Film Education

Interview with Indranil Bhattacharya, Professor Film Appreciation – FTII

       Interview with Indranil Bhattacharya, Professor Film Appreciation – FTII

1.Would you like to share with the readers how did the NFAI and FTII film appreciation course come to be born

The Film Appreciation Course (FAC), in its present form, was initiated by the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune in 1975, as a part of its mandate to disseminate film culture and awareness among general public. The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) was already educating filmmakers with a mission to promote ‘good cinema’, artists or ‘authors’ who will create their own unique idiom. Good cinema requires a good audience; evolved cine-goers who will appreciate and relate to the cinematic experience of New Indian Cinema and great cinema from all around the world that was increasingly available to audiences through film clubs and film festivals in the 1970s. The idea was filmmaking and film viewing cross-fertilizing each other.

The then Director of NFAI, P K Nair, sought collaboration with FTII, especially with the first teacher of Film Appreciation Prof Satish Bahadur.The idea was to form a team who will take care of the teaching and academic requirements. Moreover, FTII with its academic infrastructure was the natural choice as the partner. This was the beginning of the collaborative course which has now run for 36 years.

2. What is the difference between a film appreciation course and a filmmaking course

Filmmaking courses in FTII are comprehensive courses that not only teach hands-on filmmaking, but also aesthetics, theory and history of Cinema with a view to produce ‘rounded’ filmmakers. The pedagogy and academic philosophy of the FAC is stated in my response to your previous query. The accent in FAC is on understanding Cinema and the language of Cinema, its artistic, social and cultural contexts. Participants of FA course are not given instructions in any practical aspect of films eg. how to structure a script, how to design a shot or how to put images together in the most effective way  (editing).

In FAC the stress is more on why a film script is structured, shot and edited in a certain way, the historical and cultural context in which the film was produced and received. A rudimentary history of cinema and how it evolved over the years is an important component without which a deeper understanding of Cinema is not possible. Although some participants do find these lectures ‘too academic and factual’ in nature, they are extremely important to connect Cinema to its ontological roots, both in terms of the other arts like painting, theatre, literature, while emphasizing the Cinema uniqueness as an independent art form. It is only in retrospect many participants realize how important these lectures were to their understanding of Cinema.

2. The film appreciation course has been there for many years now and is like an institution in itself, after taking charge as the Professor of Film Appreciation and current coordinator of the Film appreciation course what would you say is the special feature of the course. Have you brought any specific changes to its structure and emphasis.

I have just coordinated one course where I have followed the pattern followed by my eminent predecessors. While there is nothing essentially wrong with the basic pattern, I intend to make the course more interactive. This implies that in the future participants have to make individual presentations on films/directors, participate equally in group discussions, do a short mise-en-scene analysis of a short fiction film as a course end project etc. Those applying for the course in the future should be ready for more activities and stop taking it as a picnic at FTII as a few  participants every year tend to do. You will be eligible for certificate from FTII/NFAI if you participate in all the activities. There are some basic pedagogic issues I am also thinking about but it is too early to talk about it.

3. Who is the film appreciation course designed for, could you kindly elaborate

The FAC is designed for people with a serious engagement with Cinema, it is not for people who are only looking for FTII tag. We expect them to be good communicators, so that they can take the knowledge acquired in FTII to others; through either conceiving and teaching FA courses themselves, organizing film societies or film clubs in their areas/Institutions, or if they are journalists or film reviewers we expect them to go beyond the prosaic and commonplace newspaper reviews. For practicing filmmakers without a formal training in films, this course serves to strengthen the theoretical understanding of Cinema.

An individual participant should be able to take the cause and philosophy of FAC/Cinema forward in some form or format. If the participant does not have a previous track record of ‘communicating’, he or she should be able to convey his or her conviction through the ‘statement of purpose’ in the application form. The important issue here is what do you want to do with the course – for yourself and for film culture in general.

4. What is the qualifications required to enroll for the course and how does it work

The only important qualification (apart from being 21 years of age),  I can think of is the ability to understand lectures in English. We still have not found any alternative, as many people from South of India or from South Asian neighbours like Sri Lanka do not understand Hindi, which is our national language.

5. Would you like to share any information about the next course, the dates, the faculty, the duration, the timing , special guest lectures ( or is it too early to mention)

It is too early for the next course details, the timings etc are a function of FTIIs internal calendar. The course has to coincide with lean periods or vacations in FTII regular courses, now that we are almost doing away with vacations at FTII, the course timings may shift a little bit.

