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.