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Long journey sans fun

The discussions at the Open Forum of the first Asian Children's Film Society revolved around the making of children's films with an extensive one on the Iranian film `Willow and Window'.

ON BOARD: (From Left) Raja Sen, Nanjunde Gowda, Veda Kumar and Volga.

THE CHILDREN'S Film's Society of India (CSFI) has grown tremendously after the screening of its first-ever film, Jaldeep, made by Kedar Sharma and sponsored by it. Fledgling film societies and circles have been set up in a few States across the country. Jaldeep, in fact, was screened at the International Festival at Venice and won the Best Film and the Best Director awards.

Having been started with a Central Government grant of Rs. 5 lakh as early as 1956, the Society has now come a long way. However, despite 12 International Children's Film festivals, the prospects of children's films are meek , although some of the best filmmakers in the country contributed to the genre. The woes and hurdles a director intending to make a children's film is put through was the main focus of the Open Forums held on November 15 and 16 as part of the first Asian Film Festival at Hari Hara Kala Bhavan.

Besides, what came out almost as a war cry was the need for a permanent and exclusive space for children's films — both in terms of their production and screening. The Iranian Cultural Counsellor, Issa Rezazadeh, formally inaugurated the Open Forum and the first day's session discussed the subject, `Making of Children's Films' (with Iran as the focal point).

Besides Rezazadeh and Veda Kumar — President, Children's Film Society of A.P. Vijay, child star of the Kannada film, War and Freedom, M.D. Kaushik, its director, and Telugu filmmaker Ashok (director of the film Kuchi Kuchi Koonamma) were part of the panel. The Iranian film by Talebi, Willow and Window, impressed a cross section of audiences at the festival. Therefore, Rezazadeh took up an elaborate discussion of the film and explained to children the symbolic layers of meanings behind the film.

The film moves through a young schoolboy's travails to mend a broken glass pane of the classroom window. Rezazadeh pointed out the importance of looking at these hidden meanings, and learning to appreciate the film because of what it leaves for us to understand. He said, "The film tried to tell us that instead of listening to the sound of sadness of people, it is better to be deaf. Either go to a quiet place or make more noise — that is how one can react to sound/noise!" The reason behind the excellence of Iranian films is the Government's (especially post-Islamic revolution) extension of substantial subsidies to the enterprising filmmakers coming up with good subjects.

And the good part of cinematic viewing in Iran is that "quality films (called `artistic' here) are also popular and cinema halls do show them to the public. These few artistic films are also commercial," informed Rezazadeh.

The first Iranian talkie, Dokhtare Lor (The Daughter of Lor) was, in fact, shot in India with the cooperation of Ardeshir M. Irani — considered the Father of Indian Talkie — in 1931. The sound was also recorded in Mumbai. And post-Islamic revolution, 70 to 75 films are made in a year there, with one-third being children's films.

Speaking of the difficulty in making a children-oriented film, M.D. Kaushik said that interest in children's films must be a continuous process, rather than a once-a-year affair. He blamed the foreign channels for "killing children's minds".

He cited an interesting reaction from a child seated next to him after seeing an Iranian film `that Iran is not all desert!' For the child star Vijay, festivals such as these provide an opportunity to learn.. Most of the discussion from the children's side focused on the film Willow and Window and its subject.

While Harjass Singh from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Jubilee Hills) wanted to know if Issa Rezazadeh "would like to make a film about Hyderabadi culture", Pranit (Oxford Grammar School) was intrigued by the abrupt ending of Willow and Window which moves from friendship to `other things'. "Some things are symbolic. The child listens to the sounds of rain since in his own village there is not much rain. When we have something in abundance, we ignore it, like the Irani story about a young fish that asks its mother — `where is water?' Children must also draw their own conclusions about the film, and its many messages," Rezazadeh explained.

QUESTION TIME: Makes a point at the open forum.

The long discussions on the Iranian film overshadowed discussions from the children's side about what kind of films they want, and why are they not forthcoming. On the other hand, the nature of discussion signified the sort of films and stories children get to watch in the name of `children's films'. It also proved that children are only too eager and ready to accept films with deeper meanings, sans `action' and slapstick. Children came up with suggestions on the ending of the Willow and window too. In fact, Willow and Window is perhaps one of the ideal films that children should be watching, if one were to judge by the kind of curiosity and eagerness displayed by them and their ability to relate to the protagonist while viewing the film. The Open Forum on the second day discussed the possibilities of "making children's films popular and take them to the right viewers." Filmmaker Raja Sen (Damu), Kannada director Nanjunde Gowda (Chukki Chandrama), and writer Volga (who made Bhadram Koduko and Paatanagaramlo Pasivadu) were among the panelists at this significant session. That making of children's films is a task requiring phenomenal patience and grit, besides lot of support (financial and otherwise) was the most important fact that came out of the day's session.

Raja Sen spoke of his travails while making Damu, "from 1992, when I conceived it, till 1996, I scouted for producers with my script. Ultimately, Jaya Bachchan, chairperson of the Children's Film Society (National Centre for Children and Young People, as it was named in her tenure) agreed to produce it and asked me to approach the Mumbai office. But, I could not have my dream locked in cans in storerooms for ages. Finally, I collected funds from friends. The film also won the Best Children's film award in 1996. Yet no `regular' distributor would buy the film, since it did not have any `commercial' storyline. In West Bengal, there is no backup for children's films. Schools and authorities must step in here. Otherwise, it is a very frustrating experience."

A similar experience was elaborated by Nanjunde Gowda, whose film Chukki Chandramma was initially rejected at the festival in Thiruvananthapuram but ultimately screened after a lot of furore. "The NCYP told me my film had `commercial elements' in the form of four songs. The way NCYP produced films sometimes is also questionable. Distributive and executive authorities must take the responsibility to encourage children's films for the future generation," he said.

Volga's narrated her experience with the film Bhadram Koduko — made for a general audience — getting the award as the Best Children's Film in the State and her travails when the film Paatanagaramlo Pasivadu, which won accolades at the Asian Panorama and certificate of merit at the Cairo festival had no takers in the commercial theatre circuit. One of the very significant suggestions that came in from the session was that theatre owners across the country may allot at least one day of the week to screen films for children, irrespective of the kind of commercial benefit that would accrue from it.

Some children wondered why children's films are considered `art' films and why they cannot be seen or made as normal films are made. When Shashank wanted to know if pay channels could be utilised for viewing children's films Nanjunde Gowda cited an example. A Kannada pay channel called `Suprabhata' allotted one-hour-a-day for telecasting children's programmes, but maintaining pay channels was difficult, as they look at business prospects. He suggested that children could claim space from Doordarshan for children's films.

It is a fact that the country still needs to go a long way in making children's films having a meaningful presence in the film industry.


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