|Vinay Shukla, T.N.Mohan, Nirad Mohapatra and Surendar Chawdhary|
Monday, January 31, 2011
HUNG UP ON THE WISDOM TREE
At the Film Institute of India ( before Television courses were started), from 1970 onwards we had a “Thought for Today” Notice Board near the canteen where the students were free to put up any interesting matter for the benefit of the student community. It was also a forum for the free expression of student opinion. IBy that time Navin Nischal, Shatrughan Sinha, and Jaya Bhaduri had started making their debut in the closely guarded Bombay Film Industry and were emerging as the future stars. This made the Acting students at the Institute to behave with their heads in the clouds as if they have already become Superstars. It was seen in their arrogance and attitude towards their fellow students. An exception was their friendliness towards Motion Picture Photography students, for they badly needed our help in getting themselves beautifully photographed for their portfolios! Their arrogance towards other students caused a lot friction and loss of good will between the Direction and Acting students. As a result of that many of the Direction students started excluding Acting students from their Final year Diploma films by casting outside artistes in their place. When the Institute authorities insisted that the casting should be done only from among the Acting students, the Direction students cleverly overcame that by selecting the subjects in such a manner, so that a child or a very old woman / man or a tight rope walking street acrobat ( as in my Diploma film - JEEVAN) etc has become the main character. Such roles certainly cannot be played by the acting students and they lost out their chances in the Diploma films. As a result four of the acting students - Raza Murad, Deepak Dhar, Sushil Bhatnagar and Imtiaz Ahmed Khan Pathan did not get to act in any of the Diploma films! Hence four additional Diploma films exclusively for them were sanctioned to accommodate them. But instead of entrusting the Direction department teaching staff to direct those films, all the four films were assigned to the Professor of Acting - Prof. Raushan Taneja.
This odd decision by the Principal Shri. Jagat Murari infuriated most of the students including me, for, some months earlier Prof. Taneja was assigned to do an one hour feature film with disastrous results. The film was planned as part of the programme to showcase the Acting talents of the Film Institute students for the sake of the Bombay film industry. It was an one hour featurette to be shot during the Christmas vacations. The story, screenplay was also handled by the Acting Professor. A lot of precious raw stock was wasted during a ten day shooting schedule in Madh island and there were reports of some of the acting girls missing from location who were later traced to the flats of their seniors cum successful stars in the Bombay film world. At that time I had put up a poster depicting Prof. Taneja shooting in Madh Island and a ship unloading film rolls into the sea. It created some commotion among the acting students but they didn’t know that I was the person behind it.
Now again assigning Four of the Diploma films to Acting Department and to the very same Prof. Taneja infuriated many people. While the discussions were going on, I did a cartoon depicting Prof. Taneja shooting the four diploma films with the four actors and with 4 cameras simultaneously and it was titled “BEWARE - WILD SHOOTER IN TOWN - SHOOTS ANY THING AND EVERY AT SIGHT!" This cartoon I did on my own, but once again left it unsigned and at midnight when no one was around I pasted it on the notice Board.
The Poster that caused the strike
Next morning there was a big crowd in front of the notice board. Some acting boys tried to tear it off but were prevented by some others who had collected there to see it. There were lot speculations about who were behind this sacrilege as the Acting students had given the demi-God status to their Professor. Was it not he who created super stars out of sheer clay - the rank new comers who were taught the art of acting! When the sun went down, in their drunken stupor some of them shouted the choicest abuses and created a big commotion in the Men’s hostel.
Warning for those who dared to tear it!
A complaint was made to the Principal Shri Jagat Murari regarding this by the Student’s Union and in the evening a General Body meeting of all the students was called. A few minutes before the commencement of the meeting I was sitting in the canteen thinking how to deal with the situation. Certainly the Principal will be asking, who had put up the controversial poster. I thought that I will need some moral support from my fellow students. So I told a few of my friends that, it was I who had put up the poster and when the Principal asks for the hand behind it I will be getting up and they should support me.
Assured of their support I went inside to attend the meeting. After the usual introduction, the Principal took a pad and pen to note down the names and asked – “I want to know who had put up this Poster?” Slowly I got up and behind me others got up from different parts of the auditorium. The Principal stood agape frozen with a shocked expression. I turned back and what a scene! Except the Acting students all the other students including Foreign students stood in solidarity with me. I never expected that I will be getting such a massive support. It was just a spontaneous reaction of the suppressed anger of the student community over allotment of the films to the Acting Department.
Recovering from his shock, the Principal asked the students to be seated and then said, “I want to know, the talent behind this cartoon”. This time I stood up alone. Then there was mayhem by the acting students. At the top of their voice they shouted all sorts of things. To control the situation, I wanted to say a few words and I took the center stage. It was for the first time in my life that I was making a speech. I told the students “I know Prof. Taneja for the past three years. Many times I have worked with him in the Acting Practical as well as song picturisation classes. And he also knows me very well too. You are all saying that I have insulted Prof. Taneja. I want to ask Prof. Taneja one thing - Whether I have insulted him in my cartoon?” My strategy was if you ask such a question directly to the person concerned, he will definitely say that he was not offended. That was exactly the reaction I wanted from Prof. Taneja. He got up and told the students that he was in no way offended by it and saw it only as a humorous comment.
