...and then

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Star bright, star mite

I was in Kerala few weeks ago, in Cochin, where my daughter and I went out to lunch one day. She’s 30 months old, rather pretty (I say this as statement of fact and not with any conceit) extremely expressive and animated. An hour into our time at the restaurant, another guest who had been watching us for sometime walked over and said he was a ‘director’ and is currently working on ad films; would I be interested in having my daughter be a part of an ad he was making? I am not sure he was just doing it for entertainment – because I did see him go up to other guests and talk as well – but I said no.

He said, “Oh it’s not you we want, it’s your daughter.” I said yes, I perfectly understood that and wasn’t interested. “Don’t you want her expressions and antics to be recorded and for all to see,” he pressed, looking puzzled. I politely declined again but said I’d check with her father and let him know. He left it at that but I left the restaurant amused at the shock on his face. Really, has no mother said no before to him?

But it brought to fore something that troubles me more and more. Children in the media and child actors. With a slew of reality shows that are geared at finding “super” talent in children – dancing and singing, primarily – and a hit film that stars a child meaning instant celebrity a la Darsheel Safary and the like, I find this exactly the kind of hazardous profession that the Child Labour Act in the Indian law talks about. The Act, last touched upon in 1986, lists out, among other things, the categories in which a child (defined as below 14 years) should not be employed. The most widely rejected category is the army but others include eateries, cinder picking, fire and match works, and diving (?) among other things. The categories, however, do not include feature or ad films.

There’re two things that worry me about this issue.
a)      That parents are so struck by the immense potential of fame, the intoxicating idea of their child becoming the next big sensation, that they don’t think twice about pushing their kids towards public performing – whether it’s acting, singing our dancing.
b)      That adults – parents as well as others involved in employment of a child in entertainment – may have very little awareness, or give little credence, to how this whole experience shapes the child’s personality.

As a child, when I happened to watch an interview of child stars of Hollywood, I remember being awed at their poise, what seemed like maturity and their quasi-adult mannerisms. Today, I feel sad for them because I believe they spent their childhood being adults without being allowed to do all the things that adults do.

Which is why I believe this should also be on that list of hazardous professions in the Child Labour Act. Why should a nine-year old or even a 13-year-old have to hang out with adults for extended periods of time? Bad enough that they’re adults, worse that they’re so-called actors. A child may love to act, it may be exciting for her to be chosen to play a certain part, it may be fantastic to not go to school. But are those reasons enough for you to deny your child of all that is bound to give her basic skills she can hone on her journey to adulthood?

Like each one of us realises as we get out of college or school, education is so rarely about what we learn from books. It was in school I learnt that there are as many kinds of people as there are different ways to deal with them. It was in school that I learnt that teachers are not gods but if you found a good one, you definitely should worship him. It was school that taught me that children are unkind; that I too was capable of being unkind if it meant being popular. In school I learnt that if you played a sport, your confidence, your outlook towards the rest of your life would be different from those who didn’t play any. Heck, it was in school that I learnt boys can be complete asses but I would still like them. And that girls have it tough and pick up how to be mean little bitches very, very early, but they’re fun as hell.

Take that environment away from a child and you’re gearing her or him up for near-disaster, I believe. On one hand, home schooling appeals to me greatly because I honestly believe there is a lack of schools that will nurture children’s individuality. The cookie-cutter robots that come out of prestigious schools in most Indian cities are academically sound but largely lacking in softer skills to lead happy, content, holistically successful lives. But on the other hand, like someone long ago – on a blog too – pointed out to me, home schooling severely restricts social interaction, which is beyond essential to a child. Unless you have six kids yourself and a couple of neighbours with as large families, home schooling is a bit of a double-edged sword.

Home schooling a child actor on the sets and taking time for lessons during their “shooting schedules” ensure you might get your child past class 12. But is she going to have the opportunity to be a child? I am not sure. If nothing else, it really isn’t healthy or normal for a child to get exposed to all that grown-up talk. The definition of being a child is vast and so I will not attempt to elaborate on that too much here. But I think what I essentially mean is for the child to have the space and time to find herself and her source of confidence and inspiration from learning to deal with situations that might seem mundane to adults but are entirely new to children.

On another level, all the fawning that a child receives in a situation like that cannot be in any way tempered by any amount of level-headedness you may try to employ at home. Besides if the parents are star struck, I do believe there will be very little level-headedness at work in that home. I am judgemental like that.

And I am not even going to talk about too much coming too early – really, are children equipped to handle the fallout of fame, or just fame even?

