An innocuous looking Powerpoint presentation could possibly become the next bone of contention between the students and the management at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.
Called a “Vision Document”, the presentation is a proposal for transforming the venerable institute into a full-fledged “digital media university”, and has been put forward by BP Singh, the vice-chairman of FTII’s governing council.
Among the recommendations the proposal makes is to initiate several short term courses at FTII (specifically, 22) in allied subjects like hair and make-up, broadcast journalism, video games, dubbing etc. These courses will be set up at nine schools, under the FTII “umbrella”.
In a report dated 31 May, The Indian Express outlined the proposed changes, as well as the fact that these were tabled for discussion at the meeting of FTII’s Academic Council on 1 June. Student representatives will be present at this meeting. And from the conversations that Firstpost has had with the students and alumni, it is evident that the proposal will be opposed.
Just why are the students concerned?
Because the proposal to make FTII into a “digital media university” goes against the very idea of FTII, they believe.
Abhijit Khuman, who was among the leading figures at FTII during the students’ protests against the appointment of new chairman Gajendra Chauhan, says that the focus of these proposed changes is entirely on revenue generation, which isn’t in line with the institute’s ethos.
“The reason to have so many new short term courses is only to garner revenue. But FTII’s core value is not to generate revenue, it is to create art,” Abhijit said.
This is a sentiment that the other students Firstpost spoke to, reiterated.
Anunay Barbhuiya, a second year student of film direction, said that the idea of FTII was to bring together students from diverse backgrounds and regions and help them make cinema. “But the new modules that have been proposed have no purpose apart from attracting more people (to apply to the institute),” said Anunay.
They’re also an indication, he believes, of how differently the management views cinema (as compared to the students and faculty). “Cinema is not about making a product and selling it in the market. It’s about understanding yourself and the socio-economic factors influencing the world, and the people around you. And you need to have the time and space and discourses that allow you to develop this understanding. With these new courses, the focus is on skills, not on developing this understanding; it’s about getting people to come in, finish and get out; to be some sort of multi-purpose media institute — which is against the very mission of FTII,” he said.
If these short-term, revenue-driven courses are introduced, there is a fear that fees at FTII will increase — detrimental to students from less advantaged backgrounds studying here.
Yashasvi Mishra, one of the six students who were instrumental in leading the FTII protests last year, pointed out that the idea of FTII was closely tied to that of the welfare state, and the access to education it provides.
The alternative, he said, is an institute like Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods, “where the Rs 25 lakhs fee means only those from affluent families get in”. The proposal contained in the Vision Document seems like an attempt to merely sell the FTII brand name to make more money, according to Yashasvi.
The students we spoke to asserted that they are not averse to change, but they wanted the management to focus on more pressing and genuine issues.
The proposal contained in the Vision Document felt too “ad hoc”, said Vidhaat Raman, a second year sound recording student. He added that instead of referring to the exhaustive PK Nair report that had recommendations on upgrading FTII, the Academic Council was discussing this proposal.
He clarified that what the students are opposed to, is this Vision Document, and their representatives will take a stand in the Academic Council meeting on 1 June.
“We have proposed changes to the syllabus, in terms of the technology used for making films, progress timelines for courses, extend weekdays, equipment/infrastructure availability, restructuring courses from the learning point of view. Students are open to change,” said Vidhaat.
Students also indicated the areas that need the management’s attention.
“Students have to go from Pune to Mumbai every time they need colour correction done. There are limited number of high-end cameras, we don’t have a proper sound studio, there are faculty positions lying vacant. There are cases against students who are out on bail, filed by the previous director. Rather than resolving these issues, and taking students on board, it feels like they (the management) are cutting them out,” said Yashasvi Mishra. “The priority should be to ensure that whatever exists now should be made to function to the best.”
Abhijit Khuman also added that change was welcome, but not at the cost of FTII’s core values. “Equipment and technology will come and go,” he said. “But the aesthetic you learn here, is what will remain.”
Incidentally, the Express report stated that FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan said he had not yet seen the Vision Document, as of 22 April, and would only be in a position to comment when he had discussed it with BP Singh.