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Small mercies

india Updated: Dec 17, 2008 00:21 IST
Small merciesc

Television production schedules can be trying even for the super-fit. And working on a serial, with the unrelenting pressures of daily deadlines, can be a professional actor’s nightmare. Actors have been known to shoot 40 hours at a stretch, and even collapse on the set.

How wise or fair is it to subject children to such pressures, given that many are not informed enough or empowered enough to take the decision? What if the child becomes a money-generating pawn in the combined hands of ambitious parents, quick-fix casting directors or negligent production houses?

Perhaps labour minister Nawab Malik was driven by such concerns when the state government issued notices to producers of TV shows featuring children asking if they were indeed providing the children with a comfortable working environment.

Some of the shows under the scanner are Balika Vadhu (Colors), Uttaran (Zee TV) Chhotey Ustad (Zee TV) and Chak de Bachhe (9X).

OVERWORKED OR PAMPERED?

So what’s it like for a child working in a TV serial? Without a doubt, stressful says Suman Joshi, mother of 12-year-old Shivani Joshi, who acted in Zee TV’s Home, Sweet Home, over a year ago. Suman says the schedules would often extend beyond 10 pm, until the parents of all the children acting in the serial put their foot down. “They finally agreed to a 9 to 9 schedule on weekends and a 4 pm to 9 pm schedule on weekdays,” she says. She will not let her daughter act in a daily serial again, insists Suman.

Shivani, a Class VII student at the Hiranandani school in Powai, does do work for ads, though; she features in the latest Vodafone ad, has done one for Horlicks with Taare Zameen Par star Darsheel Safary, and others for Nestle Munch and Parker pens.

Ads are far less demanding, points out Suman. “The Vodafone ad, for instance, was shot on a Sunday, so the kids didn’t have to miss school, and they were very well looked after.”

Eleven-year-old Darsheel Safary, whose spectacular success in Taare Zameen Par catapulted him overnight to media interviews, TV shows, walking the ramp and unending publicity, is now fiercely insulated by his parents and his manager Shobha Sant. “Darsheel will only do things if he enjoys them; shooting or films are not a replacement for school and other activity — his parents and his school is very clear about that,” she declares.

Not all producers are heartless in extracting work from children, though. Siddharth Basu, producer of the quiz show Kya aap Paanchvi Pass se tez hain? on Star Plus says they took every precaution on the sets: “We had a very elaborate set of dos and don’ts on the show. The children were carefully looked after and there were special provisions made for them. We had child minders present on the set at all times; there were separate recreational rooms and playrooms for the children. They had special dining provisions and their parents were also present on the sets.”

HOW WILL IT IMPACT WORK?

So how will the notices affect work on TV, film and ad sets?

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director with advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather, who has been working with children for years now in ads, says their shoots are usually wrapped up in half-a-day or a day, so the child doesn’t miss much of school. “Technically, the notices should not affect the ad industry. In any case, it is the production house that deals with the actual casting and the ad-making process, so a lot of the contractual details are looked after by them,” he adds.

Basu said: “There has to be a very careful set-up, especially where children are concerned.... For it would be a crying shame if all the children disappeared from movies, television or radio.”