My final words about the course

There are now Film Appreciation Courses organized at various parts of the country by local bodies, sometimes in collaboration with FTII and NFAI. The admission in most of these courses are on ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis … there are no screening of application forms. These courses , usually week-long, are pitched at a more popular level and are really meant for general public. The summer course at FTII is more academic (FTII is after all an academic Institution) and we have our methodology of teaching Cinema. There is a certain rigour in this course , which cannot be diluted as this our strength. So it is advised that people applying for the Summer Course are not complete novices and lacking in patience and discipline necessary for a month course. It may be better if they apply for the shorter courses and then, if necessary, apply for the month-long course later.


AN ACTOR’S JOURNEY: Struggle and Ecstasy

An Actor’s Journey of Struggle and Ecstasy

By Sahil Sethi

Childhood Fantasies

Generally childhood is all about your dreams and fantasies because in childhood your mind and soul is so sensitive that it gets influenced by an extraordinary thing or person or any fictional character. My childhood was also the same.

If I think back today, I was a very sensitive and emotional boy. I used to day dream at the age of seven. I remember I was very attached to my mother. But I was influenced a lot by my father. My father was a very angry and strict man and as children are initially influenced by their parents I use to imitate my father’s behaviour and mannerisms. I was also a fan of The Jungle Book and The Ramayana and I was very influenced by various characters. In my dreams I used to fantasize myself as Mogali and Hanuman. Then I was a big fan of the film Shahenshah and used to imitate Mr. Amitabh Bachchan.

From Childhood to Teenage

Soon as I started growing up and turning into a teenager, I became very conscious about myself, the way I looked and the way others perceived me. So  unknowingly I started portraying someone else, may be to impress people or make a strong impression on others. My dressing style, hair style everything was turning fake or it was not the real me. But all these things were happening unconsciously and that was the time that I immaturely realized that there is a performer in me. And also my dream and fantasies were pushing me to do something big and be famous.

Following a Dream to become Famous

Slowly the performer in me was evolving and I was attracted to acting. I personally believe that my childhood and teenage years are a very important phase of my life specially if one chooses to be an actor.  At sixteen I was still carrying my childhood fantasies somewhere deep down in my subconscious but there was no self realization. When I use to look at my self in the mirror there was just the external me visible in the mirror. At the age of sixteen till the age of eighteen my role models were Akshay Kumar, John Abraham etc. there was no space for the real actors or I didn’t bother about those actors.

The Years of Transition

When I turned eighteen I was pursuing my dream to become famous and  enrolled into an acting course and the theatre arena. So that was the first step towards my goal. I was very sincere and very committed to my work. But I didn’t know that I was jumping into a well from which I will not be able to come back because the water it had was sweet, healthy but poisonous and it was going to effect my mind and then my soul. But to realize the affect you have to completely surrender – like a wife surrender to her husband on bed like a disciple surrenders to his god.

In my case I entered into the acting arena with a dream to be one of the greatest actors of the world and that pushed me to completely involve myself  into the two years which involved meditation or rehabilitation programme or to witness the truth about everything, about me, about the world.

Slowly I started going through a transition, not one but many. A boy who lived in a materialistic world totally unaware about the truth, truth about his ‘self’- started changing. The fake identities in me were wearing off. The ‘me’ was coming out slowly and slowly. My dressing sense , the outer body language, the inner body, the walk, the mind, the soul started going through a process of transition. The role models changed instead of Akshay Kumar , Salman Khan actors like Nasseeruddin Shah, Dilip Kumar, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro , Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman became my inspiration.

Personal Truths

Today at the age of twenty-four being in the field of acting for five years I have come to an understanding of some deep truths and have experienced the process of acting.

Its very important that before anybody or anything else you first observe yourself, find answers about yourself, know yourself. Because the tools and weapons you have as an actor are only your body, your mind and your soul and believe me its like being naked in front of the world, its like living in the Antarctic without clothes. Its that painful and a torture sometimes. Its like being high without drugs. The questions keep arising and the process becomes very confusing, embarrassing and very pleasurable at the same time. As an actor I kept evolving not because I was focused but because I started evolving as a person. When I witness Marlon Brando, Pacino, De Niro, Naseeruddin Shah, Mohanlal , Om Puri, I realized its like playing with fire because as you use your mind your body, your soul to enact someone else it effects your identity.

