Lessons in the dark | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Lessons in the dark

mumbai Updated: Sep 19, 2010 00:53 IST
Radhika Raj
Radhika Raj
Hindustan Times
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Sagar Dave’s (10) favourite film is Dost Magarmachch (Friend Crocodile), the story of a boy from rural Tamil Nadu who helps endangered crocodiles escape before the villagers kill them.

Eight-year-old Rahul’s* favourite is Magnifico, the story of a poor Philippino boy struggling to collect enough money to buy his grandmother a nice coffin.

Saamiah Zaveri (11) loves The Peace Tree, a Canadian film about three girls — two Muslim and one Christian — who want to celebrate each other’s religious holidays but face resistance from their parents.

All three are a far cry from mainstream children’s films like the Harry Potter series and Bhoothnath. And, just a few months ago, Sagar, Rahul and Saamiah would have been hard pressed to find an opportunity to broaden their cultural horizons and gain exposure to good cinema.

Instead, thanks in large part to growing interest from parents and schools, film clubs for children like WorldKids Foundation, Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) and Comet Media Foundation are offering Mumbai kids regular opportunities not just watch quality cinema but also to learn film appreciation and participate in group discussions with other children and, occasionally, with filmmakers too.

The results have been interesting.

“Rahul cried through most of Magnifico, but by the end of the film, he said it was the best movie he had ever seen,” says his mother, who worked with WorldKids to organise a children’s film festival in her Prabhadevi housing society.

Zaveri, meanwhile, was so moved by The Peace Tree — which she saw at a screening in NCPA organised by her school, Cathedral & John Connon in south Mumbai — that she decided to go multicultural herself. She visited a Muslim friend for Eid to learn their customs and, in December, plans to build her own Christmas tree.

“If everybody respected all religions, we would have no riots or wars,” she says.
Her school was one of the first to tie up with WorldKids Foundation last year for a film appreciation programme called Lessons in the Dark. Nine other schools have signed up since, and Cathedral has regular, quarterly screenings of children’s films from around the world, followed by group discussions.

“It is a great way for kids to learn,” says Susmita Ganguly, headmistress of the junior section of the school. “They understand concepts better through these films. We also screen films during lunch hour sometimes, and children can walk in with their food and watch a movie from another country. It’s a great exercise.”

Demand has been so great, in fact, that WorldKids, which launched in Mumbai two years ago with plans for just an annual film festival, now screens a film every month at the NCPA.

“The turnout is over 80 per cent for every screening,” said foundation director Manju Singh, “and my e-mail is flooded with messages from children about the movies.”

Meanwhile, non-profit Comet Media Foundation, in collaboration with the government-run Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), last month launched a programme called Filmi Chashma. The programme will work with media students and help them produce films for children, expose children from schools to the technique filmmaking and children’s cinema from India and the world and organise a film festival next March.

From next month on, the organisation will also conduct workshops with teachers from various cities.

“The teachers will be trained to help their children view the media critically. They will also be trained to make short films with the help of a common handycam or cellphone so they can work with children from their schools,” said Chandita Mukherjee, director of Comet Media Foundation. “The films made by children and teachers will be screened at the festival in March.”

The CFSI has also decided to re-energise the children’s film movement in the country. “There more to this genre than mythology and magic,” said creative consultant Monica Wahi.

So, in May, CFSI held its first ever Summer Bonanza film festival, screening Indian movies that dealt with issues such as the environment, child labour, gender and superstition.

“The response was overwhelming… we had to make children share their seats so we could accommodate everyone,” said Wahi.

“It shows that we underestimate children and what they can understand. We were surprised to find that they understood very complex issues as well.”

For parents, this is a welcome change.

“How many times will the kids go to the mall?” said Singh of WorldKids. “Now, as awareness spreads, parents are approaching us to organise film festivals in housing colonies. And the children really enjoy these programmes.”

Sagar’s mother Shrishti (38) agrees.

“I had been struggling to find quality entertainment for my son,” she says. “I’m not surprised parents are flocking to these screenings.”