Monday, March 3, 2008

Return to Innocence

Last weekend I happened to catch the Grand Finale of Saregama Lil Champs and I was reminded of a movie I recently watched - Magnolia. Amongst other things it captures the anguish of an eleven year old whiz-kid competing in a quiz show final, who is burdened by the tremendous expectations of a parent, vicariously living his ambitious through this boy. During the course of the movie, the father is so focused on winning this fame and money, that he is completely impervious and insensitive to the child’s other needs. There is one very poignant scene where the child is forbidden from going to the washroom and the resultant embarrassment and trauma to the little boy.

I would assume that this is not a completely exaggerated representation of what actually happens in such game shows, given the insanely high stakes.

This trend seems to be creeping into India as well- I am sure programmes like Lil Champs are creating a breed of hugely ambitious parents who are trading their kids’ childhood for money. A breed of myopic parents who are so caught up in this quest for quick bucks that they often forget that the children are just that – children. Not adults, not emotionally, mentally and often physically equipped to handle either the adulation or the concomitant pressures of life under the unremitting glare of spotlights. Children for whom, a competition such as this, suddenly becomes much more than a game – it becomes the determinant of how much Mummy or Daddy are going to love them, a matter almost of life and death.

One could argue that most parents are ambitious nowadays, and the parents who send children to Saregama and its counterparts are no better or worse than parents who enrol children in cricketing academies hoping to produce young Dhonis or in tutorials so as to ensure adequately high marks.

However, I think there is a fundamental difference between the two. The cricketing academies et all, while harnessing the ambitions of the parents, still essentially, shelter and safeguard the children’s innocence and childhood. Not so the Saregamas of the world. As S, disgustedly ranted on Saturday, it watching this grand finale was like watching a paedophiles dream – young, preteen children dressed up in adult, revealing clothes, competing for adult prizes (what is a twelve year old going to do with a car, for crying out loud), mouthing to adult but cutesy, sentences and gyrating to very adult, often almost obscene moves.

I have nothing against Saregama or any programmes of the same ilk – in fact, till a few years ago I used to make it a point to watch it. But somewhere – these shows have become less about singing and more about performing viz. how well you can generate interest and eyeballs by dancing, having hysterics, being bitchy or do whatever tamasha it takes. Nothing wrong with that at a conceptual level – it’s not something I would be keen to watch, but if there is an audience for it, do as much tamasha as you please.
But when it comes to making young children prance around the stage with almost soft porn moves – like performing animals in a circus, well, that’s when I think it’s something we need to be seriously worried about. People might say its discovering talent – but to my mind, it looks too much of exploitation.

You could say that it’s something which kids do all the time- yes, children are natural mimics – we have all seen a young child spontaneously mimicking some moves from a Kareena Kapoor movie with a parent indulgently watching. But there is a great deal of difference between that, and making them do it on stage under the public glare, for money.

Also I shudder to think of the kind of values which is taught to the child – when a father proudly brags that he spent x thousands of rupees sending text messages so that his child got the audience votes. Or when another parent gets violent and abusive after his child has been eliminated from the competition. Or the parent of the differently abled child who tries to garner sympathy votes by harping on the child’s disability.

What is the kind of burden these children are shouldering day in and day out for months at a time in full public view? Are they even old enough to understand the consequences of this?

The tragedy of these programmes is that not only are they creating greedy adults, but also miniature avaricious adults, cynical before their time.

P.S I think I merged in multiple rants here in the same post. Hmmm.


narendra shenoy said...

My sentiments exactly. They're robbing the children of their childhood.

I remember, when we were young, (circa 1975) it was the fashion for kids to be occasionally paraded in front of relatives and made to sing stupid songs (my hit number was "Sayonaraaa, Sayonaraaa, waada nibhaoongi etc, which still gives me the heebie jeebies). The ritual was universally hated both by the singers and the singees and hence thankfully tapered off.

But if you have any kind of talent now, god help you, as indeed you have so eloquently expressed. Your life is likely to become one long contest because papa wants that hyundai santro.

Rant, perhaps, but no less true for that! Well written.

Kiran said...

Efficient markets - where there is a need, there exists a market, and the media is only fueling that kind of need.

Parents need to be mature enough not to push their kids into all this stuff.

I wrote similar stuff on the indian education system on my latest blog. Do chk it out.

chandni said...

very nice thought provoking post....I guess in these changing times, even childhood has become different!

I am the kinds, who wouldn't evenlet any chidren in the family be used for baby product ads!

Who won, by the way? In sa re ga ma?

howiwishfornewbeginnings said...

I agree completely with you! Whats with these parents and them pushing children to limits where they themselves would have never gone before at that age? Whats happens to the little joys, the pranks, the games that we as children used to play and not bother so much about competing with other kids, about winning huge monies... childhood for us was just that- and our parents made sure they never imposed their worries and desires onto us... Why are things changing so much now? I feel terrified for this very reason when I think of bringing a child into this world!

DiTtY said...

I don't watch these silly kiddie talent hunt programs for THIS very reason! Little kids mouthing faux cutesy but very adult lines really pisses me off! They are kids- why do they need to sound like adults?! And of course, not to mention the kind of pressure these competitions and the glare of the media puts on the child!

The worst thing about these "game shows" is the blasted ELIMINATION! You have a ten odd year old who is asked to leave the show because *hold your breath* INDIA has voted them out! Talk about rejection, huh?! I wonder how many of these parents who get their kids into these shows would be able to deal with such an elimination themselves without feeling suicidal?
This whole kiddie reality TV crap just annoys me! Glad you wrote about it!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

naren, yes its the frenzy of adults who seem to be making up for all the money they didnt make or something.

and sayonara ..seriously?

kiran - do give me the link to your blog. and its both push and pull - media pushes 'these commodities'and it gets consumed and its a vicious cycle

Cynic in Wonderland said...

chandni - ditto ..and no have no clue who did win, just saw it for half an hour or so

howiwishfornewbeginnings - yus, you are right and i guess its upto the parents to ensure that the kids GET the childhood they deserve

Cynic in Wonderland said...

exactly ditty - and you feel so sad for the kiddo when they are eliminated NOT by the judges but becoz they are not performing upto par. if there HAS to be elimination, at least the first has some merit in it.

Amodini said...

Wrote this huge long comment and then Blogger just lost it. Oh well . . . meant to say - yeah, I totally agree. Feel bad for the kids - all "make-overed". I know the parents should have more sense, but how exactly is that to happen ? Shot at fame + money talks + lesser educated (and I don't mean academic ed.) backgrounds.

Drenched said...

Yeah! I couldn't have ranted about it better! It's so true. I'm so glad I was born just a few years early otherwise I'd have been made to feel a worthless, talentless prick in school as I can't draw, sing, dance etc etc (like millions of others who are those normal types). It just pisses me off to see the way these kids are being spoilt, not only exploited. As if we need more attitude! Without any considerable talent/achievements either, you see so many people of my age full of fake attitude and arrogance and it makes you wonder, "What the hell have you achieved till now that you're so full of yourself?" Sadly, in this Saregama case, it won't be a needless arrogance. These kids, at least most of them, will gloat around and no one is going to burst their bubble. Already, you could see faint traces of that I'm-the-best-everyone-else-scum disease in so many of them. I hate to be saying this but parents should have more sense and sight...all this for a few lakh rupees and a bloody car? Seriously, let the kid have a normal life and he might earn it all himself, albeit a few years later!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

exactly drenched and earn it without being made into a circus animal at that

Cynic in Wonderland said...

..drat blogspot and its penchant for gobbling comments amodini