Hindu nationalist pick for India film school alarms students, industry

Wed Jul 15, 2015 8:46am EDT
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

PUNE, India (Reuters) - "Don't install your dummies here," reads a poster at the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India, where the appointment of a Hindu nationalist activist as chairman triggered a month of strikes by students.

In the world's largest film industry, some people fear the choice signals a push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party for control of India's most powerful medium.

New appointments at the film school have rattled an industry already upset by changes to India's powerful film certification panel, after its chairman and a handful of members resigned, blaming government interference.

"Anyone who is sane, and who thinks, will be worried," said film-maker Kiran Rao, who spoke out against the new censor panel. "This is affecting the way we function."

There is no evidence yet that Modi's 14-month-old government has significantly influenced the tone or content of films, but concerns are growing that it could rein in the industry's liberal outlook in an overwhelmingly conservative society.

India's popular films, though still laden with song-and-dance routines, have recently tackled weightier topics, such as human rights abuses by the Indian army in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, homosexuality and the caste system.

The 55-year-old film school, in the western city of Pune near Mumbai, India's capital of film and finance, prides itself on quality cinema and has turned out some top film-makers. It is governed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Critics see the selection of Gajendra Chauhan, an actor known for little apart from his role in a 1980s TV serial based on the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, as the latest in a string of political appointments to cultural and academic bodies.   Continued...