The Poetics of FTII Protest

September 18, 2015 at 9:15 PMSep (Activism, Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The strike at the Film and Television Institute of India enters its 100th day today i.e. 19 Sep 2015.

The strike has continued though met with extreme the indifference of the Government and heavy accusations from a good portion of civil society as being an “elitist”, “casteist” space which is just a “waste of tax payers’ money,”

The strike invented and reinvented itself over the hundred days incorporating different methods to continue the protest and make its point. The indifference of the State finally has pushed the students to take the drastic step of hunger strike.

***

ftii- entrance
What is hunger strike to a nation where involuntary hunger is met with indifference? Hunger strike, obviously, is a statement, a performance, a spectacle made out of body to draw the attention of the people concerned. But it is also a point of desperation reached by the protestors, at the face of state’s indifference, where all other methods and means have been exhausted and the only option available to continue the protest is by exhausting the body.

As much as it looks voluntary, in dark times hunger strikes become involuntary.

When the voice remains unheard, when slogans remain unheard, when songs remain unheard, when letters remain unheard, when pleas remain unheard, when memorandums remain unseen, when films remain unseen, the protestor takes to the last resort of turning the human body into a weapon of protest, making human body the message to the world, turning human body as the site of protest.

When all that life can give wings to have failed the life finally puts itself on stake for the sake of justice.

The choice of hunger strike underlines how the matter in hand is a gut-wrenching matter for the protestors and how it has become a matter of ‘justice or death’ for them. It is also a way of saying the absence of justice with regard to the matter in hand is as crucial as the absence of something as basic as food and water.

It speaks of the absence of and need for nourishment and turns the protest, above a mere event, into a philosophy where life is equated with justice and a just world is the prerequisite for life.

***

The hunger strike at FTII began with FTII alumni sitting on hunger strike, not the current students. This makes way for the question why even the alumni of FTII, along with current students, are fighting for the institute with such passion.

When this author joined FTII at the orientation the Director of the Institute soon after welcoming everyone in one sentence asked, “How many of rebelled at home to come to FTII?” and not surprisingly over half of the hall raised its hand.

FTII, since its inception in 1960, has seen students who were orphaned because of their love for cinema. Arun Khopkar in his obituary to Satish Bahadur, who taught in FTII between 1963 and 1983, mentions that the “unwritten duties” of a good teacher at FTII was provide emotional and practical support to these students who had left behind their home with the pure passion to make cinema.

ftii-rolling since 1960

Though over the years cinema as a career option for individuals has become quite acceptable than before, it still lacks the support and encouragement of not just family but also schools, where young minds are nurtured, and banks, which could have been a support system through education loans.

In such a scenario, for the students coming to FTII, the teachers at FTII became foster parents, FTII became a foster home and fellow FTIIians became foster family.

So when Kamal Swaroop, the maverick filmmaker, when put up a status on Facebook during one of the initial days of the ongoing strike, saying he went to FTII to find his mother tongue, he was not just being witty. It was a loaded statement.

The FTII students’ body, year after year, discusses in its endless General Body Meetings, the issues of a fellow student not being able to pay the tuition fees for the lack of support from family and banks. The students’ body tries to negotiate and find out ways in which a fellow student whose hunger for knowledge, hunger for intellect can be met.

But there is always a physical hunger too which has to be faced and met.

These students who rebel against their parents while joining the Institute once they are done with the course go work outside and return to the foster home that is FTII for holidays. When they return the students make space in the hostel for these alumni knowing quite well that what brings the alumni back to the campus is not just a nostalgic love for space, but the absence of a home which was left behind years ago to fulfill the dream of making cinema.

These alumni, who return to the campus, having earned some money for their work, treat the students with good food and some alcohol too since the memories of hungry days and the reason for remaining hungry at the institute hasn’t evaporated from their minds and are also aware of the economical condition of the studying students who have no family support.

Situations like this where the quest to learn quest to make cinema are challenged by economical social forces, students in all these years have gotten into deep depression. At such times the students and faculties have stood by each other and made sure they do not fail in putting the required efforts to embrace the person in need.

There have been instances of alumni who for various reasons reached a point where they had to be taken care of and had no one to take care of them have been sheltered by the students in the hostel at their own expenses amidst their own struggle for survival and sustenance.

The students of FTII who have fought against conventions, against parents, against fate, against themselves to keep their love for cinema alive and the space of FTII lively are now fighting a political battle and are fighting with great passion and great honesty.

The fight is an extremely personal battle for FTIIians as much as it is political.

mohd zoris

The unspoken side of FTII history and ethos had to be invoked because FTII needs not just a Chairperson, an administrator, a decision maker but someone more than that who can make the institute not just academically and technically sophisticated and equipped but also make it personal, intimate, warm and homely. Because running FTII is not like running any other space/ institution. It requires a sensibility and sensitivity which can understand such dynamics of FTII and resonate with the mundane, but not trivial, struggles as this and create a space, a homely atmosphere, where art and artists can breathe and also be creatively active when on a daily and continuous battle against convention, against world and also against themselves.

So when FTIIians are battling for FTII it is not just against saffronization, privatization and fascism. It is also for an unconventional education, unconventional educational space and unconventional pedagogy.

Hence it is also a battle against mono-culture and monopoly along with a battle against mechanized way of administration.

When students at FTII are battling so much for the sake of cinema it is only just that they are provided with a passionate team to lead,guide and shape them whose commitment to cinema and life matches or exceeds theirs.

***

With the beginning of hunger strike, this battle has moved from sloganeering to a monologue, a soliloquy.

Three FTIIians started the hunger strike following a faculty who started his hunger strike on 5 Sep and was forced to withdraw since his health collapsed. The students continued and when some students had to be rushed to hospital other students replaced them.

The significance of FTII protest can be seen in one the first three FTIIans to go on hunger strike, who this author refuses to name here. This author has known this friend and fellow FTIIian through heated debates in the FTII mess over dinner, as a hardcore right wing supporter. But now him turning his body into a message, for nearly 200 hrs, a weapon against the same politics same philosophy which he was once in favor of, signals a strong political message which should get the right wing worried and should give hope to all those in solidarity with FTII as a part of the larger battle against privatization, saffronization and fascism in this country.

On day 100 I hug and salute all fellow FTIIians who are battling this battle of the right against the might.

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1 Comment

  1. R.Raja said,

    I am an artist based in bengaluru,pl. let us know in what way we can help to support this spirited.courageous and honourable fight against this anti art & authoritarian govt. I suggest to FTII students to set up a mechanism to co ordinate support in every form, including funds.
    R.Raja

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