- November 1, 2009
My last piece was about traveling to film festivals as a director. Now as the chairperson of the Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI) I find myself on the other side of the table as an organizer. It entails everything- from visioning the festival to ensuring every peg is in its place. But with every new challenge I can see how my varied experiences are coming to my rescue. While a daunting task, it is also an exciting opportunity to make a small difference to the world of children’s films in India.
CFSI was setup in 1955 with the enlightened mission of reaching children all over the country through wholesome entertainment with a purpose. With 250 films in our kitty we reach about 34 lakh children every year. Of course lots more needs to be done. So when I was asked if I would take on the responsibility of becoming the chairperson of CFSI, I was torn. The timing couldn’t have been worse – I had just finished Firaaq, returned from a much deserved break, was ready to plunge into writing a new script and reading those that were waiting to be read as an actor. So to accept an honorary assignment that would take up a lot of time and mind space didn’t seem like the smartest decision. But the opportunity to revitalize an organsation with immense potential and to have an enriching experience in the process was quite tempting. So I relented.
Now 3 months later, I am getting aware of some of the critical challenges – to attract great talent, evolve a good distribution network and make the organization truly vibrant and sustainable. This needs intervention at every level and it is imperative to involve children, our main stakeholders in the entire process. I have begun doing that with children participating in selecting films and forming of the children’s jury for the upcoming festival. I have initiated some systemic changes that I hope will go beyond the individual. I see the commitment of the CFSI team, which makes me believe that in my 3 year tenure, we together will make a difference. I thought I had used up all my goodwill in making Firaaq, but I am glad to know that there is still some left! In fact I keep getting calls from various film-makers, writers, animators and educators who have offered to help. To say the least, it is encouraging.
But we are having to swim against the tide. To create a viable alternate to the kind of films and television shows that children are watching, is not easy. How do you change the taste of an entire generation that is growing up on a completely different diet? Personally, I seldom watch television. But when I do, what is most disturbing, apart from the onslaught of breaking news every hour, film promos on every channel, painted faces in every serial is to see little children compete in reality shows. They talk like adults, gyrate like in the movies, cry or celebrate like their life depended on it. It seems they are growing just too fast. Scary! But instead of complaining, I think it is more constructive and less frustrating to create and promote alternatives.
But before we even look for answers, we’ll have to ask some fundamental questions. How do we define children’s films? Why are children’s films invisible in India? Shouldn’t right to entertainment be every child’s basic right? The list of questions is long and their answers, fuzzy. In the coming International Children’s Film Festival that we are holding in Hyderabad between 14th-20th, Nov 2009, all these and more will be debated in Open Forums. Apart from the discussions and screenings of films from all over the world, we have workshops for children on themes like animation, story telling, film-making etc. It will be a festival that hopes to provide space for interactions, exposure, dialogue and of course celebration.
If I sound like I am using this piece to promote an agenda, then so be it. I know I have taken on this honorary responsibility rather seriously. But either one goes all the way, or….one goes all the way! For me at least there is no other choice. But in my new mission I am not diving in alone. I hope to take all those who are ready to dive in with me. So check out www.cfsindia.org and find out how you can become a friend of CFSI to support and encourage quality films for children. Welcome to children’s world!