At twenty while doing an acting course there was a moment when I had a fight with my mother and started crying, I was hurt, emotionally shattered, but was still observing myself. And that was natural I didn’t do any effort. That was the moment I realized the painful pleasure of acting had started.

The great acting guru Lee Strasburg said “an actor never plays a speech , lines, he plays a occurrence , a situation, a happening”. To achieve this level one has to become a great observer. There comes a time in an actor’s life when he starts experimenting with his relationships knowingly and it’s a painful process.  When I was in the initial process of this method to madness I seemed to be lost, psychotic, silent, dangerous. To be an actor you really need to get deep down in the mind, but the hurdles that occur are breathtaking, hallucinating.

Preparation for a Role

I have done 7 short films as a lead protagonist and I have done couple of plays on stage. Some characters in the films I portrayed needed thorough preparation or I believed that I need the preparation. One character I played of a psycho killer who 24 x 7 roamed the streets injecting infected AIDS syringes to people, and who does not bathe for days, smokes a lot. To start with I was not a smoker but the preparation I went through was painful – I slept on the footpath for a day with street dogs, I was wandering all over the city without any reason, smoked atleast 40 to 45 cigarettes in two days.

People liked my portrayal, applauded my performance and that’s how it becomes a painful pleasure. Believe me after going through a torturous process, a process which needs great amount of solitude to achieve the goal that is the applause this pleasure of the painful process overcomes the pleasure of sex, food or any materialistic object.

Of course the drawbacks are not just the ‘time consuming process’ it does or can effect your own identity because during the process of learning acting if you dive deep down into your thoughts you will find your own created fake identities which you get rid off slowly and that is only to again portray someone else’s identity but now knowingly. I have been on the edge of going mad or having a multiple personality disorder but have always saved myself.

Acting is a science about the mind

Acting according to me is a science about the mind and its almost next to impossible to understand your mind fully. Actors in the world who stand out among the crowd have understood this science but not completely and no actor can understand the mind completely.

Now as I am growing older and my observation power has become a bit stable I am understanding the present ‘me’ more completely and am ready for  more transitions because then can one evolve as a person and then as an actor.

Acting actually comes out of life – you live – the way you live, why you live and where do you live is all acting and I absorb acting out of my life to portray the truth which only few actors all over world get success in doing. So that means I have to live my life as truthfully and honestly and be as real  as I can. Also with this I have to keep observing myself and understand myself as deep as I can. Its such a torture – its like I am always watching myself standing in front of me, so does that mean I am not living with full honesty or I am nowhere truthful – now here is the edge where an actor has to train his mind , his brain in a way that both the activities observing and living life truthfully merge well balanced and go hand in hand.

Moksha through Acting

Acting has always been the source of entertainment for years but I feel actors who believe in showing the truth in each and every part of their performance are like a mirror to a society and they are carrying a great responsibility.

Listening to Osho and listening to Marlon Brando is like going on a spiritual journey because to achieve Moksha and to achieve the truth, one needs to play with his mind but also has to be careful that his mind doesn’t start  playing with him.

If today at the age of twenty-four anyone would ask What’s the best and worst decision of your life? I would answer – the worst decision is to become an actor because the process is painful, but the best decision is also to be become an actor as you experience ecstasy and its like a spiritual journey to achieve Moksha. I believe that through the art of acting some day I will achieve Moksha.

For me to be an actor means to carry with you all the insecurities of life, fears, joys, keep them alive in you and keep it safe in a box of  your subconscious mind without effecting your conscious mind. Its complicated but I have been trying to master it. I am trying to keep the child alive in me, the ‘bad me’ alive in me  and the ‘good me’ alive in me and trying to explore the extremes of all the faces of my personality. But I have to do this with the ‘real me’ always activated in me. Once a very great actor said become C.A., I.S., I.P.S. or any big rank holder but not an actor because the only tool you are provide with is your body, mind and soul.

Alone but not Lonely 

People usually hate solitude it tortures them, annoys them, depresses them but for actors solitude feeds their hunger to know the complications of the mind and they are in love with solitude. For me I can’t live without solitude, a public solitude is always there in my mind. I am reminded of a line from a song by Jim Morrison ‘riders on the storm like a dog without a bone an actor out alone’. I can relate to this line very well because to perform in front of the public or in front of a camera an actor needs to be alone somewhere in his mind.

* Sahil has been my student from Kishore Namit Kapoor for the Michael Chekhov  Acting Course April 2011. This article does not address his experience of the technique.