Thought Box



by Vinta Nanda May 28 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 20 secs

All about the FTII protest against Gajendra Chauhan's appointment led by the students, including Payal Kapadia who has brought pride to the country by winning big at Cannes, reports Vinta Nanda.

Sartre, a leading figure in existentialism, argued that art and literature are means of challenging the status quo. He famously stated, "All art is a revolt against man’s fate." Sartre viewed art as a vehicle for existential freedom, enabling individuals to confront and redefine their existence.
Independent cinema embodies Jean-Paul Sartre's notion by challenging mainstream narratives and exploring existential themes like identity, and authenticity. Free from commercial pressures, indie films probe complex, often uncomfortable truths, offering unconventional storytelling. These storytellers mirror social and political dissent. By prioritizing artistic integrity over profit, independent filmmakers resist commercialization, presenting intimate and personal narratives that resonate universally and provoke deeper reflection on the human condition.

It was a triple feat for Indian talent at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival with Payal Kapadia’s “All We Imagine As Light”, “Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know” by FTII student Chidananda S Naik, and Anasuya Sengupta of “The Shameless” fame winning major awards in each of the three competitive sections of the prestigious gala.

Kapadia, who led a student protest against the appointment of actor-politician Gajendra Chauhan as FTII chairman, earlier won the Oeil d’or (Golden Eye) award at Cannes for acclaimed documentary “A Night of Knowing Nothing”, which premiered under Director’s Fortnight section in 2021. Her 2017 short film “Afternoon Clouds” opened at Cannes under Cinefondation category, dedicated to supporting the next generation of talented filmmakers.

The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) witnessed a  period of unrest starting in June 2015, following the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as its chairperson. The protest addressed deeper issues regarding academic autonomy and political influence.

Gajendra Chauhan, best known for his role as Yudhishthira in the television series "Mahabharat," was appointed as the chairperson of FTII. The announcement sparked immediate backlash from students and alumni, who questioned his credentials and called his appointment politically motivated due to his affiliation with the ruling BJP. They began a strike on June 12, 2015, demanding the revocation of Chauhan's appointment.

Protests included hunger strikes, sit-ins, and garnered widespread support from the film fraternity. The strike gained momentum, drawing attention from national media and political figures. Several film industry veterans expressed solidarity with the students, emphasizing concerns about the autonomy and creative freedom of educational institutions.

Award-winning filmmaker Payal Kapadia, too, played an important role in the protests. She was involved in organizing and leading protest activities. She engaged with media to ensure that the protest's narrative reached a broader audience with the students' concerns.

The government maintained its stance on Chauhan's appointment, asserting that his selection followed due process. Attempts to negotiate with the students largely failed, as they remained steadfast in their demand for his removal.

In September 2015, the FTII administration issued notices to several students, warning of disciplinary action. By October, five students, Vikas Urs, Prateek Vats, Rakesh Shukla, Sanjeet Singh, and Akhil Govind, were suspended, and grants for some students, including that of Payal Kapadia, were put on hold.

On September 19, 2015, the five named above were arrested in the midnight crackdown (they were later released on bail), and a total of 35 students, including Kapadia, were named in the charge sheet. The charges typically included “trespassing” (entering and remaining on the premises without authorization), “obstructing public servants” (hindering the official duties of the members of the FTII Society) and “creating disturbance” (disrupting the peace and order of the meeting).

The proceedings involved multiple hearings and the legal battle is ongoing with the students continuing to contest the charges. The case has become symbolic of the broader struggle for institutional autonomy and resistance against political interference in educational institutions.  

“Thank you, Cannes Film Festival for having our film here. Please don’t wait 30 years to have another Indian film,” said Kapadia in her speech. The movie earned the honour, the second-most prestigious prize of the gala after the Palme d’Or, which went to American director Sean Baker for “Anora”.

“All We Imagine as Light”, a Malayalam-Hindi feature starring Kani Kusruti, Divya Prabha and Chhaya Kadam, revolves around three women in Mumbai. Kapadia’s feature directorial debut, is the first Indian film in 30 years and first ever by an Indian female director to be showcased in main competition, last being Shaji N Karun’s “Swaham” (1994). That “All We Imagine As Light” will win an award became almost certain when it received glowing reviews following its premiere, with some international critics describing it as a “portrait of urban connection” and “poetic meditation” as well as comparing Kapadia’s work to that of masters like Satyajit Ray and Wong Kar Wai.

Writer-lyricist Varun Grover said it was an “unbelievable day” for Indian cinema. “Dissent, in art and in life, is a tough path to choose. But sometimes it does create magic,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

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