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Where is the innocence?

tv Updated: May 26, 2012 02:19 IST
Poonam Saxena
Poonam Saxena
Hindustan Times
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Do shows featuring children do well? Do they get good ratings? I don’t mean shows featuring children on children’s channels like Pogo or Cartoon Network. I mean shows featuring children on general entertainment channels like Star Plus or Zee etc. To answer my own question — yes, I suppose they do do well, otherwise why would such channels repeatedly telecast children’s editions of music and dance contests?

The latest such show is Dance India Dance (DID) Li’l Masters on Zee. DID is one of Zee’s best-known properties and has just completed its third season. Now they’ve begun a children’s version which is fetching the channel good ratings.

At the outset let me say that I’m going to be playing party pooper here; I’m not a fan of these bachcha shows.

I watched a couple of episodes of Dance India Dance Li’l Masters and yes, it is true that most of the children on the show are spectacularly talented. Boy, can they dance. But here’s the unnerving part: They dance like adults. Only, they aren’t adults, though they dance as if they were miniature adults. There’s nothing childish or childlike about their dancing. They do all the dance styles: salsa, contemporary etc complete with coy face expressions and sensual body thrusts.
They have also picked up other behaviour patterns from the grown-up contestants on the show: for example, every time a judge praises them, they promptly collapse on the floor and touch their foreheads to the ground.

It’s a tricky tightrope. If a child enjoys dancing and is good at it, by all means he or she should learn dance and participate in stage contests etc. But should they learn to dance in ‘adult’ styles? And should they participate in talent contests on national television, with all the attendant trappings like judges’ criticisms and comments (no matter how kindly these may be communicated), eliminations etc?

Or is it a case of ambitious parents pushing their offspring into the limelight too early? The jury is out and I don’t think there are any easy answers.
Star World is currently airing Junior Masterchef. Now, the original Masterchef is an extremely enjoyable reality show. Though the Australian Masterchef is probably the best, I didn’t mind the American version either (despite its — or is it because of its — disdainful, idiosyncratic judges).

But I am not enjoying Junior Masterchef. Precisely for the same reasons that I’m not enjoying Dance India Dance Li’l Masters. On Junior Masterchef, children between the ages of eight and 12 whip up the most exotic, complicated dishes (while racing against time, as is the Masterchef format) and then present their dishes to the judges for their verdict. The kids (just like the kids on Dance India Dance…) look quite jolly and seem as if they’re enjoying themselves. But it’s difficult to watch them with enthusiasm. I can’t help but wonder: so how are they dealing with the eliminations? How do they feel if their dish is bad — because here, the world is watching them? It’s not something they’re doing in the privacy of their homes, with only mum and dad and siblings around them.
I’m not even going into the whole question of the physical strain or the long hours that go into the shooting of TV reality shows.

Am I over-reacting? Are kids much smarter these days and able to handle all this with aplomb — without getting hurt emotionally?

I don’t know. But as a viewer, I do know. Obviously there are many people who enjoy these shows. But I find them uncomfortable viewing.