The Indian film industry is more than a century old, producing more than 1800 films in all the Indian languages in a year. India also has a rich and diverse creative arts history spanning across books, art, clothes, music and theatre. Despite this, India has not been able to be a global force in Film and Creative Arts education. This triggered Mr. Subhash Ghai, the legendary filmmaker to establish Whistling Woods International (WWI) – an institute for Film Communication and Creative Arts – to try and make India a thought leader in Film and Creative Arts education globally. To find out more about why Whistling Woods International is an institution with a difference, we spoke to Chaitanya Chinchlikar, Vice President of Whistling Woods International, to present this skill story. Let’s read on…
Q: Could you tell us about how an industry-driven institution like Whistling Woods International is making a positive impact in the Media and Entertainment education and training in India?
A: Historically, most countries which are strong in a particular industry are also strong in that sector’s education. For example, U.S. has a very strong Media and Entertainment industry and it also has a strong Media and Entertainment education. Germany is known for its Engineering and it also has very good Engineering Education. France and Italy are famous for their Fashion and Design industries and have some of the world’s best Fashion and Design institutes. India, despite being a 107-year-old film industry and having a long, rich and diverse creative arts culture, is not a global force in film and creative arts education. The reason for it is because in Media and Entertainment education have never been part of the mainstream education in India.
It was Mr. Ghai’s vision to set up a well-structured world class film school in India to give people the education and skill sets and also make an effort to mainstream it in the academics of the country. This means, we should be giving degrees and certificates which students can use for further education, employment or entrepreneurship. Since we did not have any format to fall back on, we built the academic structure on our own and initially, started a diploma course. We kept improving upon it over time. Our teaching is extremely practical, because that is how the creative arts are meant to be taught. Also, the final exam for a film student cannot be a written exam, it has to be a piece of film that one creates. When we partnered with TISS, it became India’s first Applied Arts programme in Film and Creative Arts. Instead of giving a degree and then thinking about how do we upskill the students, we came up with skill-based education programme and found a university that had the vision and academic prowess to mainstream it.
Q: How difficult was it to change mindsets of people for this type of performance-oriented education in a creative field?
A: It has been a challenge to convey to the parents that this is a serious education. While the industry has always had the glamour quotient, since awareness of the industry was so little, people didn’t really know what are all the roles that the industry needs. A big part of our communication was showing people those roles and that our students are doing well in the industry in them, and are having a financially rewarding professional career. It was also important for us to show that the education they are getting here is also of highest quality. Once our students started having a successful career in the industry, it also helped in validating that our curriculum and pedagogy were rightly aligned with the industry. Today, nearly half of the students who join our programs are through references.
Q: How is technology changing the roles in this industry? Do you constantly update your curriculum to cope with it?
A: Any industry, especially films, stands on 3 pillars – the art and craft, commerce (business) and most importantly, technology. The film industry has seen a huge change as we moved from analogue to digital. This opened up a paradigm of new job opportunities, newer job roles, newer methods of content creation. Today, there is absolutely no limit to what one can do. As a school, we have to make sure that we are not just catering to the industry but are actually ahead of the industry.
Right from the beginning, our approach was to look at the institute as a research and development hub. Some of the world’s best technology companies came together with us to setup R&D and innovation labs. This has allowed our students to experience and learn newer technologies and workflows before the industry has. It has also helped us in creating high technology talent pool for the industry who then can make full use of both the talent and the technology.
Q: Is there something being taught to children at school level in lines with media and entertainment education?
A: Students learn multiple subjects in schools. All these are foundation stones for their career in future. Maths, Physics and Chemistry are foundations to engineering. Biology and Chemistry are foundations to Medicine. Maths and Physics are foundations of Architecture, etc etc. But if someone wants to become a professional in the film and creative arts industry, we do not teach them any course at school level. Communication Studies, Art, Music, Creative Writing is rarely taught in schools. Most of these are ‘extra-curricular activities’. Hence, there is very limited right brain development of the students in school. We need to teach them Media and Creative Arts in high school.
WWI always wanted Communication Studies or Creative Arts to be taught from school level as other subjects. In 2010, we were approached by the CBSE board to include media studies in their curriculum. After which we wrote the curriculum for media education for classes 11th and 12th. We did a pilot testing, that went off very well. It was launched in all the schools by 2012. Currently, we have a curriculum outline for classes 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th for media and creative arts studies, which we are proposing to speak to the MHRD about, for inclusion in High schools.
Message to young people who want to get into this field:
Just do what you love! Don’t feel scared or worried about exploring areas in creative arts. Even if the school doesn’t teach these courses, students can go online, watch YouTube videos, do research and find out more about it. If one wants to learn about films and entertainment, go see films and then read the scripts, most of which are available online.
Most songs have the videos of behind the scenes, to learn how songs are shot. We can learn how multi-camera shots are shot. Keep looking at various avenues. There’s nothing that can stop you from doing what you want to. If you put in even 25% of the effort here that you put in your IIT or medical entrance, you will learn a great deal and will help you decide if this is something you want to pursue as a career. Be curious and do what you love.
Q: Are there be any opportunities for organisations in partnering or collaborating with WWI to train people in this field? What is the criteria for partnership?
A: We get approached by many institutions and organisations who want to partner with us to provide Media and Entertainment Education. And we keep telling them that they should approach Media and Entertainment education with exactly the same seriousness that one gives to Medical Education. Because the amount of infrastructure that is needed, equipment, the quality of teachers, the disposable costs, etc. Also, it is as dynamic industry as any other. So you have to be willing to change your curriculum every year and ensure that your faculty upgrade themselves too. Institutions need to know that good things cannot come fast and cheap. A lot of them ask if they can offer short courses.
In my opinion, short courses do not serve the industry. Yes, you can and should have Continuing Education that caters to existing working professionals to upgrade themselves, but not for freshers. The kind of industry we are in, is the industry of the mind. Our products convey emotions, and is really hard to do it. However, it is extremely rewarding when you achieve it. The global film industry is the only industry in the world which, despite having only 15% success rate, has lasted for more than 150 years. It is difficult to get it right all the time. Hence extreme intensive training is needed.
People who teach in this sector should also understand the big picture. Institutes must be geared up for these challenges. Also, it’s not correct to say that there are lakhs of jobs available in this industry. In reality, total number of people working in the Media and Entertainment industry is about 10 lakhs. In a way, this is a highly specialized industry that needs well-designed long term courses. Anything that is fast and cheap education will not work. Hence, we need to focus on quality and not quantity of skilled, education and trained students.