As someone who loves cinema and follows it very closely, I feel quite disturbed by the latest developments at FTII. Now, we all are aware that the going has been tough at the premier institute for quite some time now, long before the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman. Let's try and assess the all-important cause. The long-term success of every institution rests on the shoulders of its alumni. There is no doubt in my mind that the FTII alumni ought to have contributed more whole-heartedly to their Alma Mater during the last decade or two. As a matter of fact, anyone associated with cinema ought to have done more in order to nurture young talent in the country.
"[W]ill someone like Amitabh Bachchan or Naseeruddin Shah volunteer to take up the mantle? "
Alas, the big celebrities from Bollywood and elsewhere simply don't care! They would raise their voices against someone like Gajendra Chauhan but not many would be willing to leave their lucrative assignments in the tinsel town in favour of a mentoring role at an institute like FTII. It's as simple as that. What they say carry little weight unless they actually started contributing seriously to the cause of cinema in India. The bottom line is that today FTII needs a luminary figure at the helm. But will someone like Amitabh Bachchan or Naseeruddin Shah volunteer to take up the mantle? I seriously doubt it! Despite being in a rather dilapidated state, FTII continues to produce highly talented directors, technicians and actors. With a little more help from the film fraternity, this number can drastically go up.
After all, cinema is a fraternity and everyone who is a part of it needs to contribute to its cause. Just like any other cause, cinema also needs a lot of nurturing. The people who have made a name in a field ought to be responsible towards that field. Like a neurosurgeon who has made a name for himself in the profession would want to nurture young talent so that he has someone to pass the torch to when the right time comes. The same applies to cinema. FTII is a powerful vessel to facilitate this nurturing process. And yet, I don't see it getting the attention it deserves. The government has little understanding of cinema and so one would expect it to act ignorantly. But, I think the film fraternity needs to look beyond cinema's money-making aspects. The academia and the industry need to be brought closer. And the onus truly lies on the film fraternity to bridge the gap.
"The real problem is not Gajendra Chauhan or the government. The main problem is the lack of efforts on the part of those who can actually make a difference."
When we go to a place like Iran (recently a filmmaker friend was invited to the country to attend a film festival), we easily notice the difference. Everyone associated with the filmmaking process is willing to serve the cause of cinema. Irrespective of whether one is Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi, Asghar Farhadi, or someone completely unknown, one gets the same support from the film fraternity. Everyone is always willing to help one another. This ensures that a healthy competition is always in place which leads to a greater and a lasting global presence.
When Ismail Merchant and James Ivory had started out, they were completely at a loss as to how they should go about making films. So they approached the great Satyajit Ray, seeking his help and guidance for their debut film The Householder (1963). And Ray, ever so willing to help the young talent, obliged by rendering them all the creative and technical support they needed. He not only supervised the film's music production and edited the film (both un-credited), but also lent his cinematographer Subrata Mitra for the film. I wonder how many young and upcoming filmmakers in today's time can expect to get such backing from the leading filmmakers in the film industry? Not many, I guess! The real problem is not Gajendra Chauhan or the government. The main problem is the lack of effort on the part of those who can actually make a difference.
(A version of this article was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges)