To start with, a teaser – does any movement against a saffron guy mean it is a movement against saffronization?
I will get straight to the point. Since I don’t have a political career at stake, I am able to call a spade a spade. I am able to say this since I am not concerned about the number of cadres I am able to net for my organization that values ideology far less than it does blind following. The FTII movement, the one that originated at FTII itself and not the solidarity demonstrations here and there, was NOT against saffronization. Or at least there is very little evidence that it was. It is far more likely that the movement was an expression of anger about the image of a “center of excellence” being tarnished. In an interview to journalists, FTII students who were at the forefront of the movement clearly mentioned that they would not have a problem with a Vinod Khanna or a Shatrughan Sinha (a right winger) occupying the post of FTII chairman. They were pretty plain when it came to giving out the reasons for believing this – they thought that the likes of Khanna or Sinha would be more suitable because they are more “capable”. I believe art is subjective and it is very difficult to judge which piece of art or whose acting is better and whose is worse. Which is why I am not even going to go into this debate (though I find Shatrughan Sinha’s acting next to terrible, as I value some degree of realism at least, the reason I hated Supriya’s exaggerated emotions in what I believe is one of the most overrated movies of all time, Meghe Dhaka Tara by Ritwik Ghatak). What I will point out though, is that while the students are perfectly within their rights to raise objection against the appointment of a person as chairman they don’t find fit for the job, it is quite another matter to pretend that this movement is against saffronization. There may have been individuals within the agitation who held such a view, but that does not mean that the character of the entire movement is anti-saffron. Or else how on earth could they not have a problem with a Shatrughan Sinha? In fact, in a number of publicly made intimations, the students of FTII have made it amply clear that they are not against any “ideology” so on and so forth. Some vague terms like democracy were invoked. No offense intended, but the kind of elitism that is being espoused runs in contravention to any sound principle of democracy.
The entire discourse that has generated so far is also quite disconcerting to say the least. Granted, Gajendra Chauhan is also not reacting in the best possible manner and is only adding insult to injury for himself. But consider Anupam Kher’s reaction on the Times Now Debate. He said that you can dress up really nice but you can’t really discuss films like an Adoor Gopalakrishnan can. Even if that were true, that was simply bad behavior. But even if we set aside that ill behavior and the fact that some people have raised the matter of conflict of interest in case of Kher (that maybe he or his wife were eyeing that post of the FTII chairman) for a while, we cannot ignore what Shyam Benegal has reportedly said. He says that the post of FTII chairman is largely an administrative one. Others have also raised questions as to whether all this hoopla is justified given that the said post is not so crucial in policy matters after all. There is not enough information with me regarding this, but if it is true that the post mostly has to do with administrative stuff, there is no reason why the filmy credentials need to be invoked. Also, the list of awards obtained by previous chairpersons was being offered. It is quite puzzling that students of an institute who take pride in being the forerunners of the culture industry in the country, do not find it important to question the culture of assigning such extreme importance to awards. Does it even need reiteration that there are many individual or small scale initiatives that do not get due recognition despite commendable work, let alone awards?
In short, it is definitely true that there seems to be a design to saffronize institutions in the country by putting in place people having close links to the Hindutva family. There is therefore good reason to stand opposed to such motivated appointments. But we also need to be clear whether we stand in “solidarity” with the dubious movement at FTII. Also, it might not be a bad place to start questioning the very ideas of “political appointments” or even the hierarchies that are represented by the posts such as that of the chairman. What should the relation between the chairman exactly be with the staff and students of an institute? What role should she be expected to carry out? How can we conceptualize a more democratic functioning devoid of the existing hierarchies? Or are the present hierarchies an absolute must and unavoidable? If so, why? These are pertinent questions, which do not seem to have come up from any quarters so far. As for political appointment, the leftist organizations need to be questioned – do they oppose political appointments in principle? Does anyone need to be reminded of the kind of political patron-client relationship that emerged in most institutions of almost every country masquerading as socialist so far? It would be a travesty to fall into populist trappings without bringing up a bevy of related questions that deserve serious introspection.