You are all of eight, painfully shy, frightened at all times for no reason and want to be left alone most of the time. I call it the hunted deer syndrome. Yes, dear reader, I was afflicted—and to a degree that made me a child most parents would dread to raise. The archetypal shy child often serves as a muse for film-makers and writers; she is shown to be mysterious, complex and interesting. In movies, these children grow up to become maverick artists and musicians. Reality is different, of course. That kid is a nightmare, believe me, and she doesn’t necessarily grow up to be a cool, crazy artist.
So, it’s Annual Day at school. You have memorized a dramatic retelling of Gulliver’s Travels in your own words (thanks to the imagination of Miss Tsengpi, the Class III English teacher). Your name is announced and you tiptoe to the stage. The light comes on. You begin: “Gulliver always wanted to go to faraway lands. But he didn’t know he was going to be in so much trouble when he actually did…” The HD syndrome suddenly hits; you freeze, stand still for a minute, and then run for dear life. You’re back home, teary-eyed and defeated, and the 60-year-old grandmother tells you something along the lines of what, I think, Hitler once famously said: “If you win, you need not explain. But if you lose, you should not be there to explain.” That was 1984.
Mansi, 11, was recently eliminated from Chak de Bachche
For today’s children, competition is religion. They’re eager fodder for dream factories to run, and many parents choose to give in. Especially those in small towns. My cousins’ children in Assam do well in exams, learn music, can dance to the latest Hindi film hit in perfect steps, swim, and perform on Annual Day like naturals. They’re in a hurry to shine, to be under the spotlight, to be seen.
Children’s reality shows are here to stay. When the idea to go behind the scenes of these shows came up in a Lounge meeting, there were reservations. How do we go in there and try to be objective about something that, for all purposes, borders on exploitation of minors? Middle-class, small-town kids pitted against each other; judges asked to be rude so that voyeuristic audiences cry with the contestants; children made to gyrate like item girls in Hindi movies.
In India, however, it’s still only a vulgar circus. Last year, I happened to watch a recorded episode of Kid Nation, the show on American TV channel CBS. The backdrop was a “ghost town” in New Mexico, and children in the age group of 8 to 14 are made to run the place without any adult help. Alone, often helpless, the children not only clean and cook, they form groups of leaders and followers and battle complex emotions such as jealousy. The first episode of the controversial show garnered an average of 9.4 million viewers in the US (apparently, it is meant to be a message about the survivalist nature of human beings!). The spectacle made me think, one more time, that grandma was right. I was safe and happy in my affliction.
In India, the media has been proactive; columnists and opinion makers have voiced their abhorrence of these shows. And in May, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) set up a committee to formulate regulations for child actors and children’s reality shows.
Lounge was one of the first weekend papers in the country to devote a page to parenting. It continues to be one of our most popular pages, and this was a subject that deserved an assessment for our readers despite it having been reported elsewhere.
So we decided to probe further. Tara Kilachand got access to late night shoots of Boogie Woogie and spent a day on the sets of Chak de Bachche. She came back with mixed feelings—indignant, yet sympathetic. What blatantly confronted her was the desperate middle-class hunger for instant fame. Which came first: reality shows or that hunger? We still don’t have a definitive answer to that; perhaps both feed off each other. Turn to Page L12 for a detailed behind-the-scenes look so you can make up your own mind. Do write in to tell us if you would allow your child to be part of a reality show.
Nikhil Alva, executive producer, Miditech, the production house that made Indian Idol, gave us an extensive interview on the subject, on Indian television today and about the makings of a successful TV show (Business Lounge, Page L10).
As always, there’s style, gadgets, design and much more in this power-packed issue. I’m also happy to tell you that Lounge editor Priya Ramani is back from a spectacular journey across the world. Watch this space for her experiences; she’ll be here very soon.
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