Someone’s phone buzzed. The girl hung up in panic. Two students, Kislay and Shubham, friends of ours, had been arrested at IFFI in Goa and detained by the police. The students had planned to screen a few documentaries about the FTII struggle at IFFI. But a day before the film festival, IFFI had announced that they had cancelled the student film category altogether. So at the inauguration the students had sat in the auditorium quietly, waiting for the speeches to get over and then started shouting slogans and flashing placards of “Save FTII” before security dragged them out. Their phones were impounded. The only way to reach them was to call the Agassim Police Station, a number we dialed frantically only to be met with the same rehearsed answer, “We are detaining them for questioning”. We tried not to talk about the faint wails we could hear in the background.
Plans were made to catch the next bus to Goa. “Do you think” a girl with glasses gulped nervously, “that they may have been beaten up?” I shook my head, but I wasn’t sure myself. I needed to step away from the commotion to get a moment of clarity. Kislay was an old classmate, someone central to the whole protest at the Institute and had been helping me with a story I was doing on `FTII Mahabharat’. Just a few of days ago I had interviewed him in detail about the whole saga. I pick up my Dictaphone and pressed rewind. I can hear Kislay’s recorded voice play out.
Kislay fighting off CISF personnel
“Calling for the strike was an extreme measure we had to take after all doors to discussion had been shut down on us. Calling the strike off was an even more difficult decision to make after 139 days. Within the first 20 days of the strike, getting entangled in the bureaucratic processes of the government we figured that removing Gajendra Chahuhan wasn’t something that we would achieve via the strike. We had planned to move the court, but a voice had to be raised, support had to be gathered. There were demonstrations by students in 25 cities as an act of solidarity with FTII, including students from Sri Lanka. Since our strike started, many incidents like Dadri and other incidents of religious intolerance took place that generated even more dissent towards the current regime, and the return of numerous National awards. We happened to be the first ones to create that stir. And that was important”
ME: “Then why call off the strike now? When there are film directors returning their awards to extend support to you?”
KISLAY: “See, we are students, and more importantly artists. We know how to make films, create art. Fighting with bureaucracy in our country is something that can take years. We can’t put our education to a stop for that. We need to be answerable to our parents as well. All we asked for was to remove an unjustified appointment of the Chairman who was to be in charge of our Institute. That’s all. There was no dialogue opened for that either”
ME: “Why such hostility towards Gajendra Chauhan? Why not give him a chance as a Chairman?”
KISLAY: “You know how many attempts are made by students to get into FTII? And for how many years? There are as little as 11 seats per year in each department here. We try for years sometimes to get into this place. Why not let all the students in and give them a fair chance? It is one of the top film institutes of the country. If you look for credibility and merit in students, the students can ask the same from the Chairman. It’s only fair.”
A wall on FTII campus
ME: “So what now? What are your plans next?”
KISLAY: “We are talking to lawyers about planning to move court. We have made 3-4 documentaries about the whole ‘FTII Mahabharat’ that we plan to screen at IFFI in Goa. We are going there with a signature campaign to garner support for FTII from international filmmakers. We will not take this quietly”
ME: “You think this will work?”
KISLAY: “Even if it doesn’t, we won’t stop. This is bigger than FTII, than one Chairman. It’s the right to education in a democracy. You can stop one student, one student body, but we’re all coming together. You can’t stop a generation. Hum bhaari padenge”
The recording comes to a stop. Kislay’s last words are still ringing in my ears. “Hum bhaari padenge…” I straighten up. “They’ll be fine” I think to myself. They aren’t criminals, they’re just students protesting. But given the current situation in the country, where rumors of beef eating can get one lynched, where the police have been know to hit without asking questions, who is to say. I walk back to the canteen. The chai-pe-charcha session that was going on earlier was silent now, resembling nothing like the frantic bunch of people crying out to each other a while ago. The silence is pregnant, like something brewing inside them as they sit listening to a bearded fellow hum an improvised song on his guitar.
“War will bring the revolution… revolution will stop the war…” he sang, his limpid eyes looking strangely prophetic.
“Amen!” I said to myself and took a seat with the others.
FTII’s protest slogan
Two days later Kislay and Shubham’s case is being argued by 8 lawyers from Goa who voluntarily stepped up to defend them. 'The charges on them were being on the premises illegally, even though they had passes to the festival, impersonating as guests, which is impossible since there was no photo ID on the passes, and stopping an armed officer from discharging their duties, which is a non-bailable offense. Two of them were roughed up by a group of policemen, and the cops claim that they had been assaulted. Two students assaulting a group of cops? How is that even possible? We were told that Kislay and Shubham were taken to Agassim Police Station at 10 30 PM, when actually they were being held at Panjim Police Headquarters. They knew we couldn’t do much in the middle of the night, so they kept making us go round in circles. Kislay and Shubham’s phones were taken away, they weren’t allowed to contact anyone, whereas the law allows for a friend or relative to either accompany or contact them. They weren’t even allowed to contact a lawyer' says Neel Mani Kant, a student at FTII.
“They had valid passes, they didn’t indulge in violence, all they did was shout slogans. Demonstrating peacefully is our national democratic right, you can’t arrest someone on the basis of that” says the students’ advocate Mr. Almeida. The parents of Kislay and Shubham have no way of knowing where they are, how they are, since their phones are not with them. Several students went to support them, but were stopped from meeting since they were in police custody. Meanwhile two more FTII students were thrown out of the IFFI premises, one for wearing a ‘Save FTII’ t-shirt, and the other, well, just for being from FTII. Four students from FTII were also stooped from entering a film screening, despite holding valid delegate passes. They had been hastily sent an email saying their registration had been cancelled. No reason was cited for the said cancellation.
Posters at FTII
While Kislay and his friend struggle to prove their innocence in court, two students of a reputed national film institute are being labelled as an ‘international embarrassment to the nation’ by the government. Diktats of the 'The International Film Festival of India' (IFFI) seem more and more bizarre. An alternate film festival by the students was announced in Goa, where around 80 filmmakers have lent their support to the movement, but they are forced to move venues every day, because cops will arrive wherever students are gathered in those areas. “We’re only trying to screen some films we made at the institute. We have permissions. The other day they stopped us from floating balloons in the air. I mean come on! We’re not indulging in any seditious activity. Is it a crime to have a voice under this regime?” asks Neel.
Gajendra Chauhan dressing up for Ram Leela as Shiva
As I walk into the FTII gates, an abandoned poster of the abandoned agitation stares back at me. It has the erstwhile Yudhishtir of the days of Doordarshan with his hairy chest exposed while seducing a woman in bed, a cutting obtained from one of his ‘soft-core porn’ films. The institute had a sense of humour. But the silence of defiance is all pervading in the premises of their campus.
Disclaimer: The views and frustration expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Smriti Dewan
Photo Courtesy: FTII Wisdom Tree