By Arundhuti Banerjee
Mumbai, Dec 29 (IANS) The year that was saw several Indian films for children and young adults find favor in the international festival circuit. Sadly, the state of neglect for the genre continues in India. Films aimed at a young audience are still not a priority in our country — neither for the filmmakers, nor for the audience by and large.
Making cinema for children certainly never seemed like the most interesting area for filmmakers, either for those who are driven by a commercial lure or those who are focused on creating complex arthouse realism. The year 2020, however, had an interesting array of Indian films that spoke to the young viewer. One can think of “Mee Raqsam”, “Pareeksha: The Final Test”, “Harami”, “Matto Ki Saikil” and “Habbadi”. These films, screened at various international film festivals this year, revolve around teenagers and children, and their struggles, hopes and despair.
“Harami”, written and directed by Shyam Madiraju, and starring Emraan Hashmi with young actor Rizwan Shaikh, was selected for competition in the New Horizons section at Busan International Film Festival. A contemporary “Oliver Twist” of sorts, the film revolves around a teenage pickpocket who goes through an emotional journey and self-realisation after a particular incident.
Although his film is set in the dark reality of the nights of Mumbai, director Shyam told IANS: “The fact is, when we talk about children’s film, we either take it lightly, or we do not look for a story that finds a balance between being real, as well as positive. I found the story of my film from the streets of Mumbai when I used to live there. Yes, street children are living in darkness, but even in their world, there is the light at the end of the tunnel, if not, we as storytellers, in the fiction, show the light. So, for that, instead of putting the tag of ‘children’s story’ or ‘realistic cinema’, I think we just need to see a story as a story. Then it will resonate with the audience from every part of the world.”
Nachiket Samant’s Marathi film “Habaddi” is about a 10-year-old boy who finds a way to overcome his fear and tries to meet the girl he adores in school. “Habaddi” was the opening film at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, while opening up on that achievement, Samant notes a basic difference in approach to the genre between Bollywood and regional industries that came to fore this year again.
“If we look at the Marathi cinema, or any regional cinema for that matter, everything is not star-driven like Bollywood. So, we have room for children’s cinema. But for the Hindi cinema, we need a star. So, we have a ‘Taare Zameen Par’ but with an Aamir Khan,” said Samant.
“In a children’s cinema, if it is not animation or heavy VFX, the focus goes to the story. The reason we find space in festivals is because the audience looks for a story first<" he said, adding: "When we say 'children's film', no point of taking the intellect of children and their parents lightly. Everyone is waiting for a good story." The year that was also saw the OTT release of veteran cinematographer and Shabana Azmi's brother Baba Azmi's directorial debut, "Mee Raqsam". The film has been screened as the opening film for the Coalition of South Asian Film Festivals (CoSAFF). The story of the film revolves around a Muslim teenage girl and her father. As the girl wants to pursue her dream to become a Bharatnatyam dancer, orthodox people create a situation that it becomes hard for her to live her dream. The story then tells us how the girl's father takes it on himself to help her realise her dream against all odds. "I always believe cinema and art should be used as an instrument of change, I think making cinema keeping how the young minds, how the hopeful youngsters who are the future of the nation, think is important," Shabana Azmi told IANS. This apart, "Matto Ki Saikil" had a world premiere at the 25th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. "Pareeksha: The Final Test" was screened at the Shanghai International Film Festival this year. With OTT tweaking the viewing habits of regular Indian movie watchers, it will be interesting to see how films made for children and young viewers cash in on the situation. Or, will makers of films in the genre still need an Aamir Khan to pull the audience to the theatres? (Arundhuti Banerjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Arundhuti Banerjee