Films are considered a perfect tool to disseminate any message or information. Experts too have noted that the impact of any audio-video message lasts longer than reading or listening. It has been seen over the years how some films have magically conveyed the right message to the audience, whereas other mediums like newspaper, books or radio were not so fast or effective. And if the audience comprises kids, then the messages are caught up at double speed. They tend to absorb more than any grown-up. Therefore, if a film has the right content, powerful script and positive messages, children will derive maximum benefit from it. Remember the film, Taare Zameen Par, which taught a good lesson not only to children but also parents?

 However, for many, cinema is considered a medium of entertainment only. In reality, it is more than this. It is an interesting tool to capture the imagination and attention of young minds and stimulate among them a discussion on vital, personal, societal, moral and world issues. Sadly, when it comes to making films on and for kids, Indian film industry is far behind other countries. Indian industry does produce children’s films, but they are very few in number that can be counted on one’s fingers. Children  audience is not on the radar of Mumbai film-makers. Therefore, lack of contents leads them to resort to foreign films or shows. However, some independent film-makers take a risk to produce films for kids, but these films are not well-promoted or advertised. These films end up being screened at the film festivals only. The message is not delivered to the kids.

Bollywood vs kids

As per reports (KPMG FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, 2015) Mumbai film industry comes up with around 1,400 films a year. Among them around 0.1 per cent are for the children audience. If this number is compared globally, it is very low. Therefore, when it comes to making films on kids, Bollywood, one of the highest film producers in the world, is not serious about the young audience.

 If one has to prepare a list, there are very few in number, such as Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par, I am Kalam, Makdee and Stanley ka Dhaba. And list ends very fast. Of course, there are films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, in which a child actor played a vital role and became a favourite with young and old. But this film falls under the bracket of commercial cinema and target audience was an adult one. The same is true of Aamir Khan starrer, Dangal. It conveyed a very positive message. But the film was meant to be a commercial one.

 In other words, one can say Bollywood is not mature enough to make kids-oriented films. Their stories still revolve around family drama, love story or tragedy. “We can’t blame Bollywood for not making films on children. Because, everyone thinks about profit and children’s films don’t bring profit or response. Therefore, they run away from making films for kids,” said an independent director.

 Not only directors, even big and well-established actors have never been a part of children-oriented films. Of course, there are a few expectations like Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par and Amitabh Bachchan in Bhootnath but their numbers are very few. It shows that Bollywood is doing very little to enter the unexplored market of kids’ films. Films like the Krish series were later tagged as Children’s films, but they were highly commercial.

 It is not that film industry does not have child actors ~ there are many established stars like Darsheel Safari, of Taare Zameen Par fame, and Harshaali Malhotra (Bajrangi Bhaijaan). All these child actors are doing well in the film industry.

 Director Nagesh Kukunoor, who has made films like Iqbal, Rockford and Aashayein, said in a news report that children’s films in India are often “dumbed down” or made “very stupid”. There is need to make intelligent movies for kids. “Film is an art form and business is always associated with it. If we genuinely start making films for kids, I think we can see the business side also,” he underlined.

 Similarly, Aamir Khan too said in one of his interviews this year that we don’t make enough films for children in India.

Global scene

However the scene is totally different in other parts of the globe ~ in Hollywood and other western cinemas. They pay equal attention to films for children, unlike Indian film industry, which suffers from low budget and neglect from filmmakers and producers. Indian film directors and producers don’t want to invest money and time on films for children. But in the West, there are many high-budget films, like Harry Potter series, to cite an example. Even in Indian television, there is a lack of content for children. Of course, there are some channels dedicated to kids, but the programmes are not made in India. They are dubbed in local languages. This only means we don’t have any interesting content to offer our kids.

Why are films needed?

As already mentioned, films are not only a source of entertainment but much more. These films contain a lot of powerful information and messages, which is quite beneficial for kids and parents. National Award winning actor Raveena Tandon, said at the Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFFCY), movies are the best media to educate children. This is the right time to educate the kids about what is good and what is bad for them through films, she pointed out.

 Children are the future of any nation. Many experts agree that if they are sensitised from the very beginning they can be the best change agents, be it their family or the community in which they live. “But one can’t make them understand with speeches. There must be something creative. And nothing can be more appropriate than audio visual ways ~ cinema,” said Santanu Mishra, executive trustee of Smile Foundation and chairman, SIFFCY. “Kids are very intelligent. If you show them about friendship they will learn about friendship. If you show them violence, they will learn about violence. And if you show them family values, they will learn about family.”

 Cinema is the most beautiful medium to showcase reality, provided the content is right.  Jitendra Mishra, SIFFCY director, said cinema becomes quite inspirational for children. Citing his example, Mishra said, “When I was a kid, I always wanted to become like a film’s hero. I was so impressed with films that I always wanted to do what an actor does in movies. Like me, there are hundreds of kids, who want to be like the film’s (stars).”

 Films always have a long lasting impression on children. Most of the time, they try to ape and be like the actor in real life. Therefore, if cinema is channelised in a positive way, it can be very beneficial. “You know, when we showed I Am Kalam to children, we later noticed many positive changes among them,” informed Shantanu Mishra.

 However, many experts and filmmakers suggest that films made for children should be a little different. The stories must be pleasant, humorous, happy in nature and with more narration. Usually, these films are about a child. So there has to be emotions that children can identify with. “Kids are a different audience altogether. They have more curiosity and listening ability and they learn faster than anyone. Therefore, while making films for them one has to take care of many things in mind,” said Rima Das, a film-maker from Assam.

 “There shouldn’t be sexuality, nudity or any political contents in their films. Even if it is present in films, it should be in a lighter and positive way,” suggested another film-maker.

Not many takers

When it comes to films, there are a few organisations and film festivals that support films for children or made by them. Among them, CFSI (Children’s Film Society of India), founded by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawarhar Lal Nehru, soon after Independence, is the most popular. The basic idea of this organisation was to promote and popularise children’s cinema in the country. They organise the International Children’s Film Festival, or The Golden Elephant, every two years in Hyderabad. It is attended by hundreds of school-children as well as teachers. Then, there is one more organisation, Smile Foundation, an NGO, which organises film festivals on kids. This year, they organised Smile Film Festival for Children and Youth in Delhi, in which hundreds of films were showcased, on children and by the children. But the irony of these festival is that Indian contribution is a very little. Most of the films in these festivals are drawn from abroad. It means, India still has to take a giant step in making children’s films.