I had a pretty normal childhood. I went to school, was a good student, played with my friends, did my homework and watched lots of TV (duh). But I have never been or wanted to be on TV. I never had to compete and prove myself to anyone. All I had to do was be a kid.
But a lot has changed since then.
When it comes to television, I have a fair idea of what is good and bad (and then I go ahead and watch both), but if there is one thing I’m conflicted about, it’s the concept of kids on reality shows. There’s a host on Indian television, Amul Chote Ustaad, Maha Mukabala, Comedy circus and more.
This week I saw two shows, Masterchef Junior and Dance India Dance Li’l Masters. I have previously watched a few episodes of Masterchef Junior online and have absolutely loved it. I saw DID last night, and I love that too. It’s almost unbelievable how intense and passionate these kids are. Some of them talked about their cooking career. Career! They’re 10 years old! And they cried, like kids are wont to, and they smiled, and kissed the stage a few times, like they were probably taught to. And god, they are talented.
There is a lot to be said for the kind of exposure these shows get children. If a kid is talented and wants to show his/her talent (and they are not all coerced by their parents), it’s a great opportunity. And of course, there is the prize money, which hopefully pays for college degrees in the future.
I am not against competition. In fact, some degree of competiveness is good. I draw the line at the voting segment specifically the vote appeals. Like it isn’t enough to face rejection in adult life, let’s get these kids to face it in front of a whole country. Be cute and ask for votes. Oh, you got voted out, the whole nation just didn’t like you enough. Too bad. You’re a maharashtrian/Punjabi/Bengali/; say a line or two in that language, let’s put some regional disparity in an 8-year old’s head. One can only imagine the psychological ramifications of that.
Do you remember the old Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, where Sonu Nigam was the host and the winner in the kid’s special was decided only by the judges. I liked that show. It was simple and the kids didn’t wear garish make-up or tight clothes. I also remember an episode of the dance show Boogie Woogie, where Javed Jafferey, a judge, asked a parent to refrain from teaching their daughter ‘adult’ expressions and not dance to songs that had adult themes.
That was a different time of course. Before every viewer became an ‘expert’ and was asked for opinion. Before we thought it was ok to ‘vote’ eight year olds out. Before we blurred the line between entertainment and ethics.
If we must have children on national television, at least let’s not make them a spectacle for purposes of entertainment. Let’s not make a huge deal about whether or not we think they’re worthy to be on our television screens. In short, lets think back to the time when a teacher’s scorn was enough to reduce us to tears. And lets try to imagine that experience multiply by a 1000. Maybe then we’ll get some damn empathy and perspective.