The strike at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) is nearing its 50th day.
The strike which began as a protest against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman and the appointment of unqualified/ under-qualified members in the Governing Council soon had to expand its concerns and preoccupation since the Ministry hinted at privatization of the Institute or shutting down of the Institute. So slowly the protest discourse had to move beyond ‘saffronization.’
When the protest gained momentum expanded its discourse and gained the attention of national media quite a lot of criticism started pouring in about FTII and the nature of the protest. This includes views such as the one calling FTII a “white elephant” and the protest via boycotting classes as “wasting tax-payers money,” to some critique of FTII as an ‘elitist’ in its aesthetics and ‘brahminical’ as a space.
The critique of FTII as an ‘elitist’ and ‘brahminical’ institute cannot be ruled out completely but what needs to be also taken into consideration, at this point of time when the Institute is facing the threat of being either privatized or shut down completely, is that FTII as an Institute, with all its problems, is something which needs to be saved as a part of fighting against the ‘brahminical’ nature of things at large and the ‘elitist’ nature of art and art practice in general.
A year ago while researching for a film in Jharkhand I met Asha Murmu, a class 11 girl in Ranchi who originally is from a place called Binja.
Once I finished my interview Asha asked, “main aap se ek sawaal poochun?” (can I ask you a question?). “Zaroor,” (of course) I said.
“Film kaise banti hai?” (How are films made?)
I explained in short how films are made. The curiosity with which she asked and the interest with which she heard me explaining made me realize that it was more than just general curiosity. I asked her what her ambition is.
“Kisi ko nahi bataati main. Lekin aap ko bataaungi,” (I do not share it with anyone. But I will tell you) said Asha and continued to say, “Jab bhi TV dekhti hoon na, toh mann karta hai heroine banu.” (When I watch TV I feel like becoming a heroine.)
After a pause Asha said, in a dropped voice, “Lekin hum jaise log kaise ban saktey hai?” (But how can people like us become a heroine?)
Having interviewed several Aadivaasi school girls by then I kind of knew what Asha felt was the hurdle. I explained to her that it is possible. Listening to my assurance, the smile on Asha’s face broadened.
“Toh kaise bantey hai heroine?” (So, how to become a heroine?)
I dint know how to explain that. But the possible ways certainly were via National School of Drama (NSD) and FTII which offers courses in acting. I mentioned them to Asha.
“Hum jaisey log wahaan padtey hai kya?” (Are there people like us studying there?)
The way she posed the question broke my heart. I felt saddened because for an Aadivasi girl even in her imagination she can’t be a part of a lot many democratic spaces! We have structured our spaces and have built a system where even in the dream of an Aadivasi girl it is difficult to belong to a lot of places, spaces, institutes.
“Hum jaisey log…” (people like us) she kept saying while asking about becoming a “heroine” or getting admission in institutes like NSD or FTII. Which meant in her imagination it was not just her but people like her i.e. the Adivasis who couldn’t be a part of a lot many democratic spaces and institutes.
I told her that people like her (Aadivasis) do study in Institutes and first quoted the example of my friend Niranjan Kujur who was then studying at SRFTI. “Haan unke baarey mein akbaar mein padaa hai,” (Yes, I have read about him in the newspapers) said Asha. I went on to tell her that when I was studying at FTII there was Sanjay Tudu with me and there was Seral Murmu who are Aadivasi people from Jharkhand. When I said Seral Murmu immediately Asha jumped broadening her chest and saying, “main bhi Murmu hoon, Asha Murmu.” (Even I am Murmu, Asha Murmu.)
The shift in the tone and body language from the drop in her voice asking, “Hum jaise log kaisey ban saktey hai?” to the excited “main bhi Murmu hoon,” is something which statistics can never hold. This shift spoke of a hope coming alive, a dream opening its eyes, a possibility making itself available.
Asha took details of FTII and NSD and told me that she would try to get admission there.
Will Asha Murmu persue her dreams I dont know. In case she does, will she make it to FTII or NSD, I dont know. But what I know is that a place like FTII and NSD is still an option possible and a hope for Asha Murmu.
If FTII gets privatized or shut down, what is the possible option for people like Asha Murmu or even to an OBC boy like me?
Yes, FTII has a lot of problems and even the FTII strike has a lot of problems within it. Not denying. They certainly need to be addressed. But isnt the whole of the nation, the whole of civilization, the whole of society a place where upper-caste, upper-class privileged people choreograph the show to ensure their superiority and ensure safeguarding their privileges and in the process oppressing the rest? We need to fight it and institutes like FTII certainly should identify itself within a larger fight and take part in it actively.
But at the same time it is important to save places like FTII from being saffronized or privatized. Because places like FTII still have space for an OBC like me for an Aadivasi like Sanjay Tudu and Seral Murmu and the place can be a place for churning politics for an egalitarian society, it appears to me. But once it gets completely saffronized or privatized the possibility of having any kind of politics within such spaces will become impossible and certainly an OBC boy like me or an Aadivasi girl like Asha Murmu will either be in no position to afford to access the education or our voice, as minorities, will crushed so badly by the idea of culture of the saffron brigade that we would opt out of places like this.