Hanging on to that point, I told the acting students that if Prof. Taneja is not offended, then why they are making such a hue and cry and concluded my speech. There was utter chaos and some one shouted that Prof. Gopal of Cinematography Department laughed at the cartoon. Then Prof.Gopal got up and replied that it was true that he had laughed. It was just a funny cartoon and so he had laughed and there was nothing wrong in laughing at it! Still they were not pacified and raised hell (in which department they excelled!).
Finally after much shouting by the Acting Students and some counter shouting by others, the Principal gave a big sermon on peaceful coexistence and ended the meeting by reciting the Shanti Mantra - Om Shanti, Shanti. Since no was action was taken on the erring acting students, it encouraged them more and that night the atrocities were repeated in drunken stupor more forcefully by beating up some of the students. The offending poster was also torn up into pieces.
This time the Student Union demanded stern action against those culprits. After due enquiry, the Principal Shri. Jagat Murari rusticated two students Deepak Dhar and Raza Murad and suspended Lakhan Pal and Susheel Bhatnagar . Immediately the Acting students went on strike protesting the action in front of the Principal's office. After a few hours the Principal withdrew the action taken against the acting students and their strike was withdrawn. This sudden and partisan decision by the Principal without punishing the culprits culminated into a longer strike which escalated to change the history of Film Institute for ever.
The strike went on for months. The students came out from the hostel rooms and stayed in the open, putting up their beddings on either side of the road near the Main gate of the Institute. For the junior students who were missing their education, classes were conducted by the seniors. All negotiations with the authorities were recorded on tape and photographs taken and press releases were sent on a regular basis. Some of the local papers wanted to publish my cartoon, but the original was torn away by acting students. But, I went to the office of a Marathi tabloid and redrew the cartoon for their publication. I was also given the charge of the publicity department of the striking students, to paint the walls with slogans and cartoons – materials courtesy of the Institute Art Department! Once while painting a slogan on a wall opposite to the Principal’s office, he noticed it and summoned me to his office through his peon. I sent back the peon by saying that I do not recognize him as the Principal!
News in The Indian Express
We also celebrated the Silver jubilee day of the strike which was widely covered by the print media on a daily basis. One of the paper cutting is still with me - the news item published in The Indian Express dated 17 March 1971:
FTII students “celebrate jubilee”
Express News Service
POONA, March 16
The united students' body of the Film and television Institute of India yesterday observed the "silver jubilee" of their 25 days old strike. They held their classes for the first time in the open and teaching was resumed as senior students took the classes instead of their teachers.
They continued to wear "Mr. Principal quit" badges and kept up their "lie in the open strike with beddings spread in the open.
That we want to attend the classes and are prepared to be instructed by our fellow senior students is a proof that we are interested in studies and want to appear of the examination and "are not shirkers or bad students" said a student leader.
The campus-canteen walls run riot with slogans and proverbs adopted to suit their present agitation.
Some of them read "worn out engines become efficient breaks but we want a dynamic accelerator" or "this is not a struggle for the present, this is a homage to the microscopic good" or puns like “Mr. Principal we feel that you have to be replaced by a man of principle"
In spite of all our efforts the Principal remained adamant and stuck to his earlier decision and the students had no other option but to continue the strike. To break the strike, the Principal sent notice to the parents to take their striking wards back to their home immediately. Alarmed by the letter, my father arrived at Poona to take me home as soon as possible. I explained him about the strike and after pacifying went home with him. But when the classes were restarted, the strike also began with renewed strength!
One day there was a small crowd of acting students making a big noise under the Wisdom Tree. They were holding five large card board effigies – with the names Vinay Shukla, Surendar Chawdhary, K.G.George, Baba Majgavkar and Ramachandra Babu.written on them. They were beating the cut outs with slippers and brooms and were condemning us to be hanged by neck till death. Thus five of our effigies were hanged on the Wisdom Tree. (Though Vinay Shukla, Surendar Chawdhary, K.G.George and Baba Majgavkar were in no way associated with the Cartoon incident, it was presumed by the acting students that they must be the brains behind it). All their attacks were targeted at the five of us, and we were thus given the rare honour of being hanged on the Wisdom Tree!
Well, that was the story of our hangings and to the best of my knowledge no further hangings ever took place under the hallowed Wisdom Tree. The strike went on for some more time and ultimately brought a lot of changes to the curriculum of the various courses at the Institute!
A recently found photo from Surendar Chawdhary's Blog:
Effigies hung up on the wisdom tree...