NB: My wholehearted support and solidarity for the students on hunger-strike. I warn you that the consequences may be severe, authorities can be especially vicious when they are shown up to be both mistaken and arrogant - Dilip
Here are some things for you to read
SUHAS PALSHIKAR - There are many ways India mirrors the Emergency now
Bertolucci’s film is set in the Paris of 1968, and begins with the agitations around the abrupt removal of the director of the Cinémathèque Française, the now-legendary Henri Langlois. The struggle was for his reinstatement and for the removal of a man named Pierre Barbin. Barbin was an obscure and relatively inexperienced film-festival organiser, and Langlois was a culture hero even in the eyes of his adversaries.
This agitation in February 1968, which had the support of the world’s greatest film-makers, including Satyajit Ray, was the first shot fired across the bow of the Fifth Republic of France. It culminated in the larger student and trade union protests of May 1968 and the brief “exile” of President Charles de Gaulle, who fled from what seemed to be a revolution in the offing.
But I am getting ahead of myself. As I watched The Dreamers and saw the parallels with the agitation at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, I was at first reluctant to put it down. The hunger strikes at the FTII had not begun, and a committee from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had met with the striking students. It seemed at some point the government would back down. I decided to wait for a bit.
But as the agitation reaches its 100th day on Saturday, the analogy doesn’t seem so stretched. And so this might be a good point to pause and do a recap of the FTII story.
A students’ movement: The students of FTII have been on an indefinite strike since June 12, protesting against the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s appointment of actor-politician Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s chairman. The pinnacle of his career, according to him, is that he played Yudhisthira in the TV series Mahabharata. That was 25 years ago. Since then he has appeared in numerous television soaps and several "B" grade Bollywood films, which many describe as soft-porn.
Apart from this, the students are also protesting the appointments of four of the eight members of the reconstituted FTII panel. These include Anagha Ghaisas, who has made several documentary films about Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Narendra Pathak, a former president of the Maharashtra Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad; Pranjlal Saikia, an office bearer of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-linked organisation; and Rahul Solapurkar, who is intimately associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
However, as Voltaire had warned, “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
On July 17, Prashant Pathrabe, the former director of the National Film Archive of India, was appointed as the new director of FTII. Matters truly came to a head after that. On August 3, as many as 30 students were asked to vacate their hostel rooms. The administration set a six-day deadline for students of the 2008 batch to finish their pending films. This, despite the protests of the faculty, and it being well known that the blame for the delay in the projects lay with the administration.
When their voices were not heard, a month later on August 17, nearly 50 students gheraoed the director and kept him confined in his office. The next day, acting on a complaint by Pathrabe alleging that the students had menaced and threatened him, the police arrived on campus around midnight with an arrest warrant for 15 students.
On September 10, three students went on an indefinite hunger strike, and as their health deteriorated, they were hospitalised one by one, the third one on September 14. From September 14, students from various educational establishments have been participating in token hunger strikes in solidarity with the agitating students of FTII. Students of the Jadavpur University, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Presidency University and Calcutta Medical College launched a six-hour hunger strike at the Jadavpur University campus.
Now that the cops have had their party, raiding and arresting students at midnight, and the students are on a fast unto death, while the government maintains a deathly silence, the story of the Cinémathèque Française might be worth retelling.
The Cinémathèque movement: “Are films more important than life?” asks Jean-Pierre Leaud (who plays the immature, spoiled and needy Alphonse) in Day for Night, François Truffaut’s loving tribute to filmmaking. For Truffaut the answer was in the affirmative.
The retelling is necessary, not least of all, as a tribute to the courageous students of FTII, who seem to have grasped the significance of cinema in the life of a liberal, civil society. Though it is debatable whether society understands its debt to cinema.
Gaston Roberge, often described as the “father of film studies in India”, has a wonderful description of this phenomenon in his classic book on film appreciation, Chitra Bani:
In the spring of 1968, all these fantasies came together on the streets of Paris. It began as a protest by film-makers, students, film lovers, and the public at large demanding the reinstatement of Henri Langlois as the director of the Cinémathèque Française, but the movement grew into a popular revolt involving all sections of society.
The Cinémathèque Française holds one of the largest archives of films, movie documents and film-related objects in the world. Langlois had acquired one of the largest collections in the world for it by the beginning of World War II, only to have it nearly wiped out by the German authorities in occupied France, who ordered the destruction of all films made prior to 1937. He and his friends smuggled large numbers of documents and films out to protect them until the end of the war.
But Andre Malraux, who was then the Culture Minister, and an artistic icon in his own right, had his own way of seeing things. Along with the Gaullist cabinet, he wanted to convert this “film school” into a national institution, but failed to carry with him Langlois and his colleagues. Administration was not one of Malraux’s many talents. In a ham-handed manner, the organisation was taken over, and within 24 hours the locks were changed and Barbin installed as director.
As the protests spread across other institutions, universities and factories, there were violent clashes with the police, barricades across Paris, firebombs, and an all-pervasive belief that the day of revolution had arrived.
As international support grew for the Cinémathèque movement, there was a call for the boycott of the Cannes Film Festival that was to be held later:
The world in darkness: In the Mahabharata, in order to bring his dead brothers back to life, Yudhisthira has to answer the Yaksha’s questions and must get all of them right.
Yaksha: What is the most amazing thing in the world?
Yudhisthira: The most amazing thing in the world is that even though every day one sees countless living entities dying, he still acts and thinks as if he will live forever.
These are words that should haunt our latter-day Yudhisthira. They will help him and his patrons remember and reflect on the impermanence of all phenomena. After all, Yudhisthira stands for duty and righteousness. He is also known as Dharmaraja, and he is the son of the god Dharma. Unfortunately, his rulers in Delhi prefer to emulate the blind king Dhritarashtra’s wife Gandhari. Dhritarashtra was born blind, but Gandhari bound her own eyes with a cloth, determined to see the world as her husband saw it, with darkness.
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