According to Gajendra Chauhan, the television actor named to head the Governing Council of the Film and Television Institute of India, the school has not had any major achievements since 1987, the year director Rajkumar Hirani graduated.

Why did Chauhan single out Hirani? The PK director’s batch included several other worthies, such as filmmakers Sriram Raghavan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, cinematographers KU Mohanan, CK Muraleedharan, Hari Nair and Faroukh Mistry, and sound designers Biswadeep Chatterjee and Anuj Mathur. All of these are respected names in the film industry, and have won several awards. The only difference is that none of them has produced four blockbusters in a row, one more gargantuan than the rest. If that is the only criterion to judge a filmmaker, then every film school that fails to produce a bank-breaker should shut down and send its students home.

Since it was set up in 1960 in Pune, the country’s oldest and most prestigious film school has produced some of the brightest talent across filmmaking departments. It is so revered, many people in the film industry refer to it simply as “the Institute”. Its detractors are fond of attacking its alleged snobbery and pretentiousness, but the numbers of well-trained and thinking professionals who bring intelligence, taste and attentiveness to their craft are too large to ignore.

Roster of excellence

After Hirani, the FTII has produced editors, directors, actors, sound designers and cinematographers who have been given national awards by the same Union government that is responsible for Chauhan’s appointment. Among the prize-winning filmmakers who emerged after 1987 are Marathi filmmakers Sunil Sukhtankar (co-director with Sumitra Bhave of Devrai, Vastpupurush and Astu, among others) and Umesh Kulkarni, whose Deool won a National Award in 2009. Cinematographers Sudeep Chatterjee, who has shot several Bollywood hits, including Chak De! India and Dhoom: 3, and Mrinal Desai, who shot this year’s National Award winner Court, are also FTII alumni.

Sound designer VP Mohandas, from the 1993 batch, worked on another National Award-winning film from this year, the Marathi movie Killa. Before and after Hirani, the institute has produced a raft of talent for the documentary world, including directors RV Ramani, Reena Mohan, Rajula Shah, Shyamal Karmakar, Nishtha Jain, Pankaj Rishi Kumar, Avijit Mukul Kishore, editor Jabeen Merchant and sound designers Anita Kushwaha and Gissy Michael.

The only Indian sound recordist to win an Oscar, Resul Pokutty, graduated from the institute in 1995. Pokutty won the Oscar along with Ian Tapp and Richard Prkye for best sound mixing for Danny Boyle’s Mumbai-set Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. Actor Rasika Dugal, from the critically acclaimed movie Kshay and Qissa, is also an FTII acting-course graduate. Directors Amit Dutta and Gurvinder Singh, whose films have travelled to several esteemed film festivals, are among the well-regarded names in the arthouse scene.

Mistaken belief

To believe that a film school has to produce a Gold Class member of the Rs 100-crore box office club in order to be seen as successful is to misunderstand the mission of such institutions. Film institutes are supposed to produce professionals who can contribute to cinema to the best of their abilities by harnessing their training and creativity. Excellence and achievement are defined in broader terms than at the average business school, and if these arguably abstract criteria are to be applied, the FTII has done more than its fair share.

Several other film schools are now competing with the FTII in contributing to the vast pool of professionals needed to maintain India’s status as the second-largest film industry on the planet. The Pune film school’s rivals include the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata, the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, and the MGR Government Film and Television Training Institute and the LV Prasad Film & TV Academy in Chennai. Every year, each of these colleges produces filmmakers with various levels of talent and imagination. Some go on to win awards, some are responsible for or contribute to hit-making machines. Others simply give their best, and their achievements can neither be ignored nor quantified in monetary terms. These high-profile and invisible professionals have been shaping the seventh art in their own small and big ways. None of them is in the same league as Hirani. But not every one of them wants to be either.