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September 13, 2000


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'Do you think I can threaten the students?'

Aggressive? Or defensive? Angry? Or hurt? Passionate? Or dramatic? Or is it all of these?

It sure is hard to tell after talking to Mohan Agashe -- a psychiatrist turned actor turned director of the Film and Television Institute of India. More so when you hear what his colleagues and students allege about him.

"He is very manipulative. Because he is a psychiatrist, he understands people's minds and plays his tricks accordingly," asserts an acting professor at the institute.

"He has double standards. He makes statements and then denies all of them," says Rajesh Shera, president, Students Association, FTII.

"I think he needs some rest. He should consult some fellow psychiatrist. It is for his own good that he should leave the institute. Why does he want to stay in a place where nobody likes him?" asks Dr Shreehari Marathe, a consultant at the FTII.

Seventy per cent of the institute's staff have turned against him. Add to this the student community, some film personalities, the institute's authorities and others across the country. Even the information and broadcasting ministry shows signs of supporting the agitating FTII students.

But Agashe continues to tread his path relentlessly.

The institute has been following a three-year integrated course structure ever since its inception. In 1996, a review committee was formed to devise a revised syllabus, which was approved by the appropriate authorities. However, the revised syllabus suddenly went out of the picture and thus originated the debatable 1+1+1 structure with features such as 'multiple entry and exit' and compulsory elimination. In the interim period, no students were admitted to the institute for two years.

Agashe argues that the new course structure (that has led to the strike), will provide students with the basic qualifications required to work in the industry. But students and staff counter argue that they will be no more than low cadre technicians after the completion of this course.

Agashe defends himself against the charges in this interview with's Kanchana Suggu.

The syllabus of the Film and Television Institute of India has not changed much in the last 35 years. So when you decided to change it, didn't you anticipate any resistance?

I did not decide to change the syllabus, it was the governing council and the academic council's decision.

When the appropriate governing authorities decided to implement a new course structure, was any resistance anticipated?

There have been changes off and on, but not such radical ones. In 1996, a two-year course was introduced by Adoor Gopalkrishnan, who was then chairman of the governing council. But it was abandoned without any academic inquiry. I wasn't here at that time, so I don't know why it was done.

No, I did not anticipate such resistance. A strike every three years has practically become the conditional reflex of the institute. So much so that I now really think that it should be made a part of the official curriculum. Something like a three to four-week module on how to organise a strike, how to find reasons for a strike, etc.

We did publish the prospectus. All the students, who are graduates, were fully aware that this was a one-year basic course. Now they say that they gave it a try and the structure has failed. I don't know how they know it has failed. The course has not even been completed as yet.

Is it true that you threatened the students that you will strike them off the rolls and evict them from their hostels if they do not call off the strike?

Do you think I can threaten the students? No, I did no such thing. See, it is a matter of perception. In heightened emotionality, if a cat walks on a roof, you feel it is an earthquake.

When one is at a heightened state of emotional perception, these things happen. The students wrote me a letter saying that we met the faculty, the director, the academic council and the governing council, but nobody listened to our appeal. So we have no option but to go on strike.

I said to them that if nobody had agreed, please join classes and that if they fail to join by a certain date, I would be left with no choice but to take further appropriate action. Is that a threat?

As the director of the institute who is accountable and answerable to the governing council because I have been appointed as an executive academic and administrative head, should I have not told them what I did?

Have the students misbehaved in any way during the course of this strike?

Not really. Except that during the last appeal, when I went to the gate to give it to them, they tore it and threw it. I was grieved. I was almost crying, but from inside. I am grown up now. I cannot cry.

Then, why did you deploy the police on the campus? Your act seems to have upset the students.

No, I did not deploy the police. Why will I deploy the police? One day, an ex-student, who finished his term, was talking very loudly. So I couldn't even talk to the students whom I went to meet. This is not an ex-student's problem. They should be in the industry now. After that, some of them started conducting a meeting under the wisdom tree on the campus. This is not permitted. If anything like this happens, I have to inform the police.

As a director of the institute, it is my duty to do so. More than that, since the last one year, the commissioner of police has said that since the FTII is an institute of national importance, it is their job to come and put an end to any kind of unrest and agitation on the campus.

What about your numerous requests to the students to come and join classes?

