If the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is looking for a way to end the ongoing strike by Film and Television Institute of India students and address the issues that have plagued India’s premier cinema school in recent years, it doesn’t need the advice of its bureaucrats or Bollywood. It doesn’t, as a recent newspaper report claims, need to shut down the “money-guzzling institute” or hand it over to the Mumbai film industry. Arun Jaitley’s ministry merely needs to dust off Vision FTII: The Next 50 Years, a voluminous report anchored by former National Film Archive of India director PK Nair and sweated over by 11 other members. Both post-mortem and blueprint, the report was submitted to the I&B Ministry in 2011, but since it was not declared “final” (it needed some revisions that never got made) but “interim”, it has not yet been implemented.

The findings of Vision FTII: The Next 50 Years have not been made public, except for a few highlights shared at the time of its completion four years ago. A copy of the report accessed by Scroll.in reveals that if even a quarter of its numerous suggestions is implemented, the Nair committee’s hopes that the FTII will be upgraded “into an institute of international standing by creating a stimulating physical environment which nurtures learning, updates its courses, teaching-learning strategies and brings its technology in consonance with developments worldwide” will be a reality rather than a paper dream. The demands range a complete overhaul of the way in which the institute is run, better pay and staffing patterns, and greater autonomy from the I&B Ministry.

The committee was formed in response to a previous Draft Project Report that had been submitted by Hewitt Associates, a private management consultancy. Hewitt Associates had recommended, among other things, privatisation of the institute. Its findings were presented at a workshop held on September 29 and 30 at the institute, where it was recommended that a new report be commissioned, one that would be by “a group of people who understood cinema, academics and the ethos of the FTII and could formulate a vision for the Institute‘s future”.

Headed by PK Nair, the founder of the national archive, the committee included Shama Zaidi, Kundan Shah, Nachiket Patwardhan, Shaji N Karun, Chandita Mukherjee, K Jagadeeswaran, Jabeen Merchant, Sankalp Meshram, Hansa Thapliyal, Kavita Pai, Samarth Dixit and Ajayan. Most of the committee’s members are eminent FTII alumni, while Ajayan represented the FTII Student Association.

The members offered their services on a voluntary basis. They studied previous reports on the institute and conducted several exhaustive interviews with present and past faculty members, staff and students. From syllabus revisions to enhanced salaries for staff and better utilisation of the existing facilities and space, the survey is far-reaching in its scope and ambition.

More investment, not less

Among the main objectives of the Nair committee’s interim report is to ensure that the FTII be raised to a Centre of Excellence for cinema and television education through an Act of Parliament. “Once the FTII is recognised as a Centre of Excellence, an application can be made to the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development to declare the post graduate Diplomas in Cinema equivalent to a University Master’s degree.” UGC recognition will result in better pay scales and duty exemption on the equipment that the institute constantly needs to purchase and upgrade, suggests the report.

The report also recommends bringing together all the various government-supported media schools in India, including the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, under one department within the I&B Ministry to ensure that they get the attention they deserve. The syllabus needs to be reviewed “on a yearly basis in order to keep pace with technological advancements”, and “to respond to the changing emphasis from film negative to HD and digital technology, revolutionise technical practices by training students accordingly”, says the report.

The committee members also have suggestions on the use of the former Prabhat Studios land on which the FTII was established in 1960. One of the suggestions is to “make optimum use of the land and buildings that the FTII possesses in alignment with the renewed vision; and to develop the three campuses – Prabhat, Darshan and Sharan in an environment-friendly manner, keeping in view its heritage value”. (These suggestions are accompanied by detailed charts and budget break-ups, to indicate the level of detail into which the report has gone to improve the institute’s workings.)

Rather than cut down on academic inputs, as has been suggested at various stages in the institute’s existence, the FTII needs more staff, a more sustained involvement from former alumni, and exposure to experts from other art forms. There are recommendations on staffing requirements: “It is proposed that in the future all new faculties should initially be employed as contract faculty and only those who fulfil required conditions will be absorbed as permanent faculty when those posts become vacant.” Also, “eminent personalities from cinema and other arts may be invited to reside on the campus as artists-in-residence.”

More freedom, not less

One of the more potentially contentious recommendations is a demand for greater autonomy. The FTII has a Governing Council, whose members are “government nominees or ex-officio members” who are “not expected to become involved with the Institute”, says the report. The institute’s director, usually a government official on a short-term stint, has immense academic and administrative powers. This is one of the reasons for the numerous strikes at the institute, the committee members point out. Barely a decade after it started functioning, there were enough rumblings of dissent on campus for the Centre to set up a committee headed by Justice GD Khosla.

“The Khosla Committee made several significant recommendations, the most important one being that the Institute should become an autonomous body by a statute of Parliament… the Committee recommended that a film maker be appointed to this post for a fixed tenure.”

The FTII didn’t get the status of an autonomous body, but it was registered as a society in 1974. The FTII Society’s members, including government officials and film personalities, are nominated by the Centre, and it in effect, “functions at the pleasure of the I&B Ministry and not as a body at the helm of an autonomous academic organisation”, according to the report. “The Khosla Committee‘s recommendation regarding the appointment of a film maker to the post of Director FTII has seldom been observed, the preference being for serving bureaucrats with no experience of either film making or academic administration.”

The FTII director at present is Dharmendra Jai Narain, from the Indian Information Services. Narain, who also happens to be the lead singer of the band Aryans, was recently saddled with the additional charge of running the Films Division after its Director General, VS Kundu, completed his three-year term.

There is also an Academic Council that is supposed to advise the FTII administration on academic matters, but it has not been sufficiently consulted and has “not been taken seriously”, alleges the report.

Strike after strike

The report identifies some of the reasons for the repeated occurrence of agitations, including staff cuts even as the number of students has increased, unused funds, postponement of equipment upgrades, a massive backlog in the completion of student assignments, and constant changes in the syllabus. “Each time compromises are reached, and educational activities are resumed, but the deep-rooted issues are not engaged with… The sullenness of faculty and staff in the face of such continued tension is also due to the uncertainty about the plans of the Government of India regarding the FTII,” warns the report. “Every now and then, a rumour spreads that the FTII is to be shut down or privatised and this creates further misgivings.”

Rather than shifting the FTII from the I&B ministry to the Human Resources Development ministry, as has been suggested in the past, there needs to be a “change in mindset”. The FTII “must be inspired by an evolved aesthetic, not merely the demands of the market”, and “must keep evolving its educational programmes and vision for India and for the world into its next 50 years”, says the report.