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'Make an Indian' through the right type of kids content

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MUMBAI: In a country where one third of the population is composed of children, very little has been done to encourage and promote kids content. While most will argue and point to the vibrant plethora of content for kids that kids’ networks in India boast of, it is just a fraction of what is required and can be achieved. To discuss the issues that held the industry back from catering quality kids content,  industry stalwarts like filmmaker Subhash Ghai, CFSI chairman Mukesh Khanna, GEAR Education founder Shrinivasan, Green Gold founder and CEO Rajiv Chilaka, Bioscopewala Pictures president Nishith Takia and Viacom 18 Kids cluster head Nina Jaipuria were a part of a panel. Moderated by FICCI animation chairman and Screenyug Creations founder Ashish SK, the panel addressed the need to have a Kids Content Act.

The panellists unanimously agreed that India lacks any guidelines on what kind of content kids should consume, which exposed them to content that isn’t meant of them. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s future, and hence what content today’s kids consumed would have a character building influence on the adult of tomorrow, was the argument that Ghai had in support of the Act.

“The formative years till the age of 8 years are crucial for a child. That is why pre-school content for kids has great power to familiarise them with our culture and add morals and values to their lives,” Shrinivasan stressed. “India lacks any form of parenting education. Parents often mistake the TV to be their babysitter, and expect their children to learn life values from it. Therefore we must pay attention to what kids are consuming on television.”

A large part of the panel discussion was dominated by the need to have more Indian content for kids that reflected Indian culture and connected today’s kids with the roots of their parents. Both Ghai and Khanna felt that this generation of kids were so taken by the second screen - be it the mobile phone or the tablet -- they were slowly drifting away from their own culture and embracing the west. They pointed at westernised kids’ content available right now and the lack of proper home grown content that adhered to the values of the land. Chalika also pointed out that he grew up amidst Archie comics and American and British superheroes and characters.

Jaipuria however begged to differ with her fellow panellists. Pointing out to the progress of her own network, Jaipuria shared that 65 per cent of what Nickelodeon showrd was originally home grown, and the rest was either dubbed or tweaked to make it relatable for the local kids. Bringing in a fresh perspective to the digital era, she shared that soon all players would be in an even field thanks to digitisation. This would lead to such a huge demand for kids content that she doubted the country could meet at the moment with any measure of sustainability. Her reason for supporting an act was to ensure that the industry and all its sections -- the creators and the distributors-- were prepared with a ready supply of quality kids content for the near future.

To make that a reality, there were certain legal, financial, and logistical hold ups, the moderator pointed out. Takia, who has been closely involved with the making of the recent National Award winning children’s film Delhi Safari, painted a sad picture of the current motion pictures sector for kids’ films. “Our film did extremely well in China and South Korea, but failed miserably in India. The movie was pulled out of screens way too quickly. Most of the money we made was from foreign market. This shows how we need to create an environment where children’s films reach their due audiences. The act may consider screen reservation or other ways to ensure viewership of such films,” he said. Government sanctions, subsidies, and entertainment tax reliefs were also brought up while discussing the act.

“The ease of producing a children’s film is the key to take this industry in the right direction. Outside India, most animated children's films are co-produced but Indian film makers can’t do that. We are restricted by law,” said Khanna. “The act should deal with this and allow filmmakers to co-produce the films and share the financial burden of creating something which requires a huge budget.”

To address the visibility issue, Ashish proposed a free to air DD Kids channel so that kids living in the most remote parts of the country could enjoy quality content.

The one take away from the discussion was perhaps the phrase ‘make an Indian.’ Giving a clever twist to the extremely popular ‘Make In India’ phrase that prime minister Modi had devised , the panellists urged that content creators should ‘make an Indian’ out of the tiny tots, riding on powerful home grown kids content that reflected the country’s culture.

With so much stress on raising the country’s kids to the right type of ‘Indian’, is there a risk of homogenising kids content and regulating creativity? -- A question the panel raised but did not answer.

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