The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was set up in 1961 in Pune at the erstwhile Prabhat Studios. The institute that has produced some of India’s best film-makers, actors and technicians celebrates its golden jubilee this year. Resul Pookutty, who graduated in sound engineering from the institute in 1995 and is its first Oscar winner, talks about FTII. Edited excerpts:
What made you want to go to FTII?
Kerala has a great cinema culture, so I knew about FTII from my early childhood. As a child I had even tried acting but I never made it. To make me feel better, my brother-in-law had said he would send me to FTII when I grew up. I guess this stayed in the back of my mind. When I finished my graduation in physics, I didn’t get admission for a master’s degree. So my friends and I started searching for courses that were related to physics and that’s how we found the sound engineering course at FTII. Four of us applied for the course but only I got selected.
I began discovering cinema only after the first entrance test that I gave for FTII in 1990. I wanted to be a physicist and chanced upon cinema accidentally. But once I gave that test, I realized this is what I want to study. I didn’t get through the first attempt. I went back and prepared for an entire year and reapplied and got through the second time. This was in 1991.
Did you ever feel like studying the more glamorous courses of direction or acting?
I thought it was very difficult to get admission for direction since both the exams and the people who apply for it are highly competitive. So I felt that if I took sound it would be easier to get into the institute. Once you are inside FTII, all the inputs you get are the same. But I realized that sound held much possibility in cinema. We have a great tradition of sound but somehow it doesn’t reflect much in our films. So that’s why I thought I would pursue and specialize in sound.
What was your experience in FTII like?
When I sit back and analyse my experience in the institute, I think of it as an island in life. In those three years, from a science student I became an art student. Not only did I learn the craft but I think I became an artist there as well.
What makes FTII a special island cut off from the rest of the world?
I think this is true about every art school in India. In fact, not just art schools but every school that is engaged in higher learning, including IITs. The problem is that when you are in a space like FTII you are learning about cinema as a pure art form and not in the manner that is practised outside. When you are out of the institute, you feel like a misfit. According to me, educationists need to plan some sort of art counselling in institutions. We in FTII face it more because cinema is the only medium that requires so much money to practise. So you are not only an artist but need to position yourself as a management guru too. It is easy for technicians and more difficult for direction students. The cocoon does have its advantages but institutions like FTII definitely need a reality check.
India’s best film-makers, actors and technicians are from FTII. How special does that feel?
Extremely special. Cinema deals with life and human emotions. So there is not a single day when we aren’t crying or laughing at life in FTII. When you go back and step inside that huge iron gate you are stepping into a place where emotions are lying untouched.
How does it feel to be part of the fraternity?
FTII alumni are a very closely knit community. We even have a website called www.graftii.com where we share all our information. It’s a great fraternity. When I came to Mumbai as a fresher I was taken care of by my seniors. They gave me work, food and travel expenses. And I try to pass that tradition to my juniors. In that sense it is a tradition well passed.
What makes FTII the best institute in India?
You need to correct the question. It is the best institute in the world. Most Indians who have made a mark, both in Indian and world cinema, are from FTII. In that sense FTII has stayed true to its vision.
Why have the other institutes not been able to match up to FTII?
Because the learning is very free here. Once you are inside the campus, you are a free soul. The way the curriculum is set up is great. It takes the best of the European and Russian styles. It’s like our Constitution that takes the best of the American and British constitutions and puts them together. Students learn themselves; teachers are there only to guide you. I have taught in film schools abroad. Compared to them, FTII-ians are more independent in thought. The only difference is that abroad the film students are more in tune with the market system of cinema. So they seem more equipped to deal with the industry.