That Hindi is our national language is a given. Yet today urban Indian kids are more comfortable with English and ‘Hinglish‘ but not Hindi.
Sample this: "Aaj mera History ka exam hai." Now we don‘t expect our kids to say "ithihass" for History but hello… ever heard of the word "pariksha"? How many kids use these basic Hindi words in their day to day lives? And this is just one such example.
This is where Galli Galli Sim Sim, the Indian version of the world renowned children‘s television series Sesame Street, will play a vital role in developing the language, communication, cognitive and social skills of Indian kids.
In addition to this, Galli Galli Sim Sim will be attempting represent the vibrancy of India‘s multi-culturalism. "The series will celebrate the similarities and differences that are part of children‘s every day lives," says Turner Entertainment Networks Asia senior vice president regional ad sales and marketing and Sesame India project director Soumitra Saha.
The series will air on Cartoon Network and Pogo this summer. This is a joint initiative by Sesame Workshop, Turner and Miditech. Also, in order to garner a wider reach, Turner is in talks with Doordarshan to air the series on DD‘s terrestrial network.
The first season of the series will have 65 half hour episodes and these will be repeated considerably on Turner‘s two kids‘ channels. Also, plans are in progress to launch the series in another Indian language next year. However, the language has not yet been decided upon.
Four Muppets have been specially created for India - Chamki, Aanchoo, Googly and Boombah. They portray certain positive attitudes and have characteristics that are universal and endearing to all.
Chamki is a learner, Aanchoo a day dreamer, Googly likes to spend time alone and Boombah the lion is very health-conscious. "Each of the muppets has special characteristics that are representative of Indian kids. The idea is to create characters who transcend geographical, communal and other distinctions," says Saha.
Apart from the four main muppet characters, Galli Galli Sim Sim residents include human characters representing different genders, regions and religions. Jugaadu, likes to find innovative solutions to fix problems and does not view his disability as a handicap. Basha Bhaijaan owns a corner store and knows several Indian languages whereas his wife Dawa Di, who is from North East India, teaches dance. Kabir, Basha Bhaijaan and Dawa Di‘s son, is an active and curious eight-year-old.
Other key characters include: Col. Albert Pinto and his wife, Rukmini (Doctor Aunty). Col. Pinto, a retired army person, is an advocate for healthy living and civic sense. Rukmini, a doctor by profession, is a combination of contemporary and traditional wisdom.
Galli Galli Sim Sim is aimed at serving the 157 million children under the age of six in India and will support India‘s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (universal access to education). The primary aim of the show is to make learning fun and add elements of learning into everything that is fun - learning to count and read, about real life situations, about emotions and problems will all be shown via entertaining and light hearted stories.
"One of our priorities is to teach basic spoken Hindi to the kids of India apart from numeric skills, counting and basic hygiene," says Miditech president Niret Alva.
Another aim of the series will be to build bridges between urban and rural India by making rural seem cool and exciting to urban kids and vice versa. "The idea was to focus on what united children of India rather than what divides them. What are the issues that kids are worried about, language and social skills, the diversity of the Indian culture etc was what we zeroed in on," Alva added.
While most of the muppets have been specially created for Indian audiences; four popular muppets from the international version will also make appearances on Galli Galli Sim Sim. They are: Ernie (Earny), Bert (Barth), Grover (Grover) and Count Von Count (Count Gilli Sheikh).
"We chose these four characters from the international series because they are not culture specific and don‘t have cultural nuances. They are also the funniest and great care has been taken as far as their voice-overs are concerned. It‘d not be just the run of the mill dubbing. We have adapted them to Indian sensibilities. For example the muppet called Grover will be a Punjabi in the Indian series," explains Alva.
A specific curriculum has been drafted for Galli Galli Sim Sim, which will be strictly adhered to. New stories have been created specifically for India. "What‘s exciting about what we‘ve done is that we‘ve given the animators a chance to create their own stories and characters using their rich Indian aesthetic. While they work within the parameters of the curriculum, they definitely have the freedom to use their creativity," says Sesame Workshop executive producer for Galli Galli Sim Sim Nadine Zylstra.
Training workshops were conducted with the National Institute of Design, attended by a select group of young adults 18-23 years from all over India. "Our goal was to infuse a youthful voice into some of the animation. We talked them through the curriculum and they created many storyboards for us. We wound up incorporating seven of their films into the series," Zylstra added.
The Indian series, like its international counterparts, has identified some relevant social issues and will be presenting situations around the same in the series. To begin with, Turner commissioned Indian educational experts to write a series of topical papers outlining practical concerns related to topics of relevance to children living in India.
"This was followed by an Educational Content Seminar in May last year, which brought together over 60 individuals representing a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise related to child development and children‘s concerns. These advisors included teachers, language specialists, artists, academics and others," said Saha.
