| Chennai |
Published: November 14, 2018 7:26:44 pm
Did you know Balayogini (1937) was the first children’s film of South Indian cinema? I never knew until someone pointed it out to me recently. The film, starring Baby Saroja in the lead, was written and directed by the Krishnaswami Subrahmanyam (father of the popular Bharatanatyam artiste Padma Subrahmanyam). Apparently, Baby Saroja became an overnight sensation post the release and was even called the ‘Shirley Temple of India’. Though the genre had a great start, it never had takers consistently. “It’s always the masala entertainer and the ‘star-based’ system that pushes everything else out,” observed actor-film historian Mohan Raman.
But what’s children’s cinema? He said, “The lines are blurry as there’s a difference between ‘films for children’ and ‘films about children’. Thanks to the exposure of the Internet — today children get to watch things that adult watch. There’s nothing called ‘children’s films’ anymore. Maybe, you can classify them under ‘films made for children’.”
Director AL Vijay of Madrasapattinam fame added Tamil film industry needs to come up with more content-driven films for children. “I am one filmmaker who constantly works with kids. Be it Deiva Thirumagal, Saivam, Diya and Lakshmi, I have always believed there is an audience for such cinema,” he told us. At the same time, he understands there are a minuscule number of films made in Tamil for children. “We don’t have enough producers who would want to fund a Taare Zameen Par here. They see that as a huge risk,” he said.
What draws him towards working with kids? “It’s easy. They live in the moment and have zero ego issues. In return, that reflects in their work. For instance, take baby Sara (whom I introduced in Deiva Thirumagal) for example — she doesn’t like to see me dull. She puts in extra effort to make sure that I get the desired shot.” However, he smiled, “Kids may have mood swings, and you’ve to monitor them constantly because they don’t take care of themselves like adults do.”
According to a trade analyst, though films revolving around children get noticed easily, they don’t necessarily guarantee box-office success. He said, “Let’s go back to the 80s or 90s — there had been only a handful films that yielded both profit and the recognition. In 1984, there was My Dear Kuttichathan that turned out to be a massive hit, and we talk about the film even now as it was ahead of its time. Then, there’s Mani Ratnam’s Anjali — which isn’t really a ‘children’s film’. Also, there were films including Mazhalai Pattalam, Raja Chinna Roja, Bommukutty Ammavukku and Poovizhi Vaasaliley which brought in the family audience to theaters.”
Citing Avvai Shanmugi and Kannathil Muththamittaal as classic examples, the trade analyst told us, “During the late 90s, filmmakers directed movies that focuses on children’s world in an engaging way infusing other messages and ‘family entertainment’ values. If some genre becomes a hit in Tamil cinema, there would be back-to-back projects in the same category. So, someone needs to start; so that it becomes a trend eventually — like how there were multiple ‘horror comedy’ films released during the same time.”
He admitted it’s hard to get kids to theaters and work on tailor-made content for them when they have homegrown competition already like TV channels, podcasts, Netflix and Amazon. “You can’t fool kids with mediocre content. With many platforms and channels available, it is hard for us to keep up to their expectations. Today’s kids want something more than a Chhota Bheem.”
But in the last 10 years, Tamil cinema has had considerable increase in ‘children’s films’ despite the dwindling audience. Pasanga (2009), Marina (2012), Thangameengal, Haridas and Thalaimuraigal (2013), Goli Soda and Enna Satham Indha Neram (2014), Kaaka Muttai and Pasanga 2: Haiku (2015) and Ezhumin (2018) bear testimony to it.
The last time I met Dhanush, the actor had said he would focus on producing more children-based films. He, in fact, added how he got curious about Kaaka Muttai when director Manikandan had narrated him the script. He had another interesting thing to say — how we have an exotic collection of literature and one way of finding good stories for children is to revisit our mother tongue.
Halitha Shameem, who directed Poovarasam Peepee in 2014, rued, “We don’t ask ‘why you are directing only romantic films’ to a director who churns out romantic dramas. But the same question is being directed to someone when she works with kids. The problem lies with the mindset of the industry-people and the audience and that should change.”
But who is ready to bell the cat?
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