Children's films come of age
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Children's films come of age

An important showbiz development that has gone unnoticed is the emergence of children's cinema in mainstream, feels Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Jul 09, 2003 19:41 IST

One important Indian show business development this year that has gone largely unnoticed so far is the emergence of children's cinema as a viable mainstream proposition. The commercial success of the special effects-laden Jajantaram Mamantaram, directed by debutant Soumitra Ranade, has boosted a genre that had hitherto been the preserve of the government-controlled Children's Film Society of India (CFSI).

J2M2, released nationwide by the Mumbai-based iDreams Productions, was preceded to movie halls across the country by Navodaya's 3D entertainer, Chhota Jadugar (titled Magic Magic in Tamil). The Jose Punnoose-directed film did above average business wherever it was released and it paved the way for Ranade's ambitious project, the most expensive children's film ever made in India. Who would have thought even two years ago that it was possible to adapt Gulliver's Travels for the Indian screen?

Last year, Bollywood had delivered another well-received children's film, Makdee. It attracted enough popular and critical attention to justify its director, Vishal Bhardwaj's firm faith in the venture. Originally made for the CFSI, Makdee was rejected on the grounds that it was "incoherent". Vishal refused to face the music without a murmur. In fact, he went all guns blazing and completed the film under his own production banner.

Makdee is among as many as 12 films that are competing for a National Award this year in the children's film category. The one dozen-mark is a remarkable feat for a genre that is generally perceived as limited in its appeal. What is especially remarkable is that not only are these films emerging from the traditional sources - CFSI and the non-mainstream film movement - but they have also begun to gain acceptance among votaries of the so-called Bollywood idiom. J2M2 is indeed a clever enmeshing of children's cinema conventions and mainstream Mumbai ingredients, right down to a flashy item number.

Television producer and actor Dheeraj Kumar has just announced the launch of a big budget 3D-Plus film, Abracadabra. The new technology facilitates the making of a 3D film without the use of a special camera lens and it understandably costs a bomb. But the fact that children's cinema has suddenly turned commercially lucrative has allowed Dheeraj Kumar the luxury of adopting a costly new technology.

The films in the running for the best children's film award this year cover the widest possible range - from Abhijit Chaudhuri's sci-fi drama in Bengali, Patalghar, to documentary filmmaker Arun Khopkar's Haathi ka Andaa; from celebrated cinematographer A.K. Bir's remarkably polished Baaja to the Tamil-language Magic Magic. Thrown into the fray for good measure are several films in Malayalam and Kannada, while a solitary film - Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar's Dhavi F - represents the Marathi industry.

The going has never been so good for children's films in India, and with the rapidly multiplying multiplex screens providing these niche releases increasingly respectable outlets in key cities there is every reason to believe that the current trickle is poised to assume the proportions of a torrent provided the market - and the government - pick up the threads quickly enough and parlay them into timeless magic yarns.

First Published: Jul 09, 2003 12:19 IST