Equal importance will be given to rural and urban India in story representations. "We want one to be a mirror to the other. The aim is to make sure that urban kids see rural kids as cool, exciting, dynamic and different, and something that they want to be interested in and vice versa. At the same time we want the things that link kids. Wherever there are different communities, different groups, there are some things that kids have in common - a problem you are dealing with or something you are excited about or want to be shown, so these are things that we will definitely do on the show," elaborates Saha.
The rural-urban bridge would be achieved by looking at games in a different setting and activities that children do. For example: How cricket is played in different settings? "I go back to the point that there are certain universals - play, enjoyment, singing, music - and we will be linking these universals among Indian children in different places through different aesthetic sensibilities, the artform of different regions, the music, live action films of children in different settings, taking children to different areas, going to school etc," he adds.
In addition to the TV series, which will launch in mid 2006, Sesame India is also committed to a long-term educational outreach campaign to reach India‘s young children, particularly those most in need. The educational outreach materials and activities will reinforce the educational potential of the series and promote public awareness; preview key messages and ways children can benefit from the show; and provide tools and information on various platforms that are accessible to parents, caregivers, and early childhood focused NGOs and educators.
Saha informs that this initiative would be through television, alternative distribution strategies and educational outreach to villages and slums, supported by print materials.
A project the size of Sesame Street obviously comes with a bagful of challenges. The biggest challenge that the parties involved faced was the sheer cultural diversity of our country. "This is one of the reasons why it was a tedious task for us to identify the needs of kids in this country and then create a show that would relate to these children," explains Saha.
The other challenge, Alva points out, was that of finding people who were genuinely passionate about working on this project. "To find a team of writers, animators and voice-over artists and have them all under one roof was one of the other challenges that we faced. The entire process was highly dynamic and creative. It was like a three way complicated marriage between Turner, Sesame and Miditech," Alva says.
In addition to teaching basic cognitive skills, such as literacy, Galli Galli Sim Sim will represent the vibrancy of India‘s multiculturalism The series will celebrate the similarities and differences that are part of children‘s every day lives.
"The content seminar helped us a great deal in identifying five broad curricular objectives that embody the India Statement of Educational Objectives for Sesame India, which are: cognition, emotion, physical well being, social relations and culture," informs Saha.
Cognition: stimulating and enriching mental functions - This section highlights objectives related to the stimulation of the mental functions such as literacy and communication, mathematics, intuition, thinking and reasoning and creativity.
Emotion: caring, sharing and nurturing - This goal area concerns objectives such as recognising emotions and coping with emotions.
Physical Well-Being: body care and safety - Objectives highlighted here include relate to basic health practices and safety, including good hygiene and traffic safety.
Social Relations: independence and interdependence - This area concerns objectives that relate to modeling positive relationships, such as basic interactions, friendship, conflict resolution and caring for common facilities and spaces.
Culture: harmonising diversity - This section is oriented towards objectives that relate to embracing diversity, including culture and the arts, ethnic variability and bridging diversity, forging unity.
In the Indian context, the fifth section - Culture - is unique to India in the Sesame Street scheme of things. "The requirement for such a section was thrown up for the first time at the India content seminar. More importantly, Sesame globally was very impressed with the importance and relevance of such a section and hence they are planning to include the same in the curricula for other Sesame projects across the world," says Saha.
Galli Galli Sim Sim will have a mix of live action and original animation programming and the production of the series is handled by a robust team. Miditech‘s Prakash Moorthy is in charge of the in-house team of animators in Delhi.
Noted educationalist DR Asha Singh is the education and research director for Galli Galli Sim Sim and has played a very important role in developing the curriculum for the series.
Miditech vice president Pria Somiah is the supervising producer for Galli Galli Sim Sim. Umesh Bist, Soumitra Dasgupta and Bhavya Nidhi Sharma are segment directors, whereas Samir Chanda has been responsible for building the expansive sets of Galli Galli Sim Sim.
Anurag Dhingra is the director of photography and the head writer for the show is Sehba Imam.
The music for the series has been composed by Julius Packiam, whereas Paramangsu Mukherjee is in charge of live action films.
"The animators are trained in a variety of styles that are reflected in the series. We made a conscientious effort to reflect these styles so there is a good mix of stop motion, 3D, classic line drawings, oil on glass, paper cut outs, and so on," informs Zylstra.
Internationally, Sesame Street muppets actually take to the road and perform for kids in live shows, which are a huge success. Once the show launches in India, it is likely that Turner will be exploring these opportunities too. However, Saha declined to comment on the same. "At the moment we are focusing on the launch of the show in mid 2006 and have nothing to announce at the moment," he said.
In terms of merchandising and licensing around the show too, there are huge opportunities. Games, toys, learning material, books etc are some of the products that have been successful internationally. The home video market is yet another area waiting to be tapped via Galli Galli Sim Sim. But the Indian aim at present is to launch the show.
The series has been a runaway success in almost all the countries it has been launched in and given the extensive research and dedication that has gone into for the Indian adaptation of the same, it is sure to repeat its success story in India too.