Films form an important part of children’s education and their development. Sadly, few good films meant for children are made in India. Moreover, parents too are disinterested. In this scenario, children are bereft of the richness of Indian culture. Alen Paul and Kanika Tripathi explore the world of children’s cinema.

Children are often compared to uncut diamonds ~ they are raw, not exposed to the harsh realities of life. Just as every piece of diamond has to be shaped individually in order to showcase its inner beauty, young minds also need shaping so as to let them realise their hidden talents. That’s possible only when children are brought into the world of learning new things through the medium of education.

Not just bookish and “memorising” education should be provided to them but also a world outside textbooks ~ the world of theatre, films and technology to mould their ideas into groundbreaking plans. Just as children are given books to read, paint brushes to draw the best of their imagination on the canvas, or a platform to enact their characters, they must also be encouraged to watch movies that are made especially for them to understand and cultivate an artistic taste of the movies that they get to watch.

It’s true that nowadays children are found to be engrossed in the world of tablets and smart phones. But the fact that parents don’t let them watch adult TV shows because the right content is not shown is also not hidden from us. Then isn’t this the duty of parents to encourage their children to watch the right movies with proper content and moral stories to kindle children’s interests more and more into learning while at the same time watching movies made for them?

With this intention of introducing children to educational movies, the fourth edition of Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFFCY) was held last month at the Siri Fort Auditorium in the Capital so as to give children an opportunity to attend and watch movies screened for the sole purpose of the younger audience to discover quality and meaningful stories. SIFFCY draws international recognition and support from ECFA (European Children’s Film Association) and the prestigious Student Academy Awards.

Children’s films

Walt Disney is the first name that comes to the mind when one thinks of children’s films. And rightly so, for it was Disney who gave the world of cinema movies that still inspire young minds, shape their dreams, ignite their imagination, and weave magic into their childhood fantasies. During the late 1930s, Disney started making animated adaptations of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, beginning with the famous Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs(1937). Around the same time, a children’s film studio was set up in Moscow from which revolutionary movies like The Magic Fish and The Land of Toyswere imported to other European nations including the United Kingdom.

Some of the most powerful film adaptations of children’s literature were seen post the World War II period after the world was left in complete shards of war trauma. Movies like George Stevens’ Anne Frank(1959), Byron Haskin’s Treasure Island(1950), René Clément’s French film Forbidden Games(1952), featured children in the scenario of war, and illustrated the gap between children and adults.

Around the 1960s, motion pictures such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppinsportrayed the love and innocence in children. Around this time, Asia’s most significant contribution to children’s films was Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969). Children’s films in the 1970s included American animated films such as Charlotte Web, Robin Hood; European films such as Alice in den Städten, Me and Mamma Mia; and British films like To Sir,with Love. The decade also saw children’s films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Muppet Movie.

The 1980s and 1990s produced classic children’s films, including Beauty and the Beast, and Matilda. It was then that India saw R K Narayan’s famous series Malgudi Days, first telecast on Doordarshan in 1987, which brought much delight to children.

The resurgence of Disney feature films around the 1990s marked the initiation of high-budget animations in Hollywood box office along with contributions from Pixar Studios and DreamWorks animations. The most celebrated movies such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire, came around this time.

The ever expanding landscape of children’s films in the recent past saw exemplary works that not only entertain, but also educate the young minds. Animated films like The Ice Age series, The Incredibles, Up, Kung Fu Pandaand Finding Nemo, along with live-action films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Chronicles of Narnia seriesand Alice in Wonderland have crossed milestones to offer values to children. One can also note a shift in trend from “damselin-distress-being-saved-by-theknight-in-shining-armour” to “shero-saving-herself-and-herman” with movies such as Mulan, Frozen and Brave.

Although India is yet to explore the sphere of animated films, there have been notable developments in live-action films for children from 2000 to present. Udaan, The Blue Umbrella, I Am Kalam, Bum Bum Bole and Stanley Ka Dabbaare some of the widely beloved Indian films for children. Pakhi Tyrewala’s 2018 movie, Pahuna:The Little Visitors, is a story of three children who are bound to strike a chord in everyone’s heart. It wouldn’t be a matter of surprise to know that films affect an individual’s psychology. It is for this reason that children’s films are made with much deliberation regarding the content that will be delivered to the other end of the screen.

Importance of films

From the icy journey of sisters Anna and Elsa in Frozen to delving into a mysterious and magical world of wizardry with Harry Potter and his friends, from trying to mimic the smart-pants banana-shaped Kevin to Stuart and Bob in Minions, from Remy, a small but ambitious rodent “master-cheffing” his human friend Alfredo Linguini in Ratatouille to the jungle adventures of Mowgli inThe Jungle Book, the world of kids has always been full of timeless classics and never-ending fun loving animations and children’s movies to watch, learn and enjoy such inspiring content with families. But the question is: What is the big deal about these movies that turn out not only as a great entertainment but also as a motivating factor for the young and innocent children to become so creative? Truth be told, there is no doubt that no matter how old or young one be, both children as well as the adults absolutely love to watch movies made for the kids’ section. As for the creativity level of kids, with classics like The Lion King, Frozen, Harry Potter series and many more, kids cannot get enough of these mind- blowing creations. With the happy- go-lucky animals that think, talk and converse like us, and princesses with beauty and magical powers to defeat the jealous villains (with an undoubted equal love and support from their Prince Charming!), these films not only achieve to entertain, but provide a chance for the children to explore the true scope of their own world of imaginations. There are tons of educational films for children that can also aid them in obtaining new knowledge and information on a variety of subjects. Good movies can give interesting moral lessons to children. Not to forget the very fact that movies with good content can also help them to socialise with other fellow mates and transform their behaviour in a good way. No wonder we often hear parents complaining of their children not focusing enough on creativity, along with the bonus of all that new technology preventing children from engaging into their imagination. Though true, but such amazing movies are surely bound to ignite a sense of adventure!

Children ignored?

There is no doubt about the unlimited amount of educational and moral values a child can get from watching movies made only for their understanding and entertainment to enjoy. And yet the saddest thing about such children’s movies is that when it comes to the famed high class society of Bollywood industry, it is totally an indisputable fact that the children’s movies in our country not only remain under-funded but, at the same time, are also underloved and under-watched. The reason is simply visible to us ~ lack of funding, poor distribution and promotions of such quality based content, and the neglected indifference of the audiences towards the movies, especially the parents. This doesn’t stop here at last, but the fact that our own Indian children’s cinema gets noticed and appreciated by getting screened at the many International Film Festivals rather than being applauded and promoted by the domestic film market proves the point of how children’s films are becoming more and more nonexistent in Indian Cinema largely.

According to Amol Gupte, one of India’s best contemporary children’s filmmakers, no Indian parent really cares about showing their kids children’s movies just because they don’t want to feel bored and keep yawning and wait for the kiddish movie to get over finally. This further leads to the kids watching movies made for them not from their own country but from the West itself, hence leading to huge popularity of Disney and Pixar movies worldwide, while popularity of Indian children’s movies is rapidly fading away from Indian theatres, all thanks to the directors, who always stick with cliché genres of love, comedy, or action based.

Even if parents or Indian audience cannot be fully blamed for such an ignorance towards children’s movies made in India, the equal blame also goes to the Indian filmmakers who nowadays have lost that magic touch of putting out their best efforts of communicating with the children. No wonder most of them end up teaching philosophical lessons of life to the kids who haven’t yet reached a certain age to apply the same in their own life.