Honestly, I really love them. Except for some three or four students. But these three or four are not even students now, they are ex-students, the strike leaders of the past. But most of the students of the current batch are really good. I love them.

You know, the fight between my students and me is like one between a father and his son. Even if the father says something right, the son is not willing to listen. But both the father and the son are good people. I used to share a good rapport with my students until some ex-students came into the picture and then suddenly the president and the general secretary of the students council stopped coming to me. Before that I even remember going up to the students, talking with them, sharing jokes with them. We had fun.

Dr Shreehari Marathe and Professor Surinder Singh have condemned your attitude.

Professors? They are not professors in our college. Both are on contract basis. I was introduced to Dr Marathe and because I found him good, I appointed him. If you see his track record, he has not done any service for a long time. Well, that is a different issue. He was taken on a contract for three years and he set up the media lab. His contract is to be renewed every one year.

His first year gets over in November and we may not need his services any longer. Somebody who does not stand with the official academic policy of the institute has no right to be working for that institute. Surinder Singh is also on contract for six months as an assistant professor in script writing.

Actually, I am surprised that Mr Marathe has said this, because the computer course has been designed by him. He was fully aware of the course. If they had any reservations about the course structure, they could have communicated it to me or to the core group of 14 members who had daily meetings for around six months. Why did they have to wait for the strike? So there could be other hidden motives, I don't know what they are. Perhaps Surinder Singh wants an appointment in the institute.

I won't say much now. Ek ne bhens maari, to main gaay nahin maaroonga.

In any case, everything happening in this institute has become public now.

There is another way of saying it. I am transparent, but I still don't want to wash my dirty linen in public. And mind you, there is a difference between the two. Dilip Kumar had once come to the campus for the convocation. I managed to get such a fine guest for the function. But he was extremely disappointed when the students held a demonstration. He thought that even if the students had problems, that was not the appropriate time to bring up the issue. You tell me, were the students right?

As a director of this institute, I will give you all the correct facts. What I tell you is the same as what I tell the academic council, the governing council, the students and the ministry. I won't say one thing today and something else tomorrow. One has to be open, stable and consistent in one's thought.

(Angrily) I always feel like I'm being cross-examined. Why? Prove the charges! This is kind of treatment is not academic.

Do you lose your temper with your students too like this?

Only once before has it happened when a student was not talking respectfully to me. I have been doing children's theatre and I simply love to be with students. I have high frustration tolerance and I have a good sense of humour. Even now, if you see, they have put up wonderful posters and cartoons. It shows their creativity. If they use their creativity in films, they will surely be able to make a name for themselves as good creative people with innovative ideas.

What is art? Art is an ability to produce the best out of the worst. Art challenges working with limitations. Why was Ray great? Because he worked within limitations. He did not demand. Go and see the camera he worked with or even the studio in which he worked and you will be amazed. This has to be introduced to the students. Innovations come from within you, they are not in technology. Technology is only a tool; innovation is the mind behind them.

You are beginning to lose the support of your faculty. What will you do when more and more people turn against you?

Then we will close down. In August 1998 and 1999, we had a zero year. It is unfair to other students. If the earlier students hadn't gone on strike, hadn't gone to court, hadn't gone to parliamentary committees, we would have been able to admit students in 1998 itself. It is bad for an institute not to admit students. We don't open institutes not to admit students. Students should be out in the industry as soon as possible, helping the institute earn a good reputation.

And hasn't the industry's attitude towards the institute changed because of these strikes?

We are trying to promote industry integration in the institute. This institute was kind of isolated from the industry because of the very attitude of the students. There is a phenomenal growth in the television and video media. We are working in the era of convergence. Even if you are making a film, you have to work on computer-based technology. If till 1997 it has not been introduced, then can we say that this institute has taken cognisance of the industry? No, it has grown in isolation. The industry needs ten people. You have to recognise their need. Everybody doesn't need to become a Subhash Ghai or a Mani Kaul.

But the institute surely has produced some big names in the past.

Ninety-eight per cent of the names of FTII students quoted in various articles are those of students who were here before the Eighties. Ray became Ray only because of his consistency. I had sent my syllabus to Adoor as well as to Shyam Benegal. There was a situational analysis, then there was a proposed syllabus after which there was a discussion of the pros and cons. All these things go into the designing of a syllabus.

