I was in Kerala few weeks ago, in Cochin, where my daughter and I went out to lunch one day. She’s 30 months old, rather pretty (I say this as statement of fact and not with any conceit) extremely expressive and animated. An hour into our time at the restaurant, another guest who had been watching us for sometime walked over and said he was a ‘director’ and is currently working on ad films; would I be interested in having my daughter be a part of an ad he was making? I am not sure he was just doing it for entertainment – because I did see him go up to other guests and talk as well – but I said no.
He said, “Oh it’s not you we want, it’s your daughter.” I said yes, I perfectly understood that and wasn’t interested. “Don’t you want her expressions and antics to be recorded and for all to see,” he pressed, looking puzzled. I politely declined again but said I’d check with her father and let him know. He left it at that but I left the restaurant amused at the shock on his face. Really, has no mother said no before to him?
But it brought to fore something that troubles me more and more. Children in the media and child actors. With a slew of reality shows that are geared at finding “super” talent in children – dancing and singing, primarily – and a hit film that stars a child meaning instant celebrity a la Darsheel Safary and the like, I find this exactly the kind of hazardous profession that the Child Labour Act in the Indian law talks about. The Act, last touched upon in 1986, lists out, among other things, the categories in which a child (defined as below 14 years) should not be employed. The most widely rejected category is the army but others include eateries, cinder picking, fire and match works, and diving (?) among other things. The categories, however, do not include feature or ad films.
There’re two things that worry me about this issue.
a) That parents are so struck by the immense potential of fame, the intoxicating idea of their child becoming the next big sensation, that they don’t think twice about pushing their kids towards public performing – whether it’s acting, singing our dancing.
b) That adults – parents as well as others involved in employment of a child in entertainment – may have very little awareness, or give little credence, to how this whole experience shapes the child’s personality.
As a child, when I happened to watch an interview of child stars of Hollywood, I remember being awed at their poise, what seemed like maturity and their quasi-adult mannerisms. Today, I feel sad for them because I believe they spent their childhood being adults without being allowed to do all the things that adults do.
Which is why I believe this should also be on that list of hazardous professions in the Child Labour Act. Why should a nine-year old or even a 13-year-old have to hang out with adults for extended periods of time? Bad enough that they’re adults, worse that they’re so-called actors. A child may love to act, it may be exciting for her to be chosen to play a certain part, it may be fantastic to not go to school. But are those reasons enough for you to deny your child of all that is bound to give her basic skills she can hone on her journey to adulthood?
Like each one of us realises as we get out of college or school, education is so rarely about what we learn from books. It was in school I learnt that there are as many kinds of people as there are different ways to deal with them. It was in school that I learnt that teachers are not gods but if you found a good one, you definitely should worship him. It was school that taught me that children are unkind; that I too was capable of being unkind if it meant being popular. In school I learnt that if you played a sport, your confidence, your outlook towards the rest of your life would be different from those who didn’t play any. Heck, it was in school that I learnt boys can be complete asses but I would still like them. And that girls have it tough and pick up how to be mean little bitches very, very early, but they’re fun as hell.
Take that environment away from a child and you’re gearing her or him up for near-disaster, I believe. On one hand, home schooling appeals to me greatly because I honestly believe there is a lack of schools that will nurture children’s individuality. The cookie-cutter robots that come out of prestigious schools in most Indian cities are academically sound but largely lacking in softer skills to lead happy, content, holistically successful lives. But on the other hand, like someone long ago – on a blog too – pointed out to me, home schooling severely restricts social interaction, which is beyond essential to a child. Unless you have six kids yourself and a couple of neighbours with as large families, home schooling is a bit of a double-edged sword.
Home schooling a child actor on the sets and taking time for lessons during their “shooting schedules” ensure you might get your child past class 12. But is she going to have the opportunity to be a child? I am not sure. If nothing else, it really isn’t healthy or normal for a child to get exposed to all that grown-up talk. The definition of being a child is vast and so I will not attempt to elaborate on that too much here. But I think what I essentially mean is for the child to have the space and time to find herself and her source of confidence and inspiration from learning to deal with situations that might seem mundane to adults but are entirely new to children.
On another level, all the fawning that a child receives in a situation like that cannot be in any way tempered by any amount of level-headedness you may try to employ at home. Besides if the parents are star struck, I do believe there will be very little level-headedness at work in that home. I am judgemental like that.
And I am not even going to talk about too much coming too early – really, are children equipped to handle the fallout of fame, or just fame even?
Anyway, it so happened that I got a bit worked up about it and I am sure he totally misunderstood my reasons for asking him to take them down (which he stoutly refused to do till my mum intervened – yes, we’re grown up like that). Soon, morning came and I wondered if I had overreacted. I tweeted it to my bunch (honestly, the things we know about each other on my timeline is disturbing if you think about it) and except for two people everyone said I overreacted and that there is no harm in having those pictures there. I am still not convinced although I feel bad and want to tell my brother he can use the pictures for his blog.
What do you think?