New Delhi, Sep 16 (IANS) Kids never had it so good. After decades of neglect, the genre of children's cinema is increasingly finding favour with the dream merchants of Hindi filmdom.
'Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii', 'My Friend Ganesha', 'The Blue Umbrella' and now 'Nanhe Jaisalmer' have all hit the marquees within a span of two months. Never before have so many films for children competed simultaneously with big-budget potboilers for the attention of producers, distributors, exhibitors and cine goers.
Despite the fact that children have a major say in consumption patterns of a household in India and hence contribute substantially to the success of a movie, the Mumbai studio-based Hindi film industry has traditionally shied away from peddling children's films.
While the idiot box has been quick on grasping the value of catching them young and is inundated with channels dedicated to children and the advertising world can't dream of selling a product without getting a child's endorsement, Bollywood has been rather slow.
According to Vishal Bhardwaj, whose 'The Blue Umbrella' bagged the National Award for the best children's film, the market for children's films in India is huge and untapped.
Unlike Hollywood where the budget of a 'Harry Potter' film can easily compare to any top-line film, in India investing in children was not considered wise until recently.
'It was a vicious circle. Whatever children's films have got made over the years were low-budget endeavours of a handful, well-meaning, creative few. With fewer outlays for children, the outcomes have not been too spectacular and hence for most Bollywood filmmakers this genre has remained a risky preposition,' said Bharadwaj.
Recent children's films like Bharadwaj's directorial debut 'Makdee' starring Shabana Azmi as a witch, which grossed over Rs.7 million and 'Hanuman', an animated film based on the Hindu god, collected Rs.30 million, have proved to be turning points for the genre.
And the sheer brat power that made 'Koi... Mil Gaya' humongous hit, earning over Rs.180 million, has caught the eyes of the industry that loves replicating successful formulae.
This spate in children's films could well be because of the recent box office drubbing that the usual Bollywood preparations have been getting.
'Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag' has joined the long list of big budget, much-hyped duds like 'Jhoom Barabar Jhoom' and 'Salaam-e-Ishq' this year.
With high quality small budget movies doing roaring business, Bollywood is desperate and willing to tread paths less travelled. The industry is looking for the next flick like 'Bheja Fry' that was made for under Rs.10 million and pocketed Rs.170 million.
So much so that instead of the annual clamour of big budget multi-starrers to release around the festival season, this year we are likely to witness some 20 small-budget films vying for viewers' attention at that crucial peak business period.
Given that the usual rules are not working, filmmakers are turning to lesser-explored genres. And children's films are not all about risk.
There have been some notable commercial successes in the past like Rajesh Khanna starrer 'Haathi Mere Saathi'(1971), Reena Roy's 'Rani Aur Lalpari' (1975) and Tapan Sinha's 'Safed Haathi' (1977).
'Nanhe Jaisalmer' has thrown yet another young talent in the form of Dwij Yadav who essays the role of Nanhe. Critics have hailed his natural performance. Acting is increasingly becoming a lucrative career option for children today.
In fact, Hansika Motwani, who debuted as a child actor in 'Koi... Mil Gaya', has now gone on to play an adult even though she is just 15. She played the love interest of Himesh Reshammiya in the just-released 'Aap Ka Surroor'.
Most children today are 'young adults' as Zain Khan is portrayed in the recently released 'Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii' and Sana Saeed, who brought screen father Shah Rukh Khan together with his batch mate in 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'.
At long last, child artistes are beginning to get remuneration that may still not be at par with adults but is at least not peanuts.
'Today a child earns Rs.15,000 for a still and around Rs.30,000 for a TV commercial. And if an ad requires many children who just have to be part of a crowd and needs no styling, they get Rs.3,000 to Rs.6,000,' said an ad man.
'The amount is higher for films. A lead child model gets around Rs.20,000 to Rs.50,000 depending upon his 'grade' and accessibility.'
Amit Arora, who scouts for child models, conferred, 'If a child is much in demand, he even gets Rs.50,000 to Rs.200,000 per year, subject to a flexible schedule. For instance, he shoots in Delhi and dubs in Mumbai or, say, signs a contract against endorsing a competitive brand.
'I know many parents who have taken transfer from Delhi to Mumbai only because their child is in great demand in ads and films.'
Actress Sarika, who has now taken up the cudgels against 'child labour in films', is trying to introduce a code of conduct for child actors in Bollywood.
'It is distressing to see children being pushed to enact mentally traumatic scenes without any counselling. In Hollywood, a psychotherapist is always present on the sets to counsel the child before and after the child enacts a traumatic scene.
'In Bollywood, they are 'persuaded' with chocolates! There is no schedule for them, and their education suffers. In Hollywood, there is a rule that only during school vacations can a child act in films,' she states.