What do you have to say about reports in newspapers that quoted you as saying that the faculty members are not talented?

Faculty members not talented? That is untrue. When I was appointed, I was asked to do an analysis of this institute. I was told that I have been appointed so as to try and resolve the problems. I did a SWOT analysis. But the press likes to mention only the weaknesses. In the press conference, I explained that it was a typographical error on the part of the newspaper and that instead of the newspaper typing 'poor number of teachers', they carried it as 'poor teachers'.

There are 348 staff members and 30 teachers. So there really was a poor number of teaching staff. Another thing was that the faculty was not provided with either good scales or professional development opportunities. I had to examine these problems.

The students have accused you of using the main theatre for your personal plays.

When the new sound studio was built, it was told that main theatre of the campus had to be demolished because it was in a very bad condition owing to leakages. If I had to install my new projectors there, the cost would be very high. But it was okay to do some theatre plays. I have told students to form a theatre club. The whole idea is to start an FTII Rangamanch. We have done some three shows there. The whole idea is to create an environment which is supportive, in which even the students can and should participate.

If everything the students are saying or thinking about you is untrue, is this a case of complete miscommunication?

Yes, it is.

And what has been done to bridge this gap?

You can bridge the gap.

I am neither a governing council or an academic council member.

It will happen. I have not lost hope. Currently, there is a breakdown in communication. If an intelligent person is under the influence of acute alcoholic intoxication, doctors ask him to wait for some time, because one's judgement is impaired in this condition. With time, they will understand. Ten years from now nobody will curse me for what I have done.

Ten years?

Yes, it takes time. I am giving you the maximum time frame. I do not want immediate action. You must do what your conscience asks you to do, without expecting any results. I am doing what I believe in. I am talking to the governing council and to the academic council and also requesting students to attend classes.

I am the executive head. I am not the policy maker. Policy decisions have to made by them. This was the decision of the AC and the GC, so if any changes have to be made, it has to go to these bodies and we are absolutely open to that.

If better alternatives and structures come, we are open to change. If such things don't happen, it is good because this could lead to the government's decision to privatise the institute. If problems persist here, the government will soon declare it a sick unit.

What has happened to the money that has been coming into the institute since the last two years despite zero intake of students?

The institute's budget of Rs 11 crore comprises both planned and non-planned budget -- current, capital and recurrent. I am not getting enough recurrent budget. The original understanding is on the deficit budget and I am not getting the deficit budget since the last ten years. That has affected the physical look of the place. The equipment is good, but the building in which they house the equipment is in precarious condition. So if I don't do anything, there will be a different kind of crisis here. The whole idea of a fee hike is not to bring in money, but to make students more responsible. I still have to undergo expenditure even when the classes are not on.

Learning is unlimited and you can learn in school, outside school anywhere. Let me tell you one thing, the audio-visual medium is becoming terribly powerful. I don't know if anyone realises this fact and this is a training institute to speak in that language first. To play with that language is another thing, to express in that language is another level of existence.

It is a language of images and sound. Everybody is resorting to it. The basic course gives you some training on how to use that language and to find at the end of it, whether he is suited for it or not. And then we will get a good crop of students who will use it either as a form of artistic expression or as a form of entertainment.

You once said that if Mani Kaul or Kumar Sahani are willing to accept the director's post, you will gladly step down. Do you have any plans to resign?

If Mani Kaul or Kumar Sahani want to become the director of FTII, I do not mind stepping down. This is not the ultimate ambition of my life. No, I do not have any ego problems

How do you find time for the institute despite your active acting career?

I am on duty 24 hours. Even in my yoga classes, I am constantly thinking of the institute's problems. People ask me why I play villain and am in government service at the same time. I tell them that everybody has some sadomasochistic needs. My sadistic needs are gratified by playing a villain, so I don't have to bring them to play in my real life. And for my masochistic needs, I go the government to get humiliated.


Once you get a red file, you get stuck. Howsoever genuine your case is, nobody gives you credence. You have to go again and again to them and this is the perfect way of becoming egoless.

And what do you think of the current batch of students?

They are very good and competent. Maybe all 64 are good. But we will not be able to admit all of them for the next year.

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