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.


Jonam said...

science website for kids

Akshay Rajagopalan said...

Good to see you after a long break. Was missing your posts.

I remember how I was hooked to BQC every Sunday and considered Derek O'Brien a demigod of sorts. Pains to see dross like Ba, Bahu, aur Baby and Shakalaka Boom Boom these days. Think we need another season of KBC for kids.

Akshay Rajagopalan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Akasuna no Sasori said...

It's not just BQC (which was of course the greatest quiz show of its time). Game shows had ideas. Like Avishkaar - kids doing science!! Who'd have thought it today? When you think about it, even silly college-type shows like "Ek Minute" and "Snakes & Ladders" required their participants to use their heads.