A special program by Cecilia Cossio
Towards the end of the ‘50s, the Indian Government started establishing several institutions with the aim of promoting high-quality films. In 1960, the Film Institute of India (since 1974 Film and Television Institute of India [FTII]) was founded in Pune (Maharashtra), and after only a few years it managed to put the governmental project in place. From the mid-sixties it began to create many of the most renowned figures that would soon become the pride and glory of Indian cinema, in particular of the “new cinema”. In 1995 and once again with the patronage of the Government, the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) was established in Calcutta (Kolkata). Despite training several students who managed to find their way into the ‘Industy’ (par excellence, the cinema industry), the new school was never able to match the results achieved by TII. In any case, both Institutes seem to have slowed down their pace lately, very likely due to economic, managerial, and/or political reasons. In the meantime, in Bombay (Mumbai), in the area of the Film City that is the seat of many film studios and sets, a new reality came into existence in 2001: Whistling Woods International, a cinema school founded and financed by Subhash Ghai. Who is Subhash Ghai?
S. Ghai was born in Nagpur in 1945 and grew up in Delhi. After his economy studies he enrolled at FTII in 1963; in Pune he met Rehana Farooqi, who soon became his wife with the name of Mukta. After he graduated, they moved to Bombay where he started working as an actor. He soon began writing subjects and screenplays, in collaboration with Mukta; year 1975 marked his debut in direction with Kalicharan, while in 1980 hr debuted in production, with Karz (The Debt, now a cult classic). In 1982 he established his own production company, Mukta Arts, which produced many national and international hits, such as Khalnayak (The Villain, 1993), Pardes (Foreign Land, 1997) e Taal (Rhythm, 1999). In 2000, Mukta Arts became a corporate company and expanded its activity to distribution and multimedia. Despite being one of the most important cinema personalities who had collected a long series of awards and honours, S.Ghai felt this was still not enough for him. He had an unrealized dream: an international school of cinema. It was in year 2001 that he laid the foundation stone of Whistling Woods International (WWI), which became operational in 2006. Right from the start, he was assisted by his daughter Meghna, a Business Management graduate from London’s Kings College, with a very rigorous experience gained working with her father at Mukta Arts. It was thanks to her that S.Ghai’ s dream became reality: through her solid professional ability, intelligence and intuitions, the school achieved an extraordinary evolution and in 2010 “Hollywood Reporter”, the important American magazine, ranked it among the ten best film schools in the world.
Soon Meghna was appointed president of WWI and with the support of her husband, Rahul Puri – a person with a high reputation at Mukta Arts and now Head of Academics of WWI – she took care of the infrastructures, organization and curriculum of the Institute. She also created nine ‘schools’ that cover all the branches of cinema and equipped them with cutting edge technologies for training activities at an international level. The number of students – 82 in the beginning – now amounts to about 1300 and over 2300 are the graduates. WWI also offers many scholarships to less privileged but talented students and is affiliated to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and to the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development.
Thanks to her work and contribution in the field of media and cinema education, in 2013 Meghna Ghai Puri received the Honorary Fellowship from Bradford College (UK), in 2019 the Economic Times Best Education Brands of India and in 2021 the Times Leading Icon.
A question remains: Subhash Ghai is one of the first graduates of FTII and one of those who has become a legendary name among those in Indian cinema. What prompted him to create a new cinema school, now as famous as its founder and, like it or not, in competition with FTII? Maybe because FTII aimed at creating an elitist cinema, while WWI was conceived as a school of the Industry for the Industry.
We present here three diploma shorts of WWI, selected for several national and international festivals and recipients of many awards: Kathakaar (The Story Teller, 2016), 500 rupees (500 Rupees, 1917) and The Nightingale (2019), whose protagonists are a man fired from his job, a teenage prostitute and two lovers in a war zone. The directors are respectively: Abhimanyu Kanodia who got his diploma in 2015 and has so far made eight films and a web series for Dice Media; Shashwat Gandhi, who obtained his diploma in 2017 and in the same year co-founded Boathouse Media, a video production company for commercials and corporate films (but nourishes the project of a feature film); and Shiva Katyal, who has a diploma in film direction, but is interested also in editing, cinematography, sound and screenplay and has worked for feature and A.D. films, shorts and web series as assistant director.
KATHAKAR (The Storyteller, 2016, 10.37 min)
Direction: Abhimanyu Kanodia
Camera: Mitesh Parvatneni
Editing: Pavi Trehan
Music: Madhur Padwal
Production: Shraddha Singh, Naveed Manakkodan
An old projectionist has been fired to be replaced with young staff and new technologies. Depressed, he goes back to his village, where he unexpectedly discovers a new life.
500 RUPEES (2017, 15.48 min)
Direction: Shashwat Gandhi
Camera: Bhavya Jogani
Editing: Ayush Sapra
Music: Siddharth Kaushik
Production: Yogehrestha, Karpaten
Inspired by Das rupye (Ten Rupees),a short story by the great writer S.H. Manto, the film tells about a teenage prostitute, who is ‘rented’ by three customers, with an unexpected following.
THE NIGHTINGALE (2019, 17.09 min)
Direction: Shiva Katyal
Camera: Sanjana Oswald
Editing: Punit Bhatia
Music: Abhishek Bonthu
Production: Vikrant Varma
Set in war-ridden Kashmir, the film is a love story between a Hindu soldier and a Muslim girl, but it is most of all a reflection on war.