Being FTII

Ashok Ogra
There is no denying that the reputed Film & TV Institute of India, Pune (FTII) has built its reputation on the enduring value of its founders – Gajanan Jagirdar, first Principal, and the noted film maker Ritwik Ghatak – initially the Vice Principal and later promoted Principal who inculcated among the students an unwavering commitment to excellence, encouraged them to be bold in their choices, original in their ideas, and passionate in their pursuit of creative individuality.
It was the S.K.Patil Film Enquiry Committee of 1949 that recommended the setting up of a film school: FTII finally came up on the former Prabhat Studio premises in Pune in 1960, and the academic session commenced next year.
From its inception, the institute engaged teachers with outstanding credentials. Prof. Satish Bhadur was one such faculty who taught film appreciation. Who better to speak about Prof. Bhadur’s brilliance than his student and later junior colleague- Prof. Surendar Chawdhary: ‘we were impressed, and stayed impressed in the underlying belief that a great film cannot but be structured with great complexity.’
Dadasaheb Phalke Awardee Adoor Gopalakrishnan who belongs to the first batch credits his career and understanding the language of cinema to the institute.
To mark the 60 years of its establishment, the institute has brought out a fascinating book BEING FTII- containing reminiscences and essays of its alumni. In the words of its dynamic director, Bhupendra Kainthola, ‘the book chronicles the journey of an institution that every Indian film maker looks up to…. The book is the signature of a hallowed place that’s ever changing and yet in some sense never changing.’
Filmmaker cum cinema scholar Arun Khopkar writes about the learning ambience at the institute: ‘The sunshine of a laburnum fell on the canopy of the Wisdom Tree, just outside the main theatre. It had space enough underneath, for ‘argumentative cineastes’ of all colours, shades and opinions.’ The wisdom tree situated in the middle of the campus has a certain mythical quality. It is considered the most happening place on the campus.
The admission to the course in Film wing is tough – perhaps tougher than IITs- as it admits only 10 students (approx) against each seven specializations it offers.
For film editor A.K.Mitra studying at FTII was like ‘Deconstructing magic,’ for director Shaji Karun the institute enabled ‘me to visualize life in every shade and to read the binaries of life.’
The institute prides itself in welcoming cinema masters to its campus- from Akira Kurosawa to Satyajit Ray.
It was left to Prof. Bhadur and P.K.Nair of National Film Archives to expose the students to international cinema.
Noted director Sriram Raghvan provides an interesting anecdote of David Lean’s visit to the institute: ‘He was shown some diploma films made by the students. His response after the viewing was no pep talk. “Who are you making films for? I can tell you which shot is from which German or Czech or French film. You should watch the films of V. Shantaram and Bimal Roy too.’
That FTII is more than a campus is best expressed by cinematographer A.K. Bir: ‘Bound in its field of limitation, FTII opens up a vast space. This is so because it carries a rich legacy of the past, the dynamic value of the present and progressive vision of the future.’
For showman Subash Ghai the institute has a different fragrance altogether. ‘I will always be proud of my mother’s institute, FTII, and its creation of versatile talents in cinema and the media arts till date. FTII, Jai Ho!!!’
Pierre Friquet from France who joined the cinematography course is honest to admit that FTII is well recognised beyond borders- thanks to top awards its alumni have bagged at international festivals. No wonder, FTII is ranked among the top 10 films school in the world.
I can’t think of any other institute in India focussed on a singular discipline whose alumni have won so many Padma awards. The list includes: Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji Karun, Jaya Bachchan, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Girish Kasaravalli, Jahnu Barua, A. K. Bir, Danny Denzongpa, Tom Alter, Sadhu Mehar, Santosh Sivan, Naresh Bedi, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Resul Pookutty ( who also won an Oscar ) to name just a few.
Shatrughan Sinha disagrees with those who think that acting can’t be taught: ‘I salute our FTII and pay my tribute to the most wonderful personality in the world who taught me and gave me everything I know, the late and great professor Roshan Taneja.’
Shabana Azmi echoes similar sentiments when she first started shooting for ‘Ankur’: ‘It was for the first time that I was stepping into a village and playing a character completely different from the English educated, Westernised Bombay girl that I was in 1973. What came to my rescue was the training I had received at FTII in the Stanislavski method.’
The FTII story is closely interlinked with TV Wing set-up in 1974 as an in-service training centre for DD personnel. The advent of satellite TV in the 1990s led to demand for trained manpower. The then energetic Prof. Iftekhar Ahmed, Dean (TV) responded promptly and launched one year courses in :Direction, Electronic Cinematography, Video Editing and Sound & Television Engineering. In addition, the TV wing conducts many other courses for various government units.
B.P.Singh acknowledges the contribution of TV wing to media industry: ‘Practically no programme was made without FTII Film Wing alumni being involved, from RAMAYAN to NUKKAD.’
Dhiraj Meshram, Dean (Films) and Prof. R.N.Pathak, Dean (TV) in their write-ups, highlight the contribution of FTII graduates to Indian and world cinema, and to the television industry.
Laxmi Keluskar who opted for a course in Art Direction & Production Design credits the institute for teaching her to see beyond the space surrounding the actors, and to look at the colour palette of the story, the costumes and the appearance of the actors.
With this book, FTII speaks for itself. And who better to ease us into the story than Amit Tyagi who has worked across various media platforms, and also served as Dean (Films), and designer Vikram Varma who deserves praise for producing such a fascinating book.
‘Every single emotion is out there, expressed by someone with more lucidity than I could ever had….it had to be a book to represent an important national institution of Modern India, and it had to represent the cultural and philosophical diversity of India and Indian cinema, that all of us experience at first hand at FTII,’ Amit writes.
Apart from messages from the then Minister and Secretary of I&B Ministry, and of Shekhar Kapoor, the book contains profound thoughts on cinema: Abhijeet Desphpande, Amit Dutta, Arunaraje Patil, Bipin Naria, Bishwadeep Chatterji, Hitendra Ghosh, Rajul Shah, Krishanarjun
Bhattacharya, Nimisha Pandey, Rajula Shah, Raj Kumar Rao and Vinay Shukla.
The award winning director K Hariharan argues for setting up a film school in the North east so that the regional cinema also flourishes like Bollywood. He raises a valid question: ‘Are today’s Tamil and Malayalam films really regional?’
Both Dharam Gulati & Rajeev Kamal tell the story of the Alumni Association ‘GraFTIl’- that stands for Graduates of Film and Television Institute of India- a unique joint family comprising versatile professionals, advancing the cause of cinema and looking after the welfare of its members.
With the rise of OTT platforms FTII must start embracing newer platforms. ‘This calls for new pathways to be discovered in the syntax and semiotics of film language,’ pleads G.S. Bhaskar. It is left to award winning director Jahnu Barua to provide interesting glimpses of non-academic campus life. The flavor of the weekends was Double Ghoda- a brand of cheap liquor that acted as a catalyst for exhilarating discussions on art, culture, literature, films, philosophy etc.
Published by the Publications Division, GOI, with rich archival photographs, it is one of the most giftable coffee table books. It is like a time capsule and entirely fresh. The interesting aspect of the book is that it enables a reader to feel intimate with filmmakers one does not know.
Hope in the coming decades the learning at the institute – both under the Wisdom Tree and in the studio- will continue to be a joy. And, in the words of alumnus Anup Singh- a topography that teaches students to ‘dance in space and time.’
(The author is Advisor, Apeejay Education Society. He has also taught at FTII during 1982-85)