Every time Dadisa yells at Anandi in the TV serial Balika Vadhu, we want to yell back. For heaven’s sake, Anandi is only a child. Whenever Saloni Daini plays Gangubai in the show Comedy Circus, we marvel at the little girl’s mimicry and comic timing. She is sooo funny. When Dhairya and Afsha stepped out to host the children’s reality music show, Li’l Champs, we were amazed by their maturity. They are only 12 and seven respectively. But they are brilliant.
Four kids under the age of 12, have us stunned, wondering and amazed. They are so talented – and so confident. How can they do all this – act, sing, dance, host – on national TV? How can they deal with our applause, our adulation? Don’t they get unnerved?
It doesn’t seem that way. Young as they are, these kids seem to manage their lives quite well – school, shoots, exams, performances, adulation, exhaustion, directors, friends... Talk to them and in minutes you’re wondering – is the commonly held perception that child stars face stress and pressure not always true?
The question is answered with a question. "Why should there be stress?" asks Sanyogita Daini, Saloni’s mother, puzzled. Her daughter won the talent show Chhote Miyan at the age of six and is now part of Comedy Circus; for Sanyogita it makes sense that her talented child uses her talent.
"I don’t understand why people create such a ruckus over kids being on TV," continues Sanyogita, a child psychologist herself. "I think it is a very good idea. If a child has talent and enjoys being on stage, why should she not go on stage?"
Because that’s what television is, says Shailja Kejriwal, executive vice president, content, NDTV Imagine. "It’s just a stage. A platform to showcase talent," she explains. Though it’s a somewhat larger stage than the one in the school auditorium, adds Nimesh Bhatt, singer and father of 10-year-old Nupur Bhatt, a runner-up in the dance show, Boogie Woogie, the principle is the same. "If a child has the interest and the talent, she or he can perform on any stage – the school annual function or national television," he says.
LIKE IT OR NOT
If a child has the interest…that is the key. Because, as psychologist Seema Hingorrany points out, nobody gets stressed if what they’re doing is what they like to do. “Adults don’t get stressed if we enjoy what we are doing, and it’s the same for kids,” explains Hingorrany. “In fact, for kids, it goes further – if they’re having a good time, they don’t even realise that they may be tired or hungry. It’s for grown-ups to step in and, as kids will say, stop the fun.”
Samir Gor, whose daughter Avika plays Anandi in Balika Vadhu, agrees. Though Avika shoots for a daily serial and has been on TV since the age of four, she’s having fun, he insists. “She used to perform in dance shows through her dance classes and has performed in over 200 shows on TV and elsewhere, and loves doing them,” says Samir. “That apart, she understands that academics are very important and she does that well too.”
It is fun, asserts eight-and-a-half-year-old Saloni Daini when asked if she’s ever nervous, performing on TV. “There are many kids on the sets. We all play together, and as for performing – maza aata hai.” In fact, it’s maza-plus – for the kids it’s fun, and they enjoy their fame. “I used to see Shah Rukh Khan signing autographs, now I sign autographs. I have become Shah Rukh Khan!” giggles Shreyasi, the second runner-up of Li’l Champs. The show’s first runner-up, Yatharth, a Banarasi boy, laughs as he tells you about his fellow citizens’ reactions: “Wherever I go in Banaras, people shake hands with me and ask me to sing. I am a star, they say,” he says.
He is a star – in the best possible way. Yatharth does what he enjoys, so he does it well. “That’s something we tend to forget,” says Sanyogita. “That these kids are doing what they love to do. Saloni, for instance, mimicked everybody from her grandmother to the neighbourhood aunty even when she was very small. We loved watching her at home and now you love watching her on TV. There is no big difference.”
LIVE AND LEARN
Actually, there is a big difference. Perform on the school stage, and you perform in a small, secure environment. Perform on TV and you’re among adults – which makes TV a big learning experience for these children in more ways than one. For instance, Saloni’s parents insist their daughter learned to read thanks to the scripts of the show she is part of. But more than that, says Shreyasi’s father Manoj Bhattacharya, the kids learn to deal with the adult world. “We come from Krishnanagar, a small town in West Bengal, and since Shreyasi participated in
, I’ve noticed that she is even more confident than I am,” says Manoj. “It is all thanks to the show. It gave my daughter the opportunity to move beyond the closed environment of a small town, and learn new things. It is great exposure.”
That it is, because though the kids get into these shows based on raw talent, once they’re participants, they hone that talent. Helped by some of the biggest names in the creative industries. “It is a great advantage,” says Akash Chawla, head of marketing,
and Cinema. “For people from all over the country, it is a big deal to just come in contact with these big names. So if there is an opportunity to learn from them while enjoying oneself, what could be better?”
Also, adds Chawla, children’s shows serve an important purpose. They teach parents that their kids have options when it comes to careers. “There was a time when no one thought of these as professions. Thanks to these shows, now people are not just aware of their possible talents but also of how to put them to their best advantage,” he says.
