Cinema is to be learnt

“A certificate is of least importance in a creative field like cinema,” remarks G.S. Bhaskar, the famous cinematographer from Karnataka and a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), known for his work in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. “However, that does not mean an education in filmmaking is not mandatory,” he continued. Interestingly, Bhaskar seems to have summarized the crux of the matter with regard to film education today (even though what he is saying perhaps holds true for the education system at large).

The popular perception about the film industry, even today, is that it comprises (and has always comprised) mostly semi-educated workers or people who have learnt their skills on the job. This would also include the numerous ‘star-children’ that have speckled the industry thanks to their actor-fathers and actor-mothers. The advent of film schools aimed to alter this by formalising film education.

The history of film education in India would either begin in 1947 when Sri Jayachamarajendra Polytechnic in Mysore, set up by the Mysore Maharajas, taught cinematography as part of its vocational courses (V.K. Murthy, the legendary cinematographer studied there) or with the setting up of the iconic FTII in Pune around 1960.

The intention of setting up a film school was to formalise film education of course, but to also root filmmaking in film theory and locate it within a global context. So, after FTII, many film schools - both government aided and privately funded - began to be set up across the country.

Cinema can be learnt more than it can be taught. Having said that, film education began in the country in the 1960s to make our cinema technically sound. A film school was one of the recommendations of the S.K.Patil committee: Shyam Benegal

Now, the question is this: how well has a formalised system of education in film catered to an otherwise largely informally trained industry. Simply put, are film school graduates finding a place in the film industry today?

“I think the influx of graduates from film schools, especially, the ones from FTII and SRFTI, is commensurate to the needs of the industry,” says filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee. “In fact, if we did not have the incursion of film school students into the industry, we would have an even more frightening scenario of mediocrity. Their exposure to the fine details of filmmaking, a certain rigour for cinema and even their tryst with world cinema in their classes balances the existing ethos of commercial cinema in the industry,” he explains.

However, he qualifies his point by saying that at the same time there are plenty of those in the industry who are self-made, including him. “But that does not negate the relevance of film education for the industry,” he argues.

So who are these graduates that are entering the industry? Bhaskar says that the graduates of technical courses such as editing, cinematography etc. are the ones that are definitely ‘placed’ in the industry. “In fact, the film industry is saturated with technicians that have emerged from film schools,” he explains.

And as a result of that, the popular grouse has been about not being able to ‘place’ directors and actors in the industry. “Among the courses, while skills for editing, cinematography etc. can be taught, it is quite difficult to do courses for direction. This is not just an Indian problem, but a global one,” points out Prakash Belawadi, filmmaker and theatre director, who runs the institute Centre for Film and Drama in Bengaluru. “The truth is, overwhelmingly, 90 percent of the industry has learnt its skills on the job. And then, there are those that are linked to actors and directors and hence get a chance. Generation after generation, these skills are passed on,” he continues.

In 2014, 33 students have graduated from our school. Many have found a place in the Kannada television and film industry. It is not like how it was a few decades ago. Now, the industry too is asking for graduates with a valid film school certificate: B.Ramamurthy, Head, Adarsha Film and TV Institute, Bengaluru

Bhaskar agrees with Belawadi but says even direction needs to be taught. “Direction and acting cannot be taught. But if you look at it from the global perspective, film direction involves an understanding of film theory. This theory must be learnt, adapted to and then creatively developed. Learning direction or acting in that sense is no different from training that goes into developing hardware. If a director does not know how a mise-en-scene is constructed, then how can he direct a film? What he might end up with then is a dialogue based, picturised theatre. Like any classical art, film has a specialised way of expression,” asserts Bhaskar.

Almost no practitioner, therefore, discounts the importance of film education for an aspiring filmmaker or technician and they affirm that there is an influx of graduates from schools into the industry. However, curiously, despite this, they also acknowledge that there continues to be an overwhelming shortage of skilled manpower in the industry.

Belawadi traces this peculiar problem back to the small number of students actually entering the film schools. “India produces around 1300 feature films a year. There are around 800 channels on television. However, the moving image industry faces a severe, crippling shortage of skilled man power. This is a field where training is required. Even so, why is there no rush for these courses?,” he asks. Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Director, L.V. Prasad Academy, says that film schools have waited too long trying to get some sort of recognition from either universities or the Government. “Some universities here in Tamil Nadu began the process of setting up a film-wing, but they are so clueless about the field of cinema that it never materialised. Now FICCI has brought out a Media and Entertainment Skill Council and has started an affiliation process corresponding to the National Occupation Standards such that colleges can now be affiliated to this council, which has secured Government approval. This has been on the anvil for the last three years. By next year, it should be in place. I would not hesitate to say that this will be the last generation of a semi-educated industry. There is a growing demand for a trained work force,” he explains.

Bhaskar and Banerjee have completely different opinions when it comes to the issue of recognized diplomas and certificates. “While education is important, certificates are of least importance in a creative field like film. Filmmaking is about just learning what your heart is after,” says Bhaskar. “I’ve never looked at a diploma or a certificate of any graduate that comes to me seeking work. That is the problem with education measured in terms of certificates. A ten-minute discussion with someone is enough to convince me whether the person is knowledgeable in the field or not,” argues Banerjee. Having said that, he argues that the crippling shortage of skilled manpower could be attributed to the working culture in the industry itself. “There is an unfortunate culture of not respecting technicians and prostrating to a ‘star’ instead. This is perhaps the reason why there is no incentive to work in the industry,” he adds.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 8:21:37 AM |

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