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‘Don’t put film studies in a box’ — SC tells FTII to allow colour-blind students in all courses

SC direction passed on a petition filed by 30-year-old Ashutosh Kumar, who was turned away by FTII five years ago despite getting admission on merit in film-editing course.

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New Delhi: “Art is non-conformist,” said the Supreme Court Tuesday, as it directed India’s premier film and training institute — Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) — to admit individuals with colour-blindness in all the courses it offers.

A bench of Justice S.K. Kaul and M.M. Sundresh said the Pune-based institute should make “suitable accommodation” to admit such candidates.

The order is based on a report submitted by a court-appointed panel of experts that reviewed the FTII’s admission criteria with respect to colour-blind students, as well as the curriculum of those courses where such individuals were precluded from admission.

The expert panel’s report, the court ordered, “is to be adopted by FTII in its curriculum”. As a “premier institute”, the SC said, the FTII is expected to encourage “liberal thought-process” and not put “courses connected with films in any conformist box”.

The SC direction was passed on a petition filed by 30-year-old Ashutosh Kumar, who was turned away by the FTII five years ago despite getting admission on merit in the film-editing course. Kumar approached the top court in 2017 when he did not get any relief from the Bombay High Court.

The order is likely to have a bearing on admissions in other film training institutes as well, with the SC further saying: “Other schools guided by similar curriculum are required to adhere to the discussion on this subject, which forms the conclusion of the committee.”

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‘Exclude or make elective’

Kumar, in his petition, claimed the committee that carried out his medical examination did not have an ophthalmologist who could ascertain the nature and extent of his colour-blindness. He said he was found ineligible for admission due to the colour-grading module, which he described as irrelevant for the three-year film-editing course.

Supporting Kumar’s contention, the top court-appointed panel recommended excluding the colour-grading module from the course or making it elective, saying it does not have relevance to the film-editing role.

Set up in December 2021, the panel of experts comprised ophthalmologist (a doctor who specialises in eye and vision care) Jignesh Taswala, film director Ravi K. Chandran, film editor Akkineni Sreekar Prasad, colourist Swapnil Patole, script supervisor Shubha Ramachandran, the head of FTII’s editing department, K. Rajasekharan, and Supreme Court advocate Shoeb Alam.

The panel also found that colour-blind candidates were ineligible for four more courses — cinematography, electronic cinematography, art direction and production design and editing.

There was one divergent view in the panel — by Rajasekharan. In his opinion, modifying the curriculum would be an attempt to challenge the knowledge of experts who designed the syllabus.

But brushing aside his view, the court endorsed the majority view. It said: “We may only notice possibly a mountain out of a molehill is being made as the particular module is 20 minutes in the whole course. Even the committee opined that it can be made elective.”

It further said: “The conclusion (by the panel) shows a clear recommendation that all individuals will be allowed for all courses at FTII. Any limitation can be overcome. FTII should make accommodation in its curriculum for candidates with colour-blindness and the colour-grading module in its existing diploma and film-editing course curriculum should be excluded or made elective.”

The bench gave FTII the discretion to either do away with the module or make it elective, saying it does not want to interfere with the autonomy of the institute.

The bench noted that colour-blindness is not a form of blindness but a deficiency, a medical condition that makes it difficult to distinguish between colours.

It was also observed that the panel’s suggestions were in keeping with practices followed in foreign institutes. The commission had written to top 10 film and training institutes, but received responses from only two.

Restricting entry ‘may sacrifice creative talent’

In its report, the committee of experts dealt with various aspects, including the modules of curriculum that may be a hurdle to admit colour-blind candidates, the significance and professional utility of such modules, and the occupational role of the professional.

On examining these aspects, the committee opined there was no relevance of the colour-grading module to the role of a professional film editor. “A colourist, who is a specialised professional, makes up for colour enhancement, corrections etc,” it said.

In the view of the committee, colour-blind candidates should be enrolled in all film-related courses because creations in this medium are collaborative art forms. Restricting entry of colour-blind candidates “may sacrifice creative talent and stultify the development of the art”, as inclusivity enriches this art form. “Any limitation can be overcome by an assistant in the education and professional life,” the panel said.

On Rajasekharan’s disagreement, the court said his hesitancy indicates he “would not like to ruffle feathers in the institute”. “Thus, what he designs is a status quo: the FTII knows best, its experts know best, do not touch us, despite the opinion of the expert panel set up by this court, unanimous in its decision,” the court said.

The bench also agreed to look into Kumar’s request to direct the FTII to admit him in the next academic session, after his counsel, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, pointed to a previous SC order that exercised its special powers under the Constitution to grant admission to a colour-blind student in MBBS.

Given that the institute opposed Kumar’s plea, the court has given it time to file its response in writing in the next two weeks.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

This story has been updated to reflect the real age of the petitioner.

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