Apart from the above, strong lights, make up, and the over-stimulation a set can induce can’t be very good for little children. Which is why I am appalled to see little babies in TV shows. No wonder they’re bawling all the time. I could, of course, be wrong. I have two kids of my own and I see how much they try to reach into an adult world to try and understand the things that go on there. While they may understand the words, I doubt it greatly that they understand context or subtleties of adult interactions.

On another note, I was faced with a slightly confusing situation a few days ago. My brother, who is an avid photographer, decided to start up a photoblog. The first post he had up was beautiful pictures of my daughter. Now, I understand his need to display the best of his work, and it’s very touching that he used pictures of someone he loves to bits. I was really very touched but I was also uncomfortable with pictures of her being put on as public a platform as a blog. I made it clear that I was uncomfortable with it but he refused to take the post down. His logic was if I could put pictures of her on Facebook, then he could put it up on his blog. Call me stupid or call me an alligator in the middle of a bad PMS, but I don’t see his point. Yes, I understand that if someone wanted, they could get right into my FB account and do what they wanted with the pictures, and that privacy settings might be only a false sense of security. But I’d much rather have that sense of security, however ephemeral, than have her pictures up for just about any perv to see.

Anyway, it so happened that I got a bit worked up about it and I am sure he totally misunderstood my reasons for asking him to take them down (which he stoutly refused to do till my mum intervened – yes, we’re grown up like that). Soon, morning came and I wondered if I had overreacted. I tweeted it to my  bunch (honestly, the things we know about each other on my timeline is disturbing if you think about it) and except for two people everyone said I overreacted and that there is no harm in having those pictures there. I am still not convinced although I feel bad and want to tell my brother he can use the pictures for his blog.

What do you think?

Labels: , ,


Blogger untitleddocument said...

I honestly think you were right in not allowing your brother to post pictures of your daughter.

On two counts:

a) it's a rotten world out here on the Internet. Privacy has almost never been enough. Whatever can be uploaded, can be downloaded. And used. You don't have any control where and when and how.
b) whether it's your brother, sister, grandpa, etc. you (and your spouse) are the legal guardian of your child. Without your permission or consent (even vocal) no one can use your children's pictures. If you share them on your facebook, that's your prerogative. The photographer has little right over it, unless there is a commercial angle to it.

11:40 am  
Blogger Kiran said...

Somehow, I cannot imagine films without children (Think "Life is Beautiful" or "Children of Heaven"). I do not think keeping children out of films or ads is the right step.

Having said that - I wholeheartedly agree with your observation about the stardom getting to the kids' heads; and obscenely corrupting the parents' brains as well. I know of parents in small-town India (a town with just a 5-digit population) who approached a music teacher and asked whether he would train their son to be a "reality show star"!

Then there are scary examples from Bollywood - so many child stars going on to do drugs and stuff (McAulay Culkin, Britney Spears, and more recently, Miley Cyrus) - it feels it is best to keep the children miles away from the spotlight.

The answer, I think, is balance. Your point about level-headed-ness losing out in the bargain is absolutely spot on too. Maybe if we, the public, start treating these kids as kids and not as superstars, things will change.

Regarding the photos of your child on blogs - well, I'm not sure. It is one of the major disadvantages of digital photography - a photo can be downloaded and used without you ever knowing. But then, a pervert can easily click a snap of you when you are in public - without you even realizing it. You dont stop taking your daughter out because of that, do you?

12:59 pm  
Blogger Shailaja said...

I think you should go with your instincts...

1:04 pm  
Blogger starry eyed said...

A classmates of Div's was taken out of school, because the girl is very 'telented' and was appearing on talent shows on TV. Very nice, but the school refused to accomodate her and excuse her low attendance. So the parents changed to another school that would 'appreciate' her talents better. I was a bit aghast at the parents' attitude...taking the kid all over the place for practice and photo shoots.

Agreed with every word of your post!

3:15 pm  
Blogger CognitiveLocomotive a.k.a Thought Engine said...

*Middle Finger*
Avid Photogrpaher

4:22 pm  
Blogger Journomuse said...

A lot of parents also live their lives vicariously through their children - so when the kids are offered fame, they take it as their due.

I understand all your concerns, but I kind of agree with the Avid Photographer that a tastefully taken picture is a work of art and can be appreciated as one too, I know there are too many Big Bad Wolves out there..but I think I'll fall into the majority opinion that you are feeling queasy because of a perceived worry. But my Mom has instilled into me that 'Mom knows best'. Can't argue with that logic..:D

12:59 am  
Blogger the mad momma said...

i do have a lot of fears about kids who start acting young. Its not a career choice because they didnt choose it themselves. plus the child labour angle!

as to the pics, I understand. You're the mom. the final say is yours. Although as the maama, i am sure he was heartbroken

6:47 pm  
Blogger Hearts and Hands for Nepal said...

no one should be able to post pictures of YOUR child without YOUR consent. Anyone who can't respect that is not behaving like a professional. It sounds to me like he was taking advantage of your familial relationship. Not nice.