But here lies the possible problem. A child who enjoys doing something is all very well. She or he will do it because she or he wants to. But a child whose talent is so strong that she or he could make a living off it or rise to heights of fame – that child is at great risk from the ambitions of his or her parents.
“Parents unfortunately begin to live their dreams through their children,” says Hingorrany. “The minute a child starts to do well, the parents tend to feel she or he will be their claim to fame.”
It’s a frightening thought and one that parents of talented children acknowledge. “A parent must be very cautious about rubbing off his or her stress on the child,” says Nimesh Bhatt, father of Nupur. “My wife and I made sure that every time Nupur went on stage, we would applaud her but never make her feel that she must win. We told her always that it was just a game and she should play well.”
Agrees Manoj Bhattacharya, “Parents must not take these things seriously. Only then will the child take it as a game. Shreyasi may have felt disappointed at being the second runner-up rather than the winner in Li’l Champs, but she took it well. I did the same. Had I felt bad, she would have felt bad too.”
That’s two instances of parents staying in control, but producers of children’s contest shows always have to watch out for pressurising parents. “I don’t think kids even understand what competition is,” says Gajendra Singh, producer of Li’l Champs. “They are happy to be learning and are far more sincere than a lot of adults. But parents create chaos. They cry, question decisions, demand five star treatment... I have often had to tell them to calm down and not stress their children out.”
But it isn’t only parents who can stress children out. The competitive format of these reality shows can put kids under great strain. “Any competition can be unhealthy; there should never be a winner or a loser,” says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist, Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai. “However polite a judge may be or however much fun the show is, every human being feels bad about being rejected or losing. About 50-60 per cent of kids are sensitive by nature. We need to protect them. And if the show is really just for fun, why should there be results?”
The debate over the value or otherwise of competition has no clear consensus. For some people, competition means people are labelled as winners and losers and that’s bad for their self-esteem. For others, competition is the reality of how life is lived. “Tell me,” asks Sanyogita, “Where is that place where there is no competition? In fact academics are more competitive.”
Saloni’s older sister is stressed, continues Sanyogita, because she goes to school and must return to tuitions. Saloni, on the other hand, goes to school and returns to shoots. “Saloni looks forward to her shoots. She is a good student too and that works to her advantage.”
What works is healthy competition, says Ashwini Yardi, programming head, Colors. “Talent hunt shows teach children how to work for what they want to achieve. School competition is a bigger pressure because winning a talent show is not as important as getting a good education. These shows teach children how to become humble winners and gracious losers.”
But of course there is a lot that must be done to ensure this, and TV channels and producers insist they do what they can to ensure a healthy work place and healthy competition. When working with kids, they say, it is their moral responsibility to make sure the environment is perfectly stress free. “Children cannot work beyond certain hours. Moreover, at no point should anything seem like work to them. That is our responsibility,” says Kejriwal. “As a channel, we must make sure that the children on our sets are more than comfortable. Their food, juices, play time, resting place, everything should be in order.”
Agrees Ravi Behl, producer of Boogie Woogie, “There is no room for compromise. Also, production houses must take care of things like the child’s exams and academics. That should not suffer and the child must get enough time to balance it all out,” he says. That apart, there is a strict rule that judges of talent shows must never make rude judgements about the children on these shows. “We make sure the kids are not subjected to adult jokes or caustic comments by judges on TV. The judges have been given a strict mandate to be polite and encouraging,” says Gajendra Singh. And counsellors and psychologists are always on the sets to help children and parents through any negative moments.
The fact is, says Kejriwal, television has opened a world of opportunities for kids. “Only,” she adds, “parents need to be careful that they do not turn their child into a golden goose.”
‘Today is tough’
Actor-producer Sachin Pilagaonkar on how things have changed for kids.
Three times winner of the National Award in the ‘best performance as a child actor category’, Sachin Pilagaonkar looks back fondly at his 48 years in films and television.
“It has been a long time and things have changed so much,” he says. “When I started there was no TV. Films were the only medium of entertainment. So of course the work was regulated. Now things are tougher.”
Sachin feels it was easy for him to pursue a career in films as he could let academics take a back seat. “I didn’t quit studies. In fact I made sure I finished my graduation. But the pressure to be a brilliant student wasn’t there. I did not have to be a topper in school and college all the time. Now, kids have to do everything – be good students and also be great in extra curricular activities,” he says.
It isn’t the system that’s at fault, adds Sachin. It’s the parents. “Parents really need to understand their child’s interests. They need to be supportive and not demanding of their kids. Most parents forget that.”
Sachin says parents have big dreams and ambitions for their children but to fulfill them, they end up pushing the kids so much that it becomes very difficult to handle. “If a parent is objective and understands the child’s psyche, everything becomes smooth and no pressure or stress is big enough for the child,” he says.