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International Children's Film Festival 2003: Shoddy Indian fare
CHILDREN'S CINEMA in India continues to be deplorable. As the nation prepares to host yet another International Children's Film Festival in Hyderabad from November 14 2003, the screen for young entertainment remains blurred. The reasons for this are not difficult to seek. The Children's Film Society of India — which not only organises the Festival, but also guides this movie movement — has a new chairperson, actress Raveena Tandon. She has a national award to her credit, but beyond this she has little else to qualify for what is undoubtedly a very difficult task.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry — one of whose wings is the Society — has reportedly said that Tandon loves children, has adopted two and has promised to act in young cinema without charging a fee. It seems strange that these ought to be touted as defence for appointing the actress.
We have had eminent chairpersons earlier: Amol Palekar, Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan and Sai Paranjpye. But even they, despite their commitment to and talent in the field, failed to give the right stimulus to children's cinema. With someone as inexperienced as Tandon, the Society may find itself facing greater odds.
However, there is a lot more that is wrong with our approach to kid's entertainment. Once, Jaya Bachchan said that parents caught up in the frenzy of consumerist culture had no time or inclination to demand or look for sensitive movies for their sons and daughters. As long as a work carried the `for children' tag, it was accepted, and no questions were asked.
Producers and directors have been merely extending this line of thought to their creations.
Besides, the Society allocates an unrealistically low amount of money to make a film, and obviously quality suffers enormously. Most of these movies are shoddy in form.
As for content, there has not been much to talk about. The Society has a team, which examines scripts, but one suspects that the entire exercise is, at best, cursory.
Not surprisingly, one has been noticing a glaring contrast between the standard of Indian fare and that from the rest of the world at just about every International Children's Film Festival held till now. The one coming up in Hyderabad will be the 13th.
Many of these Festivals have also revealed lack of planning. Every day, large groups of school students are taken to the auditoriums: invariably, they are never given the title or synopsis or the background of the movie they are to watch. The consequences are quite predictable. The children grow impatient and what was intended to be a pleasant and informative diversion becomes an odious task for them!
One hopes that at Hyderabad this time, an effort will be made to address this issue by distributing literature on the day's films. Yet, much more needs to be done. Let us look at the Canadian example, where kid movies became hot favourites after educational institutions began screening them. In the beginning, parents were also invited for these shows. Once they were hooked, cinema travelled from campuses to theatres and cash-boxes filled up.
In India, there was a time when schools showed celluloid works, often classics of Charlie Chaplin or cartoons from the Disney camp. The current educational structure — where knowledge has to compulsorily come from texts and where intense and mindless competition for scores has eclipsed the joy of learning — has little space for cinema.
As Paranjpye always maintained, the children's film movement can never gain momentum unless intelligent and sensitive stuff is created. Are any of India's renowned helmers responsive to this? Once Satyajit Ray made brilliant movies for kids, but cleverly refrained from saying that they were for the young. So, the whole family saw them, and signs of a healthy procreative activity were apparent in Bengal. But few others made an effort to keep it alive.
India has enough talent to produce wonderful pictures for children, but those — indeed, just a handful — who are keen on undertaking this are put off by impediments.
To begin with, there is an attitude problem. When something is made for boys and girls, anything goes. Budgets are slashed, B or even C grade actors and actresses are taken and an apology for a script dashed off. Obviously, no distributor wants to touch something like this, and the story of young cinema in India becomes one of endless frustration.
Successive directors of the Society tried to rope in television as an exhibition outlet, but Doordarshan and others proved quite negative to the whole concept.
There is no doubt that the box can be a great medium that can help connect India's millions of teens and pre-teens to some inspiring entertainment. But besides this, it is imperative that important directors and producers divert at least a part of their energy and resources towards creating sensible pictures for children. Who are as perceptive as elders, and will reject anything that is less than decent.
The 13th International Children's Film Festival in Hyderabad will screen 170 movies from 34 countries, including India, in different sections, such
(This story appeared in The Hindu dated November 7 2003)