Saturday 11 July 2015


In a recent debate on television, a noted actor was one of the panelists. Mostly, he spoke in favour stressing on how the Chairman of FTII needs to have the right credentials … Yet in the middle of it all, he suddenly went on a rant stating “FTII has gone to the dogs”

As was expected, the students and alumni erupted in protest. I, for one, am pretty stoic about that statement. It is a standard statement made regularly by most folks who either deliberately ignore or do not understand the nature of the very industry they operate in.

To give a background, I am a fully qualified Cost Accountant (ICWAI) and an MBA from the Jamnalal Bajaj institute of Management Studies (JBIMS). Prior to joining FTII, I worked for two years as an investment banker in ABN AMRO Bank. At 24, I was driving my own car and had a Cost to Company (CTC) of around 6.5 Lakhs per annum. Most of my batchmates were placed in foreign Banks, consulting companies and fancy marketing MNCs.

18 years later and at a conservative estimate, at least 70% of my MBA friends have hit top management. The rest of them will hit the upper end of corporate hierarchy in the next five years. Currently, most of them draw salaries anywhere between 40 lakhs to a crore per annum in India (and far more if placed abroad)

So, as it would be fair to ask for anybody who has managed to read through this vomit inducing piece of vanity so far … “What the f&*# is the point?”

The point is that if you stick long enough … that you will hit top management, in the corporate world, is almost a given if you pass out from a premier business school. The understated fact is that it is statistically the opposite in the case of an art school graduate and the return on investment comparison for art schools (unlike in the case of business schools) is downright odious and irrelevant.

Considering the nature of the commercial film industry, there is no guarantee that you will end up as a top notch film professional after two decades or even a lifetime. In all probability, most folks will end up at the bottom of the monetary assets chain largely because there is hardly any averaging out and film making is a top heavy profession where say a top actor, director or technician can make 100 times the money of another actor, director or technician doing the same job. In contrast, the salary difference between two business school graduates doing the same job in two different companies would not, at the extreme most, exceed three to five times.

One has to note that the entire film making business is market driven and your value as an asset will depend on the perception of the return on Investment of the financiers. That itself is paradoxical in the sense that there is hardly any sense to compare monetary return on Investment on art education but the monetary value of the artist largely depends on how the business perceives the returns they can make.  Though the argument stands ground for all artists, for the sake of this piece, I will stick to film school graduates.

It is sheer monetary horror that in the last 13 years after I have passed out of FTII, and for not more than four years, I must have barely crossed that CTC of 6.5 lakhs (which I so took for granted in JBIMS). I have mostly struggled monetarily for the simple reason that a lot of times, either I have had no work or have been shamelessly underpaid or citing some inane excuse, not been paid at all. Leaving aside a select few directors and technicians, that would be the story of most of my extremely talented film graduate friends.

That is enough reason why the privatisation of film education debate is silly. Privatisation will simply make film education extremely expensive. In a private film school in Mumbai, it takes Rupees 18 lakhs to do a course in film direction. If you actually consider stuff like equipment, faculty, post production facilities and a small return on investment for the investors of the private film school, 18 lakhs is undoubtedly a fair price for three years of film education.

The problem, however, is that this price is prohibitive from what the market actually pays the filmmaker after he graduates. In most cases, the direction graduate from a private film school would not be able to even service the interest on that 18 Lakhs for the first few years.

The bigger social context of an expensive film school education is that it precludes a larger section of society from accessing that education. This results in restricting film education to a certain strata of society and that can only bring a singular kind of voice in the kind of films they make.

Without doubt, an essential part of good films are the life experiences that the film director, actor and his technicians have gone through. Hence it becomes very important that people from all strata of society are able to access film education. This plurality helps in bringing alive the multiple experiences on screen, resonates in the multiple voices in cinema and, as a direct result, multiple voices in society and country, so very key in a vibrant and successful democracy … and how does one put a price on something like that?

Yet one should not grudge the private film schools. A private film school is relevant for there are people who are willing to pay and not all of them are going to get into FTII or SRFTI … So if you are willing to shell out an exorbitant fee, why not? The focus in such film schools is also resource generation of professionals for the commercial film industry and that, in itself, is not a bad thing.

And that is precisely where government institutes like FTII, SRFTI and NSD are different. The one thing that the Government has to understand is that the FTII, SRFTI and the NSD are not necessarily meant to work as resource generators for the commercial Mumbai, Tamil, Telugu or the Bhojpuri film industry.

These Institutes are different, sacred and relevant in the sense that these are spaces to create artists. What the artist wants to do is a matter of personal choice and money may not be the benchmark by which everybody needs to judge personal success.

What I mean is a Raju Hirani or a Sanjay Leela Bhansali need not be the benchmark of what success is for everybody. Some graduates may just prefer devoting themselves to the art of theatre, making advertising films, directing documentaries or simply teaching in a film school and creating new artists.

That is precisely why questions like “How many Hiranis and Bhansalis has FTII created?” irrelevant … though one can easily counter this by asking, “How many Hiranis and Bhansalis has the Hindi film industry created in the last 100 years of cinema? The fact that FTII has probably created, at a conservative estimate, 300 odd national and international award winning directors and technicians out of the 2,000 odd graduates beats hollow the ratio of what the Hindi film industry, with all its resources, has created in the last 100 years.

One also has to say that a lot of folks who downplay the success rate of the FTII deliberately ignore the nature of the commercial film industry. At a conservative estimate, there must be a million odd wannabe actors in India, yet 70% of the top 20 actors in the Hindi film industry are second generation or have familial links.

Fact is that the commercial film industry is an extremely tough place and considering the abysmal ratio of outsiders making it big, a lot of folks may not have the patience, tenacity and luck to hit the top. Rather the Vidhus, Bhansalis and Hiranis are exceptions to the rule.

But then there is nothing to grudge about that either. As we do not resent that Aakash Ambani will take over from Mukesh, there is no reason to grudge if a film star, producer or director promotes his own flesh and blood.

That is why the business school model for art schools is a load of humbug. The numbers just don’t add up. The private courses churn out graduates who spend most of their time servicing the commercial industry just so that they can service the interest on their seven figure loans. How does one expect such an artist to deliver a different kind of cinema? How will he be able to fight the shackles of the commercial distribution business? How will he be able to survive as a free thinking artist if his very survival depends on toeing the line of the commercial film industry?

Government patronage in all kinds of art is key as the state of art in the country is directly linked to the state of the artist. When freedom of thought gets restricted, so does the kind of cinema that will be delivered and that in no way can help the art, artist, society, country or the world :)