Shailesh Kapoor | Kids & Television: No Child’s Play

15 Nov,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s Children’s Day, and if I were looking for an excuse to postpone this piece on ‘kids and television’ yet again, this is certainly not the day for it. So here goes!


In its 20-odd years, our television has come a long way. An aspect of this progression that has always fascinated me is how our industry has handled kids. This topic has two distinct layers to it – kids as audience and kids as talent.


The first one (kids as audience) is where a lot of action has taken place over the last 10 years. The kids’ channels genre has found its feet over time, and while it remains undersold historically, things have been looking up. Indian (homegrown) animation has taken off well, and it is sure to give additional impetus to the genre.


However, it’s fairly well-known that a large proportion of kids viewing (and here, I speak of only voluntary viewing, not the passive viewing captured by the meters) comes from programmes and channels that don’t target kids as their primary audience. CID and Taarak Mehta are two such examples. Kids also spend a lot of time watching movies on television, and there are specific titles that are quite popular amongst them.


Barring a handful of exceptions over years, it will be safe to say that unlike animation, the live action content space for kids in India remains under-explored. The big culprit is cinema, of course. We just haven’t made enough mainstream films for kids over the last two decades. There have been a few very good films featuring kids, especially Taare Zameen Par. But clearly, ‘featuring kids’ and ‘targeting kids’ are two different things altogether.


Besides Krrish, Ra.One and the very recent Delhi Safari, all other film content targeted at kids has been grossly sub-standard, almost to the point of being apologetic. No wonder then that kids have taken to more “adult” cinema, such as Welcome, 3 Idiots and even Rowdy Rathore.


The live action deficit is evident in primary content on television as well. In Doordarshan days, there were several shows targeted at this audience, such as Vikram Aur Betaal (fantasy), Kachchi Dhoop (drama) and Indradhanush (science fiction). Of course, thrillers (e g Karamchand and Byomkesh Bakshi) had a loyal kids following even then.


But over years, live action entertainment for kids has given way to more mainstream teenage television. At the age of 10-11, Roadies and D3 become real options for them. By virtue of addressing a wider and more consumption-led audience segment, these shows can get higher production budgets.


In the 80s, the Children’s Film Society of India or the state (via Doordarshan) would fund kids content. Today, market dynamics decide what gets made. But in the bargain, the kid is losing out on live action content targeted at him/ her. There’s a correction required somewhere. And initially, the onus may liemore with the GECs than with kids’ channels. SAB has made early strides, with Baal Veer and Jeanie Aur Juju. More shall follow soon, one hopes!


It’s on the talent side that the industry’s learning curve has been a lot uneven. No logical argument can convince me on how children working 5-7 days a week round the year, even for the most handsome pay cheque and with their parents’ approval, does not amount to child labour. It’s not a once-in-a-blue-moon shoot. It’s not a weekend hobby that pays. If it’s a daily job, it should not be justified just because you become famous on TV. In fact, the ill-effects of fame further strengthen the argument against kids being a part of daily shows.


Two years ago, Amole Gupte proudly shared with us his approach towards shooting with kids for his film Stanley Ka Dabba. They would shoot only on the weekends, and it would be like a workshop, where kids would be made to feel at ease with the entire process. Surely, we can emulate Gupte’s vision, at least in spirit, if not literally, for television.


An area where we have made good progress is in handling kids on reality shows. Full marks to Dance India Dance for driving this change over the last three years. Till then, making kids cry on screen, and reprimanding them for a bad performance, was a norm in many reality shows. It makes for good drama, was the word going round. Today, that’s history. There is growing sensitization that kids talent on reality shows needs to be respected, because having made it to the stage itself makes them special. Thank you DID (and more recently, Junior Masterchef) for showing the way.


I always worry that our television will become a 15+ phenomenon in these commercial times. With kids spending less time with books than even before, television can make a telling difference in their formative years. We need to give them the programming they deserve. And if there’s enough collective will to do that, surely there’s enough money in this country to figure the commerce out?


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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