Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian
The journey of Insia, a 14-year-old girl from Baroda, whose dream of becoming a singer changes her life and the lives of everyone around her was a central theme of Secret Superstar. With this movie ‘Mr Perfectionist’ Aamir Khan tried to create the same magic which he did with Dangal but this time he got a lukewarm response from the box office. The film earned just 31 crores in the opening four day weekend. Before its release, Secret Superstar was expected to cross the 60 crore mark in the opening. Because trade pundits found all the ingredients of a blockbuster in it – one of the most successful production teams – Aamir Khan Production was, Dangal’s famed Zaira Wasim was in the lead role, this was the second time Aamir was reprising the character of a teacher, the first time was in Taare Zameen Par, and most vital point – there were more than 18 million views of its trailer which sealed the surety for success. But nothing worked in the box office. Since it was Aamir Khan’s film, so trade pundits forecast its overall gross of around 150 crores, including overseas earnings.
Strangely, films focusing on children are not sealable in the Hindi film market. Apart from Secret Superstar, only four films based on children were released in 2017 – Poorna, Sniff, Hanuman: Da’ Damdaar and Bachche Kachche Sachche. None of these films attracted viewers and flopped badly. Poorna, directed by Rahul Bose, was the real story Malavath Poorna, the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest. Sniff was Amole Gupte’s third attempt in the children’s film genre. Earlier he gave us the delightful Stanley Ka Dabba and Hawa Hawai and wrote the heart-warming drama Taare Zameen Par. But there are rarely directors who want to make films for children in India. In fact, there are no good subjects and content in Bollywood for the future generation of the country.
If we go by the numbers, less than 0.1 per cent films are made for children. Bollywood releases more than 1,000 films per year. That is more than double the number of films released by its American counterpart, Hollywood. But in Hollywood, they have mastered this genre, and it is known as the family genre. There are so many beautiful films like Despicable Me, Baby’s Day Out, Home Alone, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where kids portray the lead role and the movies were super hits. Whether it is animated or fictional lot of strong content is being produced every year in Hollywood. On the other hand, we rarely make films for children. As per KPMG FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, 2015 Bollywood produces around 1,400 films a year, and around 0.1 per cent of them are children’s films.
There have been no foreign collaborations in television or cinema. Annette Brejner, creative director of the Sweden-based Financing Forum For Kids Content, which collaborates with filmmakers from across the world to develop and produce films for children, says: “There are no political agreements made in India that specifically is aimed at supporting a children’s film culture. In my part of the world, it has taken several different initiatives to make it happen over the years. Some countries have ruled that 25 per cent of the government’s yearly film subsidies must be given to children’s films.”
Children’s cinema is a totally neglected sector in our country. Lack of creativity and content is another huge issue with the children’s films. In India, for kids, we have only some mythological stories, where Ganesha, Hanuman and Krishna that are the favourites, along with some fictional cartoon characters like Chhota Bheem. My Friend Ganesha, Bal Ganesh, Krishna Aur Kansa, Hanuman, Hanuman Returns are some of the examples of such films. Even in animation though Indian animation industry is expanding but it still has a long way to go.
Ruchi Narain, director of Hanuman Da’ Damdaar experimented with the age-old theme in a shallow way. She wanted to tell Hanuman’s story but without the baggage of mythology and morals. It was an attempt at humanising mythology. Salman Khan is the voice for the adult Hanuman in an expository opening sequence, in which the dialogue is from his own movies. And she put it, journalists, a token gay character, raucous north Indians and thickly accented south Indians in the film and made it a nonsense balderdash with hinglish dialogues.
With such stuff, multiplex owners are also distancing themselves from kids’ movies. Last year, director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari tried to break this ice with her brilliant film Nil Battey Sannata, but unfortunately, the film went largely unnoticed. Filmmakers need to realise that children embodied a very important part of our society. Nevertheless, producers and directors do not consider a children’s film a commercial film. For this, they give reasons that their financiers are not willing to shell out money for such films. So it lies totally on the willingness of big stars like Salman Khan or Aamir Khan or a production studio to come forward and make films for kids. Salman Khan’s production house debuted with Chillar Party, which was a hit, and also I am Kalam, Masoom, Makdee, The Blue Umbrella, Halo and Taare Zameen Par are the only films worth mentioning. Trade pundits see it differently. They say films are not made for charity. It is all hardcore business.
Children comprise a very minimal section of the audience and most of the cinema halls schedule children’s films for morning and afternoon shows. And to watch movie kids need to accompany their parents. Due to lack of time in today’s fast lifestyle, parents can accompany their kids on weekends so footfall is very low for such shows.
Sai Paranjape, noted filmmaker and former chairperson of Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), said that lack of budgetary support is one of the major factors hampering the growth of children’s films. She said: “Children’s films are very demanding - they need trick scenes, fun, animation, music, popular actors and all that.” Amole Gupte stresses on the clarity of subject. He says that Indian filmmakers also lack clarity when it comes to categorising children’s films. Whereas international cinema provides some wonderful films like Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Kung Fu Panda and many others.”
Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) was founded soon after India’s independence by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, whose affection for children was legendary. Its first production, Jaldeep won the first prize for best Children’s Film at the 1957 Venice Film Festival. But since then there are rarely any such achievements.
Since the change in the government at the centre, CFSI has become active and organising different sizes of film festivals in different cities. PM Narendra Modi’s different visions like Swachh Bharat Mission, Make In India and New India are now key topics for films.
In 2017, a record 1,402 entries from 109 countries have been received so far, include short films, documentaries and animated films, based on the festival theme of ‘New India’, in tune with Narendra Modi’s vision of creating a New India for the weeklong 20th International Children’s Film Festival of India which is going to be held in Hyderabad from November 8. Priyanka Chopra’s production house Purple Pebble Pictures made Pahuna- The Little Visitors is being promoted by CFSI.
Pakhi Tyrewala, the wife of director Abbas Tyrewala, who had failed in Bollywood as a heroine, is debuting as a director with this film. Pahuna, the story of three northeastern children going through extraordinary circumstances, was applauded at Toronto Film Festival.
Desi super hero Shaktimaan aka Mukesh Khanna is the chairman of the Children’s Film Society of India, feels the country lacks good entertainment content for children. He hopes the scenario changes. So he funded director Manish Tiwary for the film Chidiakhana. It is a story of a young Bihari boy with a passion for football.
“It is an important film for CFSI. There was a story waiting to be told and we are happy that director Manish Tiwary is helming the project. The film’s backdrop is football. I believe kids are more inclined towards games. So this time, I selected films which have sports like tennis, football, rugby, basketball and hockey as its backdrop,” Mukesh Khanna said.
Earlier, the CFSI produced many films like Gopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiyaa, Yeh Hai Chakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo, Dweep Ka Rahasya and Kima’s Lode, but which were never released in the cinema halls.