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JNU alumni in Bollywood revisit glory days

JNU teachers holding a protest demonstration near the Sabarmati Hostel at the JNU campus in New Delhi.

JNU teachers holding a protest demonstration near the Sabarmati Hostel at the JNU campus in New Delhi.  

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They believe their alma mater will survive the onslaught of reactionary forces

Screenwriter and lyricist Ravinder Randhawa spent 1996-2000 in Narmada and Tapti hostels in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) doing undergraduation in Korean and postgraduation in linguistics before moving to pursue a course in mass communication at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Ravinder Randhawa

Ravinder Randhawa  

 

For someone hailing from the small town of Chittaranjan on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border, JNU shaped his mind profoundly, providing access and exposure to the whole wide world. “As a teenager, it was a spectacular sight to find people having chai at one or two in the night, discussing politics, arts and culture, women walking around safely… Till date, I have maintained that there can be no other space for women in the country that is safer than the JNU campus,” he says.

‘Vibrant campus’

Then there has been the democratic nature of the vibrant campus; equal opportunity for all, no matter what class, caste, region, religion, gender you belonged to. “The teachers too were not feudal in their relationship with the students,” says Randhawa. The recent violence unleashed in JNU has been making the alumni, some of them, like him, working in the Hindi film industry in Mumbai, revisit and relive those glory days.

Prabhat Raghunandan

Prabhat Raghunandan  

 

Actor Prabhat Raghunandan has a similar experience to narrate, about how the campus helped a small town boy like him embrace the world. He too, like Randhawa, studied Korean literature from 2001-2005, and lived in Tapti and Jhelum hostels. When he moved from Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh to Delhi for schooling, he found it hard to cope with the change in the medium of education, from Hindi to English. The culture shock was difficult to absorb as well. Once very active as a kid in theatre back home, he went into a shell. “Things changed gradually when I went to JNU. I got the space to indulge in my passion and joined Bahroop Arts group… It helped me realise my dream of becoming an actor, took me onwards to the FTII [Film and Television Institute of India].” For him, JNU has not just been about Marx and Lenin or a certain kind of politics. “JNU is humanist, it stands for the downtrodden,” says Raghunandan. “If you are anti-JNU, then you are anti-poor, anti-disenfranchised,” adds Randhawa.

JNU alumni in Bollywood revisit glory days
 

For actor Swara Bhaskar — who admits to coming from a sheltered, privileged, urban background — JNU was again about getting exposed to the world, but from the other side of the economic and cultural divide. As a Delhi-bred girl, the fact that people could be forced to study under the sky in schools lacking proper building and infrastructure, was a reality that shook her. “JNU helped me know about the many Indias within one,” she says. It brought a diverse set of fellow students from across the country into her social circle. “It made me more empathetic. It was a liberating campus that changed my life,” she says of her alma mater that turned home. Bhaskar did her postgraduation in sociology and now her mother, Ira Bhaskar, is professor, cinema studies, and dean at the School of Arts and Aesthetics.

JNU alumni in Bollywood revisit glory days
 

Filmmaker Kabir Khan feels privileged to have experienced the best of three worlds in Delhi. He did his graduation from Delhi University and postgraduation from Jamia. His father, Rasheeduddin Khan, was one of the founding professors of JNU. He was the professor of political science in the Centre for Political Studies in the School of Social Sciences. So JNU was home for Khan from 1982 to 1991, the space where he grew up, in all ways possible. “It was a fascinating experience. When you are there, you probably don’t realise it, but when I look back, I think it is unique — the quality of students, faculty and professors. The atmosphere that is inculcated over there. The throbbing politics. Every evening and night at Ganga dhaba, there would be some debate going on… There would be people giving talks… I was surrounded by politics. Our dining table conversations used to be about politics, what’s happening in the world and the country.”

For Randhawa, the “sauntering in and out” of the goons on Sunday evening, without being held accountable, has been shocking. “It could be any one of our homes tomorrow,” he says. “It was an organised attack and is not acceptable,” says Raghunandan. “Just the sight of seeing goons entering a university like JNU and at will vandalising and beating up people is heartbreaking,” says Khan.

‘Violence with impunity’

Bhaskar remembers the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad not being a strong presence in student politics in her postgraduation years. “No one took them seriously. Now it’s toxic, vicious, emboldened, perpetrating violence with impunity,” she says. Randhawa admits that JNU has been the target of the reactionary forces for a long while now. “They have been trying to discredit the students, teachers and student leaders,” he says.

For Bhaskar, the targeted vilification of JNU is also a larger attempt to hit out at the progressive Leftist academia. “They have been the greatest challenge to BJP/RSS from gaining any moral legitimacy and credibility,” she says.

Khan feels that there is no university like JNU and is very confident that whatever may come, the institution will survive. He says, “They have taken on the wrong guys. Nothing can bring them down. Nothing can destroy JNU. ”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:28:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/jnu-alumni-in-bollywood-revisit-glory-days/article30507717.ece

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