Protesting students of cinema at the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Sciences and Arts (KRNNIVSA) in Kottayam have not been able to attend classes since 24 December. That was the day Kottayam Collector PK Jayasree ordered the film school shut till 8 January — an order she later extended to 15 January.
The initial shutdown order — under section 81 of the Kerala Police Act, ostensibly to prevent any untoward incident because of the students’ agitation — came just a day ahead of a hunger strike they had planned to press for their primary demand: Removal of KRNNIVSA Director Shankar Mohan, who is facing allegations of caste discrimination on campus.
With no sign of any meeting ground between the students, who have the support of well-known Malayalam film industry personalities, and the institute’s management, led by noted filmmaker and KRNNIVSA chairman Adoor Gopalakrishnan who is steadfastly standing by Mohan, the students are hunkering down for a long-drawn battle.
They are also finding creative ways to continue with their education.
Despite the extension of the institute’s closure on 8 January, students gathered on campus on a call by their union which has arranged a series of lectures and workshops by well-known film personalities for their benefit.
“As we are not allowed to enter the building, we are utilising an outdoor auditorium for the academic workshops and discussions. We have tried our best to schedule the discussions in accordance with our syllabus,” Student Council chairperson Sreedev Suprakash told South First.
Setting the teaching agenda
Among the noted film personalities and technicians who have held, or are scheduled to hold, sessions with the students are cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, film editor B Ajithkumar, filmmaker Anand Gandhi, director and scriptwriter Jeo Baby, producer-director Ashique Abu, director-screenwriter Sanju Surendran, and directors Gurvinder Singh and Kamal KM.
The aim, Suprakash stressed, was to provide the students academic lessons that adhere to the syllabus, but without backing away from their demand to oust the institute’s director.
He said the latest batch of students, which has been at the institute only for a month or so, have not yet had an orientation class which should have been mandatorily given by the institute.
“As it is mandatory to provide it, we have curated workshops on introduction to filmmaking, film appreciation, film architecture, philosophy — enough to give them a basic understanding of filmmaking,” he added.
He contended that many of the teaching faculty are willing to schedule and take the classes; but being contract employees they fear for their jobs if they flout the closure order of the institute’s administration and the district collector.
Sessions so far
On Wednesday, 11 January, the Students’ Council hosted a discussion with director Gurvinder Singh, who has directed films like Chauthi Koot, In the Same Garden and Sea of Lost Time.
On Sunday, 8 January, filmmaker Anand Gandhi, director of the acclaimed film Ship of Thesus and creative director for the Indian-Swedish period horror film Tummbad.
National award-winning cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, best known for his works in the Hindi and Malayalam industries, visited the campus on Monday and extended solidarity to the student’s strike.
A workshop by Ravi has been scheduled for 18 January at the institute in Kottayam.
On 9 January, it was the turn of noted film editor and national award winner B Ajithkumar, who is also a member of the Academic Council of KRNNIVSA but is standing with the students.
The issues pertaining to the institute have been simmering for a long time and it is the student agitation which brought them to the public domain, Ajithkumar told South First.
According to Ajithkumar, cinema as a career was not a very secure one. It is commitment and passion that drives people to success, and the students of KRNNIVSA are displaying these values.
He denied the allegation against the students that the protest is being instigated by external forces.
“We only know the successful filmmakers, we don’t know the names of those who failed. When someone chooses this field as their profession, then it is due to a commitment and passion towards the art. Although there can be a few who take up cinema for fame, if that was their sole intention they wouldn’t be holding a strike on campus for such a cause,” Ajithkumar said.
‘Students need to speak out’
Criticising the manner in which the institute is run, Ajithkumar said: “If it was an engineering college or a training centre for the army, it would have been considered okay. But this is a creative field; if the students here are taught they should not speak out against injustice, what kind of films will they make?”
He added that many of the students had finished with their post-graduation studies before they sought admission to the institute, yet there is no representation of students in the Academic Council.
“When I raised the issue (at an Academic Council meeting), the authorities said the Students’ Council election has not been held, which is the reason why students don’t have representation in the Academic Council. But that’s not a fair reason. If the Students’ Council election does not take place, they should include the incumbent union to the council until an election is held,” he said.
Speaking about the violations in reservation norms for Scheduled Caste and Tribe students in the institute, he said if the students did not point out such issues the public would never know what is happening.
He lauded the students who exposed the arbitrary actions of the administration.
Ajithkumar will also join Rajeev Ravi for a workshop that is scheduled for 18 January.