Also, I am an actress. Acting is what I do and it IS work. Sometimes I let my kids do school and community plays. Sometimes I don't. If their grades are up, if they are behaving properly they get more extracurricular opportunities. But it has to be earned and it certainly will NEVER ever be a profession as long as they are living under my roof. Schooling comes first. Life comes first. I think child actors are removed from reality and that is the biggest problem. Then as they grow up they are missing out on fundamental experiences such as you described...and then ultimately their ability to be a contributing member of society is weakened. Even as actors they will have nothing real to draw from. If my kids want to grow up and be actors (help me! NO!!!) I will be ok with it because I know they will be good ones due to having had a childhood. It is my job as a parent to protect that and to make sure they have a childhood and learn all of the lessons of compassion that come with that experience.

This was a really nicely written blog entry!!! I enjoyed it.

7:41 pm  
Blogger Dershana said...

I feel sad when I see those little TV anchors who try so hard to look grown up chic, those little prodigies prodded no end by parents whose ambitions are on steroids!

And an emphatic NO to "anyone" posting my baby's pictures on the WWW.

1:00 am  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Untitleddocument : See, that's what I mean. Children do not have a voice of their own and no matter how much others love them, ultimately it is the parents that will feel responsible for anything that happens. Welcome to the blog, by the way!

Kiran : I am not saying there should be films without kids. I am not saying there shouldn't be. I am just saying is it right to put them through what they go through. Having control of who you expose your child to, however limited, is different from having absolutely no control at all.

Shailaja : I tried very hard to rationalise and take the opinion of people who matter because I do love our Avid Photographer here but I am just not comfortable with it.

Starry Eyed : I don't get these parents. I mean I am sure they think they are doing the best for the child and for all you know she will probably be more "successful" AND happy than you or I could ever imagine, but that would be sheer chance and not cognitive parenting. And what about the schools who encourage that sort of nonsense? Exactly what is your credibility if you are going to allow kids to take chunks of time off their schedule to go be famous?

CL aka TE : I love you, man, but I am sorry okay?

Journomuse : I agree a tastefully pictures is a work of art. And if he ever wants to put it in his gallery I am all for it. On a blog, no, sorry can do.

the mad momma : Exactly: it isn't their choice. And I wonder if they ever get to see the money they earn. Also remember that crazy mum who kept peddling her little daughter as a boy so that he'd get more roles or something? And Maama was heartbroken and I was too, to refuse him. Oh well.

Amber : Thank you, Amber. And it's so nice to read what you've read about education coming first. I think increasingly many of us think it is okay to not have an education as long you are "successful", whatever that means. And what you said is bang on: As a parent, it is your sole right to protect your children's childhood. Thanks!

Dershana : It's tragic. I mean the hoops they're asked to jump through and yet remain smiling for the camera, the instant celebrity, the deep criticism they are totally unequipped to handle. It appalls the mind. Welcome to the blog, Dershana!

1:47 pm  
Blogger CognitiveLocomotive a.k.a Thought Engine said...

TRQ- An I love you and a sorry just doesn't cut it!
My idea was to showcase my photography and the only reason I used "YOUR DAUGHTER'S" picture was cos: a) She's such beautiful little girl and b)I looked at it as an auspicious start and something that'd bring me more luck with my photo-blog. Like people who'd start a new page with an Om Ganeshaya Namah or Shubh Labh.What? Seriously, that IS what I thought.
Secondly, FB is one of the most easily accessible platforms on the web and if paedophilia was what was worrying you, you oughta think abt taking down all those pictures you've put up. Or, hire a hacker who can guard your page with whatever it is that they guard web pages with.
Now, I agree with having to take people's consent before putting pictures up. No two ways about it. But is the reason for non-consent digestible? I don't think so.
I love your daughter n son to bits.

4:09 pm  
Anonymous RM said...

It's an interesting argument. And I am sure I agree with the whole not wanting to make kids work for their money. But what if your child was a chess prodigy and you had to keep missing school for him to attend tournaments, train etc? Would that be ok? Is it more noble to play chess than to dance on TV?

I know somebody like that and the parents do it out of sheer belief that the child is immensely talented. But yes, many schools have washed their hands off saying that they cannot grant him as much time off as he requires.

The only caveat is that the parents do not earn much out of him. As yet.

And first time at your blog - lovin' it!

3:23 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home