My first experience of a children’s film festival was in 2001 at Hyderabad. I was 11 and sat wide-eyed as each film unfurled on screen. For the first time, I knew that there were others like me who hated their Math teacher, feared the grumpy uncle next door and felt happy when the school bell rang at the end of the day. Usually, while watching films, I would feel like a complete stranger, watching big men fight with each other and women dance in short skirts. That day, I felt a sense of belonging in the dark theatre hall. After the fest, I waited to see children my age on screen. They never showed up. I went back to watching lovers skip around trees and super heroes single-handedly bash up goondas. Life was back to normal. But, I always wondered why it was hard to see a good children’s film, at the cinema next door. Why do we still need festival space to watch good children’s films?
“We still do not take children’s cinema seriously, even though they constitute a big section of our audience,” says Anjali Menon, Malayalam film director and children’s documentary film maker. “There are so many wonderful children’s films being produced in other countries. There must be better distribution system for kids’ films. We need to allocate more money for them.”
But then what makes a good children’s film? Do they have to have children as protagonists? “Just because a film has a child protagonist, it does not mean it is a children’s film,” says Anjali. “A children’s film is one that both the adult and the child can equally relate to. That’s why, my favourite is still good old Malgudi Days.”
A good kid’s film is one that truly reflects the mentality of the child and sets a refined cinematic taste in them, says S.P.P Bhaskaran, who used to run a video shop. “Pather Panchali and The Red Balloon, are some of them.” But that does not mean you show them an Andrie Tarkovsky film, he reminds. “The seriousness will leave children irritated. A children’s film should convey themes that they can identify with, but do so in a sophisticated manner.”
The Red Balloon, he says is a fine example. This is a film about a child who comes across a balloon. The balloon follows him everywhere he goes. In the end, it introduces him to his fellow balloon friends! “Now, this is a film a child can identify with. It also exposes him to good cinematic language,” points out Bhaskaran.
Shorter films work with children, says S. Anand of Konangal Film Society. “Children between five and 10 should be made to watch 20-minute films. Longer films will not hold their attention.”
Humour works like a charm with children. Charlie Chaplin’s films are a must for them, he says. “Who cannot laugh seeing his antics on screen? Satyajit Ray has also made some fantastic children’s films. His Feluda series are classics, made especially with children in mind.”
But, Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven takes the cake, says Anand. “We screened it in a school here. They were touched by the bond between the brother and sister. They loved the race. They looked mesmerised.”
Director Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven tops the list of must-see films for children among the city’s film lovers. The innocence, smiles and sorrows of siblings Ali and Zohre linger long after the movie is over. Another favourite is the Korean Way Home, where a hunchback grandmother teaches her grandson, a spoilt city boy, the lesson of love. “We have a number of films made for children that entertains them and conveys a message as well,” says director S. Kamala Kannan.
“What we need are more films about children. Adults should understand their world, their dreams, and visual experiences and translate them onto screen,” he adds. Kamal picks director Ram’s Thanga Meenkal and director Naveen’s Moodar Koodam as films that deal with a child’s psyche. “If one film highlights how education clips a child’s creativity, the other had bits that made a point on child’s rights in a realistic and creative way. These films discussed the conflict between children and adults. It’s refreshing that in such films, children showcase their innocence, and don’t behave like adults.”
Film enthusiast and artist V. Jeevananthan remembers watching free shows of children films, cartoons and documentaries in Coimbatore theatres every year on Children’s Day.
He lists Mehboob’s Son of India, Raj Kapoor Boot Polish, Gulzar’s Kitaab and director Aravindan’s Malayalam film Kummati as some of the best films made about children. In Tamil films, he mentions director Pantulu’s Kuzhandaigal Kanda Kudiyarasu, a fantasy film that had Sivaji Ganesan in a character role. “Indian films have failed to highlight this genre. “Children’s films are rare as there’s a limited market. They are restricted to animation, cartoons or fantasy genres such as Krrish 3. We hardly have films that deal with the soft nature of children, and portray issues from their point of view, such as Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. Any creator should bring out the child in him while making films about children,” he says. Government subsidies and ticket concessions will attract filmmakers to explore this genre, he adds.
Pinju Manasila, a 22-minute short film made by cop and filmmaker Mahesh, touched upon the theme of nurturing children. Mahesh regrets that most children’s films are made with commercial content.
Cartoonist Bala, who has made short films, too mentions the school girl from Thanga Meenkal. “She stops and stares at a spider spinning a web, and buffaloes grazing in the fields…she is melodramatic too like any other child. The film touched parents emotionally and made them understand that academics isn’t the only thing important. Making a film from children’s point of view and handling children are difficult tasks.”
Choosing good cinema for children is a complex process, says Kamal who has conducted two children’s film festivals in Coimbatore and one in Erode. “We have to pay attention to the sensibilities of society too. We screened the Marathi film Shwaas, where a tottering grandfather takes along little Paarsha who is about to lose his eyesight, to a park, a fair and a temple…the children didn’t like it much,” he recalls.
Kamal says children’s films should highlight human values. “They have a lot of fantasies and a creator should never misguide them.”