After almost two years of his controversial tenure, Mahabharat actor Gajendra Chauhan is set to be replaced as FTII chairman by veteran actor Anupam Kher. Chauhan’s tenure was marred by controversies. From his day 1, students of FTII Pune started a protest against Chauhan’s appointment, questioning his credentials to hold the chair of the premier institute. The students were soon joined by a number prominent actors and filmmakers, who too, condemned Chauhan’s appointment for the post and deemed him unfit for the job. Some in the film industry even asked Chauhan, an actor who shot to fame with TV epic Mahabharat, to quit voluntarily. However, Chauhan remained unmoved and refused to resign.
What was the charge against Chauhan and when students started their strike?
A large number of FTII students went on an indefinite strike since June 12 protesting against the surprise appointment of Chauhan by Information & Broadcast Ministry’. They argued that Chauhan’s most noted work – the role of Yudhishthira in the hugely popular Mahabharat TV series produced by BR Chopra – is not something which makes him eligible enough to carry the stature of FTII chairman. Other than Mahabharata, Chauhan only had the credentials of appearing in numerous television soaps and B-grade Bollywood ventures.
The student body of FTII, which spearheaded the protest, argued that Chauhan’s credentials were nowhere at par with its former heads such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, UR Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad and Shyam Benegal, who have contributed immensely to Indian theatre, cinema and literature. The intensity of vociferous protests was so high that Chauhan could assume office only after six months of his appointment, in January 2016.
FTII Students’ Association president Harishankar Nachimuthu, who spearheaded the campaign, maintained that student body had nothing to do with political affiliations of Chauhan.
No to a BJP party worker as FTII Chairman
Moreover, the students and film fraternity also saw the appointment of Chauhan as an instance of political largesse. The actor-turned politician is a member of BJP since 2004. He had campaigned extensively for BJP in Haryana.
The protests against Chauhan soon turned into an ideological battle of Left vs Right. A number of left-wing students’ organisations like the All India Students’ Association (AISA), Kolkata-based Satyajit Ray Film Institute and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) came out strongly in support of striking students.
Anupam Kher’s appointment
Anupam Kher’s appointment signals the start of new era for the premier film institute. Kher, a veteran actor, brings with him the experience of heading Central Board of Film Certification and National School of Drama in the past. On becoming the chairman of FTII, Anupam Kher said, “I feel deeply humbled and honoured to be apportioned as the Chairman of iconic FTII. I will perform my duties to the best of my abilities.”
Kher is a veteran actor and recognised internationally for his skills. Despite his support for PM Narendra Modi and BJP, Kher too, in past had spoken against Chauhan for the top job. He had stated that Chauhan was not qualified either as a producer, director or an actor for the job.
“FTII needs somebody who is well-qualified, someone having a great body of work,” said Kher. “I certainly do not think Gajendraji is qualified as a producer, director or actor.”
Although Kher brings with him extensive experience and credentials as an actor, he too has been a vocal supporter of issues raised by BJP. An Indian Express report says representatives of FTII students’ body have expressed displeasure over Kher’s appointment. They have said it is clear that “only those close to BJP or RSS” are being appointed and the students’ body “does not see any difference in the appointment of Kher and that of his predecessor Chauhan”.