No child's play, this

Movies for young minds

What’s for lunch? A scene from the movie, ‘Stanley ka Dabba’.Cinema is composed of films that can fall under a variety of genres — romance, comedy, drama, action, horror and fantasy, to name a few. Indian cinema has a number of films that can fall into one or more of these categories, except for one — the children’s movie. One wonders how important or alive this category is in the eyes of the movie maker.

Unlike the west, where filmmakers have thrived on creating strong characters, idols and icons, their counterparts in India — and that too largely through the small screen medium — have only tried to capture the imagination of the young through history and mythology, the latter being more impactful and dramatic.

When it comes to defining a children’s movie in India, there are three basic types that come to mind. There are those that have been made with a specific audience in mind, those that are centred around a child’s needs or issues, and those that use the child to take the narrative forward or structure the narrative around them.

Indian cinema can be said to be at a nascent stage, having mostly dealt with those themes that revolve around a family situation. But, where children are involved, there has been a fantastic response. Yet, a perception exists that films for and about children do not make box-office hits, as a result of which financiers, distributors, and corporate houses shy away from investing in this supposedly ‘risky’ genre.

Mistaken idea

The Children’s Films Society (CFS) that had been set up in 1955 for the sake of the younger audience, has failed to make any breakthrough. Averaging at two a year, the society has come out with 112 features so far. These numbers have proved insufficient in making children’s cinema a bankable genre. An occasional Makdee, Blue Umbrella or Stanley ka Dabba does make for a movement. The situation might continue to be like this, at least as long as award winning remains the solitary aim of filmmakers.

There is also a notion that parents are averse to lining up at theatres for something that wouldn’t serve their own interests. This is also erroneous, as entertainment has an universal appeal. There have been several instances when cinema halls have been invaded for what was ostensibly not for an adult audience. Take Ra.One, for instance. Or, the other recent Tare Zameen Par, Chillar Party, Stanley ka Dabba, Koi…Mila Gaya, Krishh. Or, still earlier, Bum Bum Bole, Tarra Rum Pum, Tarzan — the Wonder Car, Iqbal, Chain khuli ki main khuli, Bhootnath, We Are Family, Jajantaram Mamantaram, Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke, King Uncle, Wah!
Life Ho to Aisee, Raju Chacha, Rani Aur Lal Pari, My Friend Ganesha, Thoda Pyar Thoda Magic, Chota Chetan, Tahan. All of them can give the clarion call of rise and shine to the CFS.

Whatever the compulsions of the august body, like many of its sister organisations, it has failed to deliver.

One of the earliest films of the genre was Satyen Bose’s Jagriti, which won the Filmfare Best Film Award in 1954. That same year, K A Abbas made India’s second songless film, Munna. Raj Kapoor experimented with Boot Polish, the movie which had the song, Nanne munne bachche teri muthi mein kya hai, easily transporting one back to their childhood. Most Hindi films of 50s and 60s had children playing pivotal roles, each with their own clear cut message. Other similar fare followed with films like Ab Dilli Door Nahin, Naunihal, Do Kaliyan, Aakhri Khat, Parichay and Masoom, among many others. Even those made under the head of more popular genres such as Brahmachari, Mr India, etc (movies which involved children in the plot), have raked in the moolah.

These films have dealt with poverty, untouchability, orphans, disability, education, destitution, sports, etc. This category of cinema has dealt with many important issues by seamlessly discussing them in the narrative and sometimes even using song and dance to make a finer point. Some of the other songs that instantly come to mind are Nanna munna rahi hoon, desh ka sipahi hoon bolo mere sang jai Hind jai Hind, Chun chun karti aayee chidya, Tera mujhse hai pahle, Nani teri morni ko mor le gaye baki jo bacha tha kale chor le gaye, Chanda mama door ke, Rote rote hasna seekho, Chal mere ghode tik tik tik, Hum bhi agar bachche hote, Hai na bolo bolo, Lakdi ki kathi kathi pe ghoda, Machli hai jal ki rani, Lalla lalla lori doodh ki katori, and Bachche manke sachche. These songs have been rendered on screen by children in some of those Hindi films where the story is in some way or the other centred around a child. Many of these were also situational birthday songs.

The direction forward

In the adult world of Hindi cinema, there hardly seems to be a place for a child-centric film. However, with experimentation now in vogue, the trend seems to be catching up — there have been more films in the past decade or so directly aimed at the child audience.

One story type that has largely been absent in our cinema is that involving superheroes derived from Indian mythology. Hollywood has also capitalised on this genre, as can be seen from the number of films that have utilised idols from history and mythology to make for an interesting plot. Thor is a very recent example of the same. The small success that such stories have had in the Indian small screen should have served as an eye-opener.

However, in the forever changing atmosphere of Hindi cinema (currently being ruled by corporate houses), the response towards movies such as My friend Ganesha and Hanuman have only been ignored. Indian cinema emulates only urban themes. Small screen budgets do not permit special effects, and hence, even their films or programmes tend to fizzle out fast.

On a more interesting note, short and documentary filmmakers have been trying to break fresh ground by attempting forays into feature films relating to children or young adults. The latest to join the bandwagon is the Delhi-based documentary producer, Shashi Varma, who has done a number of films on child labour, drug abuse and road safety. Approached judiciously, such documentaries have proved to be effective despite limited budgets. CFS has failed in this direction as well. None of the 52 short documentary and news magazines produced over the years have made such an impact. This might be mainly due to the fact that insufficient thought has been given to making films that the literate, rural or urban audience would identify with and enjoy.

Varma’s Papa Please deals with anxiety and parental pressures towards securing a higher percentage of marks in final examinations. The story unfolds from the perspective of Abilasha, a Class 12 student, and deals with the discrimination she faces on the basis of her gender.

With a strong storyline, it should succeed. However, it remains to be seen if this movie would make the necessary breakthrough that’s much needed today.

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