So after more than seven years of not watching any TV, now we have TV at home. And therefore, my kids have started to watch a bit of tv. The diet was staple till more options came alone. Cbeebies it was. No ad breaks and only trippy shows that make you wonder what the producers were smoking. That apart, the kids’ vocabulary increased, they see more than just caucasian faces and learn a host of other things. But soon more options came along and along with it, pure hell for me. Indian programming for children sucks big time. Call me condescending, call me what you will but there’s not a single show on Indian kids television that I can be proud and let my kids watch without worry. Not that non-Indian television is better; there’s loads of the dubbed Japanese variety and the Ben Ten variety that teach the kids improbable things and are exclusive of all kinds of things we see in today’s society but I am going to stick to Indian TV programming because, hey, that’s what my 4 y.o. appears to prefer over the others.
First off, the list of offenders. There’s the very annoying Chhota Bheem, the completely disastrous Roll No. 21 and the only more bearable Hanuman and Friends. Generally all three of them are like an orgy of stereotypes. There’s the fat bully, the South-Indian accented classroom nerd, the tomboy, the rich, spoilt rival.
Let me take my pet peeve Chhota Bheem. How much more asinine can you get with a concept when you have to have a superhero who lives in a village and eats laddoos for added strength during emergencies a la Popeye and a can of spinach?! At least spinach is healthy. Laddoo? Laddoo? I ask you, as it is India is the diabetic capital of the world. Do we need to make our children susceptible to it from age three by having them glued to the TV watching a smug nine or ten year old boy gobbling laddoos to fight off evil people? Ok you might argue eating sweets doesn’t cause diabetes. But IT IS STILL UNHEALTHY CALORIES! We do not need any more obese children. (Apparently leaving your kids in a room with the TV just on, not even them watching, for two hours a day increases the risk of obesity. So there.)
It took me a while to get past the ladoo-gobbling lad and look around at the rest of the setting, the other subliminal messages that this show was giving out. And there there were, in plenty. Almost always the villain would capture the girl of the group because though she can fob off a bunch of people quite boldly, when it comes to the real mean guys, she’s helpless. Then, of course, it’s the high-on-laddoos Bheem that rescues her, be that from aliens, dinosaurs, dragons, tigers, theives, mermen what have you.
There’s Kalia the bully and frenemy of the Bheem team. (What a glorious stereotypical name right there. Just ruin the colour black for everyone around.) Kalia is fat, stupid, always baying for Bheem’s blood and for some reason all he wears is a really tiny langoti and has two little turbaned boys for his henchmen. I do not get this concept at all — why a langoti, why are little kids wearing turbans, why are his henchmen smaller than everyone else there? I do not get this at all. But stereotypes abound. He’s fat = stupid and a figure of mockery. He’s fat not because sometimes genes make you fat but because you eat. He’s stupid for no other reason but that he’s fat. Thank you Green Gold Animation for creating a whole new generation of bullies in schools that will call overweight children fat.
If you think I am overanalysing or being too serious about just a children’s show, wait till you read the rest. The king and his daughter are fair/pink, just as Bheem and his team are. The villagers? Not quite. The poor folk in turbans and dhotis are a dark colour of “poor” people. So too the demons and other villains in human form. All dark with flat noses and thick lips. Hello racist animators at Green Gold, like your white skin much, do you?
As if all of this wasn’t enough, can you imagine a boy of 10 or 12 being the smartest, strongest, most glorious kid in a whole bloody village, so much so that even the king turns to him for advice? And where the heck are his parents?! Oh also, THERE IS NO BLOODY EVIDENCE OF ANY OF THESE KIDS GOING TO SCHOOL!
And finally, you should listen to the shitty voice-over artists they’ve found. Sing-song north Indian accented English that invariably kisses the V and bites the W. It grates on my nerves like nothing else. Except maybe Arnab Goswami. I don’t care if you don’t speak it all proper, but at least get your basics right. I had to forcibly tie myself up and swallow a bottle of sleeping pills the other day when my 4 y.o. sounded like a character out of that show when she said something.
These characteristics run common through all the three shows. Roll No 21 is a Krishna in a modern format where Kansa is the school principal, whose main endeavour in life is to get rid of Krish. Running the school doesn’t even remotely feature in the general scheme of things. How does a man so ridiculously stupid get to be principal? I mean he’s tried everything, and I mean everything from ghosts and Baba Ramdev-inspired tantriks and everything in between to get rid of Krish. Does he not get it? He is invincible. Leave him the fuck alone and run the bloody school, educate the kids who come there. But no, he sends another ghost-magician to kill Krish. Kill. Not chase him away. Not lock him up. Kill. Well done. Clap clap.
Hanuman and Friends is still a bit tolerable because the stereotypes are fewer. You aren’t expecting equality of sexes because, well, this isn’t a team effort like Bheem. It’s just Maruti aka Hanuman who lives in a residential school and beats up all kinds of baddies and faces mad scientists to retain the locket that he wears. But this show, this show gets my goat the most. Because this one is the most obvious way peddles prayer and god. The minute there’s trouble, Maruti holds on to the locket, shaped like a mace, and starts praying suddenly transforming in to little Hanuman who then proceeds to beat the crap out of gigantic venus fly traps, and other such impediments that come his way. All sent by mad, evil scientist Dr Shani. Thank you for ruining the noble profession of science, guys.
But back to the point, Hanuman is seen as praying to get his powers. And my kids are hooked on to that. I’d have liked to grow them as agnostic kids so that they can choose if they want a religion when they grow up, especially since they have parents of two religions. But his makes it impossible for me. Nowadays, everything is Amma see, I can pray and make it better. Amma, pray and get more strength to read me the 359th story, Amma pray and get us money, Amma pray and … It never ends. Let’s pray for everything. I want sell rights, if someone will have them, as ambassadors for the Pentecostal mission, the way she goes on about praying.
Just the existence of god, and that it is a he is an idea that they’ve imbibed. Partially from things around them, but only very very minimally, and mostly from these shows. Because they are all shown as divine and male and praying. I want to raise two kids who will see absolutely no difference between the personas of a man and a woman. I want to raise feminist kids. Who are agnostic, if not atheist, till they are old enough to decide they want to be religious fanatics or not. These cartoons are not helping that cause. I could of course ban them watching everything and we could go back to the idyllic situation of no TV. But that will take some doing and right now, between moving countries and setting up a new home, I think I’ll just tolerate borderline sexist, raceist, weightist, religious three-and-four year olds.