Hindu nationalist pick for India film school alarms students, industry

Film-maker Kiran Rao says anyone who is sane, and who thinks, will be worried


Reuters July 14, 2015
Students walk past the graffiti-painted entrance of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUNE: "Don't install your dummies here," reads a poster at the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India, where the appointment of a Hindu nationalist activist as chairman triggered a month of strikes by students.

In the world's largest film industry, some people fear the choice signals a push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party for control of India's most powerful medium.

Dharmendra Jai Narain, director of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), speaks on a phone outside his office in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

New appointments at the film school have rattled an industry already upset by changes to India's powerful film certification panel, after its chairman and a handful of members resigned, blaming government interference.

Read: 6 cringeworthy quotes by Hindu nationalists

"Anyone who is sane, and who thinks, will be worried," said film-maker Kiran Rao, who spoke out against the new censor panel. "This is affecting the way we function."

Striking students rest under an improvised tent at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

There is no evidence yet that Modi's 14-month-old government has significantly influenced the tone or content of films, but concerns are growing that it could rein in the industry's liberal outlook in an overwhelmingly conservative society.

India's popular films, though still laden with song-and-dance routines, have recently tackled weightier topics, such as human rights abuses by the Indian army in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, homosexuality and the caste system.

Staff members speak next to graffiti painted on a wall of an administrative office at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

The 55-year-old film school, in the western city of Pune near Mumbai, India's capital of film and finance, prides itself on quality cinema and has turned out some top film-makers. It is governed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Read: India's Modi pledges development with Hindu nationalism

Critics see the selection of Gajendra Chauhan, an actor known for little apart from his role in a 1980s TV serial based on the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, as the latest in a string of political appointments to cultural and academic bodies.

A man walks past a graffiti-painted wall of a toilet at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indian film, particularly Hindi-speaking Bollywood, many of whose best known actors, directors and technicians come from the school, is wildly popular in a country where one in four people is illiterate.

The films have long been one of the few aspects of Indian life that transcend barriers of caste and creed: for example, marriages between members of India's Hindu majority and its tiny Muslim community are not unusual, on-screen and off.

A certain agenda

But opponents of Modi's government say hardliners in his Bharatiya Janata Party want to turn secular India into a Hindu-first nation.

"Every single step this government has taken, whether in culture or education, has been to push a certain agenda," said Shanta Gokhale, a novelist and theatre critic in Mumbai.

Staff members walk past graffiti painted on a road at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chauhan, who campaigned for Modi's BJP last year and has been a party member since 2004, told Reuters his political views would not influence his work at the film institute.

"Everyone has a political ideology they identify with," Chauhan said. "So do I. But that ideology does not come in the way of my work."

Read: Fears grow about Hindu 'Modi-fication' of education

Also appointed as a school governor was documentary film-maker Anagha Ghaisas. Her work includes a pro-Hindu film on the 1992 demolition of a mosque in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya, an event that sparked riots in which about 2,000 people died.

A staff member walks past a graffiti-painted wall of an administrative office at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ghaisas told Reuters she was not ashamed of her background but would work to improve the institute, and for its students.

"If you get a complete majority, why would you call members of other parties to participate? It’s a political appointment, so of course you will choose people you are confident about," she told Reuters.

After the censors' resignations in January, the government appointed director Pahlaj Nihalani as its chief. Nihalani made his name with adult comedies in the 1990s and his latest work was a campaign video for then-candidate Modi.

Nihalani did not respond to requests for comment.

The new censors have demanded cuts in profanity and references to homosexual relationships and extramarital affairs.

One recent demand was to bleep out the usage of "Bombay", the Anglicised, colonial-era name for Mumbai.

"It makes me incredibly scared," said Rao, who has worked in the industry for 15 years. "This sort of expression is essential to a democracy."

COMMENTS (10)

Ashish | 6 years ago | Reply Dear WB when anything is stationed at extreme left then to bring it to the state of equilibrium you'll have to move somewhere..Now you can't go more left as its already in extreme left...your only way out is to move towards right and stop when the equilibrium is maintained...These so called best known institutions were/are filled with left wing parasites and they need to be thrown out. We've had enough of these jhola chaap big bindi brigades...Now let me give you another example India performed terribly under the captain ship of the Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar.
pk | 6 years ago | Reply Muslim from pakistan are all comunnal because they are coverted from hindu to muslim by Aurengzeb in 1700 century. he made muslim from Hindu. and after india partition these converted people made their seperate nation. They are not real muslims. Real muslims are from Saudi arabia thats why they like Hindus and India very much. I dare to say, if every pakistani goes back in History and try to find his family tree in 1600 century those will be all Hindus. Same apply to converted christians. those who converted from hindu to christian will not eat temple food, but those are real christians from western country will come to Hindu temple and eat temple food. So who is not converted is always a real secular person from heart.
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