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‘Children’s cinema is changing in India’

By Saibal Chatterjee • Published on August 25, 2012

[C]hildren’s cinema? The question mark is inevitable in the Indian context. A nation that produces close to a thousand film titles a year and has a population of 1.2 billion people provides ridiculously little by way of quality big-screen entertainment for younger audiences.

One of the many reasons why I felt that the Green Screen Lab was just what the doctor ordered was that there exists a cavernous gap that needs to be filled, the quicker the better.

But I was assailed by questions. Would there be enough screenplays that would pass muster and make it to the lab for the mentors to work upon? Would the ones that make the cut be able to eventually get off the ground and hit screens around the country and elsewhere? Would the Green Screen Lab trigger a movement of sorts that would change the Indian children’s cinema scenario for good?

Well, the two days that I spent in the convention centre of Bhubaneswar’s KIIT University, the venue of the lab, provided some answers and pointers even if all the doubts weren’t quite eliminated.

I joined the lab at the tail-end of the exercise and had a brief Saturday morning session with the participants to talk about what they need to do to ensure that their films, when they do get made, travel well globally.

I am acutely aware that there can be no fixed formula and no Indian filmmaker can possibly wake up one fine morning and decide that he or she will now make a global film. That is not how it works. Until Indian filmmakers learn to tell their own stories in their own unique ways without worrying about the world, they will not get anywhere near their goal of making a lasting global impact.

Be yourself, trust your own instincts, dig deep into your pool of experiences, and create a climate for the medium and the message to merge seamlessly. The world is bound to applaud. But it is never as easy as it sounds.

I am happy to report that many of the concepts and screenplays in the Green Screen Lab were firmly rooted in specific cultural contexts. They promise to yield films that could make many skeptics sit up and take note.

It is the spirit of breaking away from the norm that counts and many of the participants, both young and not-so-young, seemed to be driven by the urge to jump out of their comfort zones.

Many were well-nigh forced to do so when one of the key mentors, John Newbigin, got them out of their shells to pitch their respective projects to imaginary potential funders through the means of 25-word summation followed up with a 150-word synopsis. Pitching it right, John asserted repeatedly, was half the battle won.

A film is a story, even if it isn’t necessarily linear or conventional, and a story needs words in order to be communicated. Even if one were to conceive a wordless narrative film – one that tells its story in purely cinematic and visual terms – that idea would need to be placed before a prospective producer or funding agency before anybody dips their hands into their pockets.

The lab participants were put to severe test in the bid to string together the right words to get their point across succinctly and perspicaciously. Some pulled it off, some didn’t, but it was an exercise that served its purpose perfectly, articulating the centrality of pitching in any film project.

As a selection jury member, I was involved with the initial process of short-listing concepts for the lab. It was pleasantly surprising to find such a rich haul of quality projects.

One point to ponder: going by the current principles, many of the film projects in the lab wouldn’t strictly qualify as children’s cinema. Of course, every screenplay up for mentoring was about children, but many of the ideas and themes addressed were ‘mature’ in nature. That, for me, is a happy sign that the creative contours of children’s cinema is changing in India. It’s about time we stopped treating children with condescension. Tell them the truth without the sugar coating.

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