Is it possible to talk about something as grave as child abuse and exploitation to children in a light-hearted manner that they can easily reckon with?
A little girl in a short frock drags her stuffed toy across the hall to be greeted affectionately by her uncle. “Chittappa, (uncle), is it okay for someone to pet me? With a hug, he tells her any cute kid like her would be loved by all. But she continues, “What if someone kisses me?” With a peck on her cheek, he reassures her, but she goes on, “What if someone puts me on their lap?” Placing her on his lap, a gesture that has been repeated numerous times, he is puzzled at her questions, till she asks, innocently but with a sense of discomfort, “Then why did that uncle who came home yesterday ask me not to tell anyone?” Only then it dawns on him his niece been molested.
Talking about child abuse to children, may be delicate or difficult, reasons cited by parents and teachers who hesitate to talk about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. But ‘Kuzhanthaigal Jakirathai’ (Children Watch Out), a short film by Don Bosco Nest, Tirupur and Alaihal Media, Tiruchi Media, talks down to children about issues that concern them in a way they can understand, appreciate and enjoy. The film that is long as a 45 minute period in class, is set in a school and brims with vivacious child actors. ‘Childline 1098’ has proposed to make the film a part of its campaign on child rights in all schools in the district. A slightly modified version of the film, perhaps with a less intimidating title would be used, according to Thiyagarajan, district coordinator.
Just an ordinary kid
The film begins on a familiar note- a morning assembly. While some kids are fervently listening, some fidget, some wait painfully, and a couple manage to pull off tricks, but not without escaping the all-seeing eyes of the PT master! While the camera lingers inside the campus, it shifts to a kid peeping expectantly through the iron bars of the school gate . He is no late-comer but a rag picker peeping into a world from which he is debarred.
A highpoint of the film is that it manages to convince children that the characters who are abused, exploited or beaten up are ordinary kids, just like them. A mother wakes up a teenage girl and tells her, “Get ready soon, the van will be here any minute.” As Selvi sets off with a lunch bag, we assume she is just another of the millions on her way to school in the morning, while in fact she is among the thousands who beat a path to a garment factory.
Ample comic relief
Filmed in schools in Tiruchi and Tirupur, the merry background score and apt casting makes up for some of the amateurish technical shots. Just as you think the film tends to get preachy by harping on teacher-student mode, sequences like fighting territorially for seats in class, poring over books at early morning study while stifling yawns and waiting outside the principal’s office in dreadful anticipation, strike a familiar chord. The take on corporal punishment, begins humourously and continues into song mode that will have the viewer laughing hard, till the gravity of the issue emerges.
While child rights crops up throughout the movie in the form of a continuing class lesson, there is ample comic relief in the film with two impish boys taking almost all the credit with their tomfoolery. But this is not one of those movies that show children turning ‘goody-goody’ after being scolded. Children are children, no matter what is the defiant proclamation as the boys standing outside class as punishment cannot resist playing with a ball!
The movie ends with some hard-hitting questions echoed by students in an essay contest, “If I get good marks I’m brilliant, if my grades drop then am I a dunce? “How many government teachers who go on strike for a salary raise will protest to ensure all children in the state go to school?”. “How many schools that claim they have a 100 per cent pass bother about having a zero per cent dropout?