whose classes have started in January 2010 managed to complete the course by January 2015. This was made possible by giving it priority over the 2008 batch! No one knows the logic for this decision. In effect, the 2009 batch finished its course in five years pushing the 2008 batch to its seventh year. It is these students who suffered the most for FTII’s reckless decisions, and also faced assessment and expulsion threats. This crisis spiraled into the gherao and the infamous midnight arrest.
FTII’s core problem lies in the functioning of its director who holds all powers. He has to function not only as a guide but also as a mentor, rector, psychologist and mediator. But most FTII directors come from IAS or allied services and are not prepared to play these roles.
The biggest problem is that the FTII is only a tiny blip on the I&B ministry’s large radar. For them it’s a media wing, not an academic institution. All the educational institutions under the I&B ministry account for less 3 per cent of its budget. The HRD ministry on the other hand understands how crucial teachers/researchers and faculty are to an institution.
Early in the ongoing crisis, one of the senior-most I&B officials called me to discuss FTII’s problem. A group of us had a four-hour meeting with ministry officials. A five-point agenda was submitted on the immediate steps that needed to be taken. The minister himself admitted to us that, “we haven’t made the best of the choices, but as a government we cannot retract”. We were asked for recommendations to save the “face” of the government. We were assured that all our recommendations would be implemented.
But nothing happened. We continued our dialogue and then Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Raju Hirani too stepped in. Vinod even agreed to play the mentor at FTII. But the core issues that provoked the strike were not resolved. It took the ministry almost 45 days and a midnight arrest to send a panel to assess the situation.
The ministry wants the FTII to be a place of excellence and a proposal to this effect was also to be tabled in the monsoon session of the Parliament. We now suggest a committee with the out-going chairman and vice-chairman of the previous society and three other members chosen by the ministry to create guidelines for appointments and end this impasse.
(The author is an alumni of FTII and an Oscar-winning sound designer.)