Children’s Cinema…glory and gloom     

“Our words and actions are widely divergent. We say children are the future of the nation, yet our actions betray the duplicity of our words” laments filmmaker Gulzar

Girish Shrivastava

Remember Apu and Durga in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali? The adventures of Goopi and Baagha in Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne? The innocent gestures and incessant queries in the sweet lisp of little Mini in Tapan Sinha’s Kabuliwala or the wonderful exploits of Mowgli in The Jungle Book? The shoeshine kids of Boot Polish and the band of socially concerned children restless to fight for the rights of Bhidu (dog)?

Children have always been creative and productive ingredients of cinema. Childhood has been depicted consistently as the happiest and most innocent stage of life. “Child is the father of man”, wrote William Wordsworth. And for us they are ‘Bachche Man-Ke-Sachche’, the melody we hum. Attempts have always been made project an ideal scenario for children on the silver screen which may help them to inculcate a humane spirit.

But Charles Chaplin’s The Kid and other films showed the ugly side of reality that children are abused, harassed and starved and films like Alice in Wonderland unfolded a world of imagination and fantasy which is an integral part of childhood. The Walt Disney productions of Hollywood has created some of the most wonderful children’s films which appeal to the masses on many levels and can well be enjoyed by adults too.

But in our country, we have never had a serious, conscious and organised effort in our country to make children’s cinema. Veteran actor, director and former chairperson, Children’s Film Society of India, Amol Palekar quips, “India can make great children’s films if we had the resources and healthy attitude of our bureaucrats at high places. We have so much talent—if we had even one-third the budget of Hollywood, we could equal or better them. But who is to back us! So all we get—apart from a handful that stand out—are preachy, second-rate films that do nothing for children. Like they say, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

What can adult films like “Devdas”, “Kaante” and “Thugs of Hindustan” mean to children? These films don’t awaken their interest at all, because they answer none of their preoccupations, harden them and turn them overnight into capsuled-adults or mere androids. The infatuation of the child and the adolescent with the cinema is a fact. The place it occupies in their leisure time, in preference to the theatre and often to books and music, proves this beyond dispute. The cinema is better suited than any other form of expression to a child’s mind because it is simple and direct. A child is generally believed to have a predisposition for the immediate understanding of a pictorial language such as cinema.

India’s nodal institution has produced a rich crop of children’s cinema such as “Gattu” (2012), “Keshu” (2009), “Lilkee” (2006), “Halo” (1996), “The Goal” (1999), “Wild Berries” (2013), “Ankur, Maina Aur Kabootar” (1989) and “Abhayam” (1991) but ironically these films hardly got any theatrical release in the domestic market

But sadly we as a society have failed children by shirking our responsibility of being involved in their lives. “One of the best predictors of good children’s cinema is good children’s literature and there is barely any children’s literature in Hindi as compared to, say, Bengali or Marathi. Further, we have thrust upon our children the burden of our expectations- heavy bags, insurmountable examinations and pre-defined careers.

“We neither respect, nor care about our children. Have you ever seen any exclusively children’s libraries, parks, playgrounds or means of healthy entertainment devoted to children?”, laments legendary filmmaker Gulzar. “Our words and actions are widely divergent. We say children are the future of the nation, yet our actions betray the duplicity of our words. The issues of children’s cinema need to be tabled as they are silent and disenfranchised”, quips a former Chairperson of CFSI and the director of “Stanley Ka Dabba”, and co-director of “Taare Zameen Par”, Amol Gupte.

Ever since the CFSI started functioning in 1955, its maiden production Kidar Sharma’s, Mala Sinha- starrer “Jaldeep” bagged the first prize for the Best Children’s Films at the 1957 Venice Films Festival, India’s nodal institution has produced a rich crop of children’s cinema such as “Gattu” (2012), “Keshu” (2009), “Lilkee” (2006), “Halo” (1996), “The Goal” (1999), “Wild Berries” (2013), “Ankur, Maina Aur Kabootar” (1989) and “Abhayam” (1991) but ironically these films hardly got any theatrical release in the domestic market! Children’s cinema in India is indisputably not only underfunded, but is also under loved and under watched. Film directors claim a lack of funding, producers bemoan poor distribution and exhibition systems and both lament the indifference of audiences- largely parents-towards children’s cinema. Early this year, the resignation of the CFSI’s Chairperson, the Shaktimaan-fame Mukesh Khanna has also brought some serious fissures in the functioning of the premiere institution CFSI.

The need of the hour is to enrich children’s cinema with socio-psychological and educative experiences strictly avoiding mindless horror, violence and sex-remixes of the Bollywood type. For this the Government must make children’s cinema a national priority. Their bureaucrats must change their attitude. Cultural organisations like NSD’s Theatre-in-Education, Bal Bhawan, NCERT and NGOs must extend their creative camaraderie to the noble cause.

The government must enable all children to see these films. They must be exempted from all entertainment taxes and taken to every nook and corner. Till date veterans like Gulzar, Bhupen Hazarika, TS Narasimhan, Tapan Sinha, Shyam Benegal, Santosh Sivan, Sai Paranjpye, Jaya Bachchan, Nandita Das, etc. are associated with the CFSI. The CFSI, without any bias and barriers, must embrace other creative filmmakers equally, to enrich children’s cinema and thus add more ‘fragrance’ to it.

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