Anything that moves

Why the BJP is appointing C-listers to head top institutions

The party doesn't care if its appointees are so perceived for it repudiates the very system that assigned these individuals that position.

The biggest surprise in the standoff between the government and students of the Film and Television Institute of India has been the response of the Hindi film industry. The students might have expected support from alumni like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, as also from directors and actors such as Dibakar Banerjee, Kiran Rao, and Kalki Koechlin interested in alternative forms and niche movies.

But surely Ranbir Kapoor’s video interview expressing solidarity, and Salman Khan’s recent message were pleasant shocks. Even Anupam Kher who has close ties to the ruling party has come out strongly against Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as chairman of FTII.

I think it boils down to hierarchy. Every profession develops a recognisable pecking order, and the Hindi film industry is far from an exception to that rule. Chauhan briefly climbed to the middle rung in the late 1980s, during the run of the vastly popular serialised Mahabharata, but then slipped back to the bottom or thereabouts. Since the industry perceives FTII as an A-grade educational centre, the placement of a C-lister at its head is such an obvious misstep that even those keen to stay in the government’s good books feel obliged to make themselves heard. Salman Khan stands to profit handsomely if his new film is given tax exemption, but that hasn’t stopped him from calling for the resignation of Chauhan, who played a cameo in Khan’s forgettable Tumko Na Bhool Payenge over a decade ago.

A number of intellectuals, notably Ramachandra Guha and Amartya Sen, have criticised this government for placing loyalists at the head of major educational institutions. The valid counter-argument made by Bharatiya Janata Party sympathisers, as also by some neutral pundits like Pratap Bhanu Mehta, is that the Congress was no stranger to stuffing organisations with supporters. Should we conclude, then, that the BJP has been no worse, if not any better, than the government that preceded it? Not quite. While the Congress preferred insiders, it wasn’t averse to non-partisan thinkers perceived to be broadly sympathetic to the Congress ideology if not its practice (Amartya Sen being a prime example). Consequently it had a relatively wide field to choose from, and tended to appoint B-listers when it couldn’t settle on a politically acceptable A-list scholar or professional.  Few United Progressive Alliance-era sinecures were as egregious as Gajendra Chauhan’s nomination as Chairman of FTII; the replacement of Gopalkrishna Gandhi at Simla’s Indian Institute of Advanced Study by Chandrakala Padia; Baldev Sharma’s appointment as chairman of the National Book Trust; Lokesh Chandra’s placement as head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations; and Sudershan ‘Ramayana-is-history’ Rao’s designation as head of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Rejecting scholarship

The question then is why the BJP does not have a cadre of distinguished intellectuals qualified to take up high posts. The simple answer, obscured by political parties manipulating the idea of secularism, is that the scholarship game is secular, while the BJP’s favourite  intellectuals are religious. We can find chemists who are Buddhist, linguists who are Muslim, historians who are Christian, and literary scholars who are Hindu; but we will find no worthwhile Buddhist chemistry, Muslim linguistics, Christian history or Hindu literary theory in the contemporary world. The Modi government, unfortunately, believes in Hindu science, and Hindu history, which are fantasies no important scholar would ever take seriously, and whose propagators could never achieve widespread recognition. As a reaction to their failure to make it to the top of their fields, the BJP-RSS gang rejects scholarship itself, or at least the institutional structures undergirding scholarship in various fields. For instance, if mainstream linguists dismiss claims that Sanskrit is the root of all Indo-European tongues (if not of every language in the world), Hindutva sympathisers retort that the field of philology was corrupted early on by imperialist prejudice and has never corrected itself.

This kind of thinking originated, paradoxically, in the home continent of imperialism, and on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. It grew prominent among post-Marxist thinkers in France in the 1960s, and has infected strands of feminism and much environmentalist thought since then. Raising pertinent questions about the role of authority in establishing consensus within scholarly and aesthetic disciplines, this new thinking suggested that all systems are inextricably trapped in a web of power relations and stand on a foundation of slippery words. It replaced the idea of one true story proffered like a long-stemmed rose, with a bouquet of equally valid narratives.

It didn’t take long for the Right to seize upon the possibilities this approach offered. Exactly 90 years ago, on July 21 1925, a schoolteacher named John Thomas Scopes was convicted for teaching Darwinian ideas to his students, contravening a Tennessee state ban on teaching evolution. Despite the Monkey Trial, natural selection eventually became part of curricula across the United States. In recent years, however, conservative groups have lobbied for religious theories, specifically Biblical myths under the guise of ‘creation science’, to be given equal time in schools, arguing it is democratic to offer different narratives of the way the world came to be. Darwinian evolution, in this interpretation, is not established truth, but just one story among many possible ones.

Hindutva ideologues have developed a conspiracy theory analogous to Creationists in the United States, equally inspired by ideas borrowed from the Left. Mainstream Indian history, according to them, is just an imperialist imposition modified by ideologically driven Marxists. It is entirely irrelevant if a historian fails to make headway within a system so fundamentally flawed. The BJP does not care if its appointees are viewed as C-listers, for it repudiates the system that assigned them that position and intends replacing it with a religiously oriented one. It’s a fight the loonies are destined to lose, but India will suffer substantially in the process.

Funnily, one of the few fields where the ruling party counts the support of individuals of great accomplishment is cinema (economics is another). I cannot fathom why it nominated Gajendra Chauhan when it had such a wealth of eminent persons to choose from. Has the Sangh Parivar grown so radical that it rejects even the hierarchies established in the film industry? Or, more likely, does it dismiss the contribution of FTII so thoroughly that it considers the institution’s chairpersonship beneath the status of its most celebrated supporters?

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.