Indian Film Students Arrested for "Rioting and Criminal Intimidation"

Martin Haake

The government-backed Film and Television Institute of India, has seen students protest since the appointment of a new chairman.

Five students at the Film and Television Institute of India were arrested overnight for "rioting and criminal intimidation," according to local media reports on Wednesday.

The arrests came after a group of striking students held FTII director Prashant Pathrabe and other staffers in his office for eight hours and vandalized the office furniture on Monday.

The students, who started at the school in 2008, were demanding a "rational" explanation from Pathrabe for the assessment of incomplete films made by students. Reports indicated that the FTII Students' Association alleged that the assessment was “politically motivated” and aimed at getting rid of about 50 students for "overstaying" and having incomplete projects.

The Hindustan Times reported that FTII officials said the projects were assessed according to standard criteria. Further details were not  available, with reports also indicating that there could be more arrests.

The government-backed FTII falls under the supervision of the ministry of information and broadcasting. The arrests cap a long-running showdown between students and the institute due to a larger controversy involving the government's appointment of a new chairman, Gajendra Chauhan.

A one-time television and movie actor, students were up in arms over Chauhan's appointment, protesting that he didn't have a strong enough background to head the institute. In its heyday, FTII's faculty included such big names as Satyajit Ray and David Lean. Chauhan's appointment led to outrage, including from well-known Bollywood luminaries, such as veteran directors and alumni Subhash Ghai and Govind Nihalani.

The striking students have boycotted classes leading to the FTII being paralyzed for over two months, given Chauhan is also a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The impasse continues as government officials have refused to have a dialog with the student body over Chauhan's appointment until classes are resumed.

FTII was established in 1960 and is located in the city of Pune, about 74 miles from the country's film capital Mumbai. FTII alumni have included some of Indian film industry's leading names, such as Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire),  actress Shabana Azmi, actors Om Puri (The Hundred Foot Journey) and Naseeruddin Shah and director Rajkumar Hirani who helmed India's most successful film, PK.

But over the years and in light of the ongoing student strike and latest arrests, FTII has lost its strong reputation. "There was a time #FTII was considered one of the best film schools in Asia and produced some brilliant talent. What happened?", Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur tweeted as news of the student arrests sparked social media discussion.