January 11, 2016

India:: Cinematographer Ranjan Palit: Fascism is lurking in our living rooms

The Times of India

Cinematographer Ranjan Palit: Fascism is lurking in our living rooms
Priyanka Dasgupta | TNN | Jan 11, 2016, 02.07 PM IST
Ace cinematographer Ranjan Palit, who had returned his three National Awards to protest the incidents that happened at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), has voiced his concern again. This time around, he has condemned the way students have been allegedly heckled by the cops on the day Gajendra Chauhan arrived at the institute. On Monday, Palit is organising a protest where he has urged people concerned about freedom of expression in institutes like FTII to express their solidarity towards the students. Excerpts from a conversation with the cinematographer where he talks about the current crisis, his National Award return and his take on the SRFTI problem:

What's your understanding of the students' behaviour at FTII when Gajendra Chauhan arrived on Thursday?

I was in FTII for a workshop last December. I know for a fact that the students were totally in the mood to work. They had put everything behind them. They were focussed. Fifteen students (12 students from camera, two from direction and one from editing department) attended my workshop that was held between December 1 and 7. In seven days, we shot two documentaries and a 15-minute fiction film. Arghya Basu and I have started editing the fiction film too. I was told that some of the professors were a little apprehensive that I would bring them back to the issue of strike. But when we started working, we seriously had no time for all that. The students were not in the mood to talk about it either. They had spent five months of their academic life on this issue and had moved on. We lit bonfires at night once our work was over. But it was not about the strike at all. The students were not lazy. I found them to be completely reliable. There were the best students I had taught at FTII and Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI). I was shocked when I heard about the way they were treated when Chauhan came to the institute on Thursday.

Why do you say this?

Such a thing has never happened before. A newly-constituted FTII Society Meeting was happening and there was 150 cops on campus! If there had been a strike going on, one would find it legitimate to have cops on campus. But the strike was over. After all that has happened, I will not hesitate to say that Chauhan is a clown, soft pornstar and coward if he had to come for an FTII society meeting with 150 policemen along with him.

Gajendra to meet the FTII society on January 7

But what about the students?

I have heard that the students had gone and requested the non-teaching staff association of FTII to not give a thundering welcome with drumbeats and dholaks to Chauhan and the other four controversial FTII society members. Chauhan is a joker but these guys are the actual dangers to the atmosphere of free academic film-making on campus. The students had gone back to work and wanted to start afresh. If Chauhan and the other four invaded their freedom by entering campus with 150 cops, anyone would get disturbed. These students too felt the same. They shouted some slogans. That happens everywhere to express dissent.

You had earlier returned your National Awards as a form of protest...

Yes, I have returned three National Awards. There are many cynical people among the middle class who ask in effect what we had done since we can't return cash to the government. All of us, in our own ways, have helped out people. We have made donations to causes or people who need our support. The government didn't budge a millimetre from their stand.

Isn't it very defeating?

It is. But the FTII protest was the only one against Narendra Modi in any academic institute. Hats off to the students. Recently, the students were only raising slogans to protest. But what happened to them? There was lathi-charge! I feel this is Fascism on the face. I second Arundhati Roy's opinion that fascism is not around the corner, it's lurking in our living rooms and stalking us at night. I spurn the middle class when some of them say that BJP is doing some good things.

Since you have returned the three National Awards, can you still be called a winner?

It's a good question. But I value the two Golden Conch Awards much more than the National Awards. My nephew demolished my first National Award. Hence, I couldn't even trace it. That's why I returned only three and not the four National Awards that I had won.

There is talk of problem at SRFTI too. What's your observation?

I don't know enough. But given the recent history of instances like this in the country (in academic institutes and in the media), I think there is a possibility that it's not always the man who is hundred per cent to be blamed. Of course, I am on the side of the women complaining. Yet, I also know that these days, more women come on to men than it was earlier. But it's not so easy to take a blanket stand without knowing the individual nature of complaints against the three accused professors.