CHAT Actor-filmmaker Nandita Das, Chairperson of the Children's Film Society of India, tells Nita Sathyendran about the state of children's films in India
The inauguration of Chitra Tharangam, a travelling children's film fete, organised by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy in association with the Children's Film Society of India (CFSI), created waves of excitement at the Cotton Hill Government Girls Higher Secondary School. And that's not least because the students got to laugh – and learn – from the antics of young Kesu, the loveable rogue from the National award-winning Malayalam children's film Kesu, directed by Sivan. Actor and director Nandita Das, Chairperson of CFSI, who had come for the inauguration, is a familiar face for Malayalis. She has worked with some of the leading directors in Malayalam such as Adoor Gopalkrishnan, V.K. Prakash, Santosh Sivan and Jayaraj. Nandita looked equally thrilled to be with the children. She talks to MetroPlus about how important it is to find a space for children's films. Excerpts…
About Chitra Tharangam
It's such a fantastic initiative of the Chalachitra Academy, and such a good way to bring the films directly to children. Children need to have access to these films. That's why initiatives such as Chitra Tharangam are such good proactive examples. Over the next couple of months, it will travel to various schools across all 14 districts in the State and screen 12 select films, both Indian and international, sourced from CFSI's extensive repertoire. We're hoping to make this fete an annual event and based on this, CFSI is thinking of creating a template that can be used across the country.
Besides, as an extension of the annual International Children's Film Festival of India in Hyderabad in November, we are also planning to make it a travelling fete and also broaden our activities to encompass discussions, debates, meet the directors and so on, in which children can actively participate.
The importance of age-appropriate films for children
The media has a huge influence on children. Mainstream cinema has become the diet of children. There is a difference between films about children and films for children. It really bottles down to what children are watching these days, mainly on television. There is no such thing as ‘family entertainment – for people from six to 60.' At each level it has to be something different.
Actually we have very little programming dedicated to children. Most of what we have even on children's networks are dubbed content from other countries. We don't have good indigenous content from India that talks about the world that they are familiar with and yet bring in elements of fun, fantasy, and imagination. And it's a pity, because we do have so many stories to tell and such a wealth of children's literature in all languages.
Children's films in India
It's as if we celebrate mediocrity with regards to production and quality of children's films. Perhaps its because here there is a whole nexus of filmmakers, producers and distributors who think that it's not economically viable to make children's films. One of the aims of CFSI is to break this nexus. In fact, some excellent movies that we have produced are lying in cans simply because there is no money to get them out. CFSI is actively trying to court private entities to co-produce films, after all they have the expertise, talent, know-how, money and band-width to market the films.
On keeping children entertained
Whatever you want to say, you have to be subtle about it. It's imperative that we resist temptation to teach and, worse, preach. Nobody wants to be told this is good for you. Intrinsically, children's films should be enjoyable without being frothy and superficial. It should have a sense of magic, of fantasy, it should be hopeful, optimistic…
How has becoming a mother (her son Vihaan is a year old) changed your perspective on children and cinema?
I didn't think that my life would change as dramatically as it did! Earlier I was quite free-spirited and nomadic. Just to be around a child and see him grow is just so delightful. But I enjoy my work and I believe that it is good for children to watch their mothers work.
I grew up watching my mother work – well my childhood was a role reversal of sorts. My father, Jatin Das, is a painter and he would do all the household chores while my mother worked! Moreover, in the midst of our jaded lives, seeing the wonderment that children have about everything makes us more optimistic. And through this experience you realise how privileged you are. How protective you become about their food, security, health…It just hits you harder about how vulnerable children really are.