Monday, August 17, 2009

Little Kids, Big Mistakes - II: Little Krishna and Big Animation

As I'd mentioned in my last post, children's television in India has reached an all time low. The question now is what is being done?

A key step in the right direction is "Little Krishna", a show airing on Nickelodeon India. That it was Nickelodeon that picked this show up, and not any of the zillion Hindi/regional channels tells you a lot. The show was set up by BIG Animation, a subsidiary of Reliance Entertainment. You see the BIG when you see little Krishna's animation all right. For the first time, we get animation that compares favorably with the West (or East for that matter, the Koreans animate Simpsons). I can't compare it to Pixar or Dreamworks, but it's a major improvement on such nonsense as Bal Ganesh or Little Hanuman. Compare the three:

Little Hanuman:

Bal Ganesh:

Chota Bheem:

and Little Krishna:

The difference is all too obvious. Where the first two go for "Oh it's cute enough for kids to pick up and it's mythology so that's good enough", the third does create this world where Krishna and his pals play while fending off Kamsa's continuous assaults. I could further attest to the latter after viewing several episodes. Which is where Krishna scores. Craftsmanship.

This is the first requirement for any good TV show, specially for kids. Like I said, most animation houses in India don't care what their final product even looks like. It's impossible to get them to improve corresponding content. Clearing this baseline requirement, Little Krishna and its ilk are in a position to confront the next one.

Creativity. Here is where Krishna faces a bit of a problem. Doubtless to minimize rioting and blasphemy FIRs (see this btw, it's hilarious), BIG Animation went to ISKCON for the stories. The result is the televised equivalent of those pies one got at ISKCON bakeries - gooey, dripping and hoping to make up for lack of crust with a ton of sugar.

Consider for instance, the whole blue thing. Krishna was said to have the complexion of a raincloud, and hence paintings showed him as glowing purply-blue, a motif much much repeated in any ISKCON religious text. While suitable (I suppose) for paintings, it's weird to see a blue kid running about amidst a bunch of normal complexioned people. He ends up looking like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Couldn't BIG have gone with a dark skin? Similarly consider Kamsa's demons. None do more than strike an evil pose and leer at Krishna, saying something on the lines of "Ha ha ha, I will kill you because I'm an evil demon and you're only a little child". In addition, not one of the demons is shown to really pose a threat to Krishna. I know the source material dictates that Krishna triumph over them, but does it have to be so easy? A tornado demon carries him off, only to succumb to Krishna's mass altering powers. A monstrous stork and python attack him, only he has super-strength. Kaliya comes up, but is no match for his super Kathakali/Taekwondo powers. And when a living-flame type demon tries to burn the forest about him, what does Krishna do? Make an ever so slight poopy face and suck in the demon. That's right, he has flame-ingestion powers too. This of course brings up the question as to whether Krishna makes for an interesting animated series, but that's a digression again. The point is that for now, BIG is afraid to veer off the safe-and-cutesy side of Krishna tales. Hence the implied innocence in all the girls of Vrindavan dancing to his flute despite the quasi-sexual tones of the Rasa-Lila.

The requirement as I see it is for creativity. Of the type that pushes boundaries. Something like say this clip from the Ren and Stimpy show [look it up here]. And before you protest the violence in it, think Tom and Jerry. Even if that extreme is avoided, consider a show like Animaniacs. The source of the "Pinky and the Brain" cartoons, this show was famous not only for its smart slapstick but also for naughty little jabs, as recounted here. Jabs that make reference to giving people the bird and fingering amongst other things.

My point in all this is not to ask for more vulgarity in kids shows. Heaven knows they get enough of that from their song and dance shows. What is needed is the assumption that kids are smart, and write shows that nurture their sensitivities while stimulating them in some way. Because kids are smart. See shows like this one to realize what can be done with their entertainment:

This post has meandered a bit. I didn't really know of a way to end it, so I decided to call for some discussion. What shows did you watch as a kid and find entertaining without being dumb? Let's discuss readers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Little Kids, Big Mistakes - I

Among the many things wrong with Indian TV these days, perhaps the worst is the absence of good children's programming. What are the choices available to kids (toddlers to twelve year-olds) on television?

