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Not Quite Child’s Play

7 Jul


Not quite child’s play

Acting is increasingly becoming a lucrative career option for children today. It comes with its own bag of snags though, writes RANA SIDDIQUI


The ‘young adults’ are here Ali Haji and Angelina Idnani with Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee in “Tara Rum Pum”

In the late 1980s, Doordarshan used to telecast a serial called Mujrim Hazir based on Bimal Mitra’s novel. In one of the scenes, the director showed an Id celebration at a villager’s house. A five-year-old, seeing his p
arents feasting on ‘sewai’, asked his mother to give some of it to his pet, a goat. The mother said, “Bete, bakri sewai nahi ghas khati hai (Goats don’t eat sewai, they eat grass)”. To which, the child sur
prisingly asked, “Even on Id?”

Cut to our entertainment world of today, and you will realise how times have changed! InKunal Kohli’s recent film, Fanaa, child actor Ali Haji ‘teaches’ a wounded Aamir Khan to throw ‘haldi doodh’ and
fool the mother. But his other dialogues were more like sermons.

Surely, gone are the days when you saw kids behave like kids on screen. Children in today’s Hindi films not only behave like adults, they are even given dialogues that don’t suit their age. Remember Kunal Khemu in Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakhm?

His expression of happiness on seeing his father visit his mother is almost adult-like almost adult-like in expression. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, eight-year-old Sana Saeed played a child who sets about getting her
widower father to marry his former batch mate. And this week, it’s time for Hansika Motwani to play an adult even though she is just 15! She plays the love interest of Himesh Reshammiya in the just-released Aap Ka Surroor. Han
sika, a known face among child artistes, is a ninth standard student.

That kids today are far more grown up for their age is a factor that perhaps works in their favour. They wear their attitude on their sleeve, and carry it off as impressively as adults. They are “young adults” as Zain Khan is portrayed in the recently released Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii.


Sana Saeed with Shah Rukh Khan in “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”

So, is acting becoming an irresistible career option for kids today? Indeed. They are no longer paid 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,” says Gaurav Nautiyal from an ad agency. He says, “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.”

Agrees Amit Arora from a Delhi-based modelling agency, “If a child is much in demand, he even gets Rs.50,000 to Rs. two lakh 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.”

But doesn’t the taste of earning big money at an impressionable age rob them of their innocence? Doesn’t it also make their parents more ambitious? Says Robby Grewal, whose debut film Samay also had a five-year-old: &#8
220;When I was auditioning the kids, I saw parents pushing their kids to be proactive, and laying the pressure on them to do better than others. It is very difficult to shoot with kids. They have mood swings. You can’t push them beyond a point. They wear designer clothes, watches and colour their hair. They pat their older counterparts in the film on the back while talking to them. They are no longer innocent.”

Actor Sarika, who has now taken up the cudgels against “child labour in films”, agrees. She is trying to introduce a code of conduct for child actors in Bollywood.


Akshat Chopra.

“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.

But Amit Arora disagrees, “I don’t think there is any emotional abuse of kids on the sets. They are well taken care of. See Akshat Chopra, the child star who shot with Kapil Dev, Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. He has entered the Limca Book of Records for getting maximum certificates for extra curricular activities in his school. It exposes them to a lot of other things that their schools don’t teach them. They are more aware and smarter than their schoolmates. Once, a client of ours wanted his child to do an ad with him. We spent two days shooting, but the child couldn’t utter two lines with his own father. So we had to call a professional child actor. Within 15 minutes, the shooting was over.”

Well, the debate will go on. But, if the case of Ahsaas Channa (who features in films such as Vaastu Shastra, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Friend Ganesh), whose father Iqbal Channa had filed a petition in court to prevent his wife fr
om turning her child into “a money machine”, or for that matter, Zain Khan “not getting any time to do his homework”, are any indication, Sarika is taking just the right step!


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