There are game shows like this, which inculcate a filmy fifteen minutes of fame mentality. at least, and a propensity for vulgarity at worst. There are laughable shows such as "Hero: Bhakti hi Shakti Hain" (!!!!) about a Durga bhakt who is given a boon that transforms him in a poorly animated flash into a red-coloured Shaktimaan-type when he chants "Bhakti hi Shakti hain" enabling him and his hyper-cutesy children friends to engage in poorly-animated laser battles with Darth Vader's poor cousin who could only afford cardboard for his Sith helmet. And there are hyper-cutesy animated shows like "Little Bheem" (here) about which the less said the better. Among the features carefully removed from these programs are good animation and narrative imagination, lest they strike an aesthetic or intellectual chord in their viewers. Kids TV in short lobotomizes children so as to prepare them for MTV's Teen Divas and Roadies during their teenage years, the Big Boss/Rakhi ka... type reality shows during their early adulthood and Ekta Kapoors K-series when their brains are ready to call it Alzheimer's.

The thing is, it was not always like this.

People who watched Zee in the 90's will remember "Aavishkar", an engaging and criminally underrated game show that required its contestants to - believe it or not - out-science each other. They had to know stuff for a quiz round, figure out how stuff might be expected to work in a different one and most impressively had to build some sort of contraption for one of the rounds. The show was hosted by a less annoying kid than always and his 'Professor'-type uncle., who was always entertaining. That this show was made for kids goes to tell you what Zee once thought of them. Similarly engaging was "It's Wild" on StarPlus. A sort of teenage quiz show, this one was ecologically themed and had contestants who actually knew and gave a shit about wildlife. Unfortunately, Subhash Chandra decided one fine day to out-Rupert Murdoch, who in turn dumbed down his content - specially children's content - to moronic levels.

Perhaps the most consistent channel as far as good kids shows is concerned is Doordarshan. Sure, it ripped off ideas from the west (there was a ridiculous Star Trek clone named Antar Shoonya or something) and its special effects were passable at best, but its writing was something. And there was someone there with the brains to realize that people could get all their special effects from Hollywood cinema. Hence for example, the use of puppets to make a miniseries of the Arabian nights. Similarly smart were the tales of Hodja that were written by Gulzar. And does anyone remember "Indradhanush", about a bunch of kids and a supercomputer? What an idea!! Kids having adventures with a computer. Even with the silly effects and so on, it was exciting then and deserves kudos in retrospect. DD's monopoly may have caused boredom at large, but it helped it come up with programs that didn't have to dumb down for TRPs.

The trouble I guess started when all these people began competing, and big time. Hindi /Regional content of course is logical. What wasn't was the decision to either dumb down en masse, or rip off Western ideas en masse.

I doubt people remember any original Indian kids shows from the mid 90's or so. The reason was simple: dubbing was in. DD began with Disney's Hindi-dubbed Talespin and Duck Tales and Zee brought in Japanese stuff. Star in the meantime stuck with its original line-up, slowly replacing all kids programs with adult stuff. Cartoon Network took a lead at this time, with its line of entirely foreign-made shows. By the way, Hindi dubbing could not destroy the greatness of Batman: The Animated Series on DD. But I digress.

Dubbing has become rather passe, as now there are hajaar regional channels doing it - hence Batman in Tamil. Cutesy is the new buzzword, hence shows such as "Hero:BHSH", "Chota Bheem" (shudder) and "Ghost Bana Dost" (just read the title, no way I'm ever watching this even by accident). Another buzzword/paradigm is "15 min of fame", which is seen in all the dance shows kids do now, in place of quizzes or science shows. It ain't Carnatic or Kathakali they do on these shows. And it ain't MS or Aruna Sairam they dance to.

Kids TV in short is abysmal. Is there hope? Well yes. What and how? Next post.

Monday, August 10, 2009

And I'm Back Again

Well, what do I say about my prolonged absence?

I could claim lack of time, but I was on holiday for two goddamn months.

I could blame the absence of something to write on, but I was in India for two goddamn months.

What then do I say about not blogging?

I dunno, just didn't happen [Shrug].

Till I read this here. Greatbong started off so (a link from his post) and can now boast of an upcoming book.

And all thanks to persistence and a lot of time.

Cliched, but it's a sign. A light illuminating the path ahead.

Something new coming up shortly. Till then, know that I persist.

I took 50 words (linking to another's writing) to say so.