Saturday, March 22, 2008

Child Artists - Prodigies or fodder for Pedophiles ?

Also posted at

There are a surfeit of reality programs/contests geared for kids on TV these days. There are also a number of kids who act/dance in TV serials and movies.

I have a few basic issues with child performers and their overall development as human beings, after being thrust into the limelight at a young age. But at the end of the day, their parents are their custodians and should be taking care of the mental development of their children.

Coming to the singing and dancing contests, most of the judges do try to be gentle with the children, but some of them are quite rude and fancy themselves as the Indian answer to Simon Cowell. This is terrible for the self esteem of young children who have not yet developed the coping mechanisms of dealing with negative comments directed at them (especially on National TV)

A friend of mine in the advertising industry, told me of an audition they had called for, a week ago in Bombay. It was on a week day during school timings. More than 5000 parents turned up with their children. Obviously the company could not see them all on the same day. The parents whose children did not get a chance on Day 1 were prepared to come back every day of the next week and longer if it meant getting their child a chance to audition. Not a chance to act, not a chance to be in a movie, but the chance to audition. They were willing to have their child miss school for over a week for a chance to audition for a silent role in an advertisement.

My mom would have turned down Karan Johar or Yash Chopra themselves, even if they had guaranteed me or my siblings a leading role in their upcoming movie, if it meant missing even half an hour of school.

Parents these days are trying to push their children into the limelight too soon. We do not have much data on grown up child stars in India. But look at Hollywood. With the exception of the Olsen twins (who also had their weight problems) which of the child stars has emerged as a balanced human being ?

Inspite of all this background, my main issue is with the kind of performances that some of these children are being coerced into displaying here in India.

They are dancing to item number songs. 6-12 year olds dancing to the steps of Helen or even worse - Rakhi Sawant and her ilk. Rakhi is old enough and smart enough to know what kind of effect her jhatak mataks & clothes can have on the adult male population. What do these little ones know and why should they know it so early in their life?

Look at the kid in the "cutting-shutting" paint ad. She was memorable for being what a normal 7 year old child would be. So why is the media trying to con us into believing that 6 year olds are old enough to be dancing as vamps and item girls? Why are they sexualizing young children?

The US has a long history of child beauty pageants and an equally long history of pedophiles who follow the child beauty pageant circuits. Mental health experts almost all agree, that exposing young children to the sordid world behind the glamor is completely unhealthy for their well being. And the end result of making children dress, dance and act like adults makes them easier targets for pedophiles.

Agreed we do not have a well documented history of Indian pedophile cases. The only ones that make the news are when foreigners abuse children under the guise of orphanages or children's homes. But that does not mean that pedophilia doesn't exist in India.

The actions of these children is perfect fodder for the appetites of pedophiles. They even look obscene to the general public (I hope its to the general public and not just a minority of people like me)

So why are these children doing this ? Is it pressure from parents or from the media to be all grown up and dance like a vamp? Or is it because the Shiamak Davar dance classes makes them seem ok? - His dances choreographed for children are reasonably age appropriate, but he sometimes has a couple of children dancing with the older members of the troupe and performing the same steps as the 20+ year old troupe members.

Fortunately Javed Jaffery tried to bring about a voice of sanity in an episode that I watched today of Sansui Boogie Woogie - he is the first Indian celebrity who I have heard talking about age appropriate steps. But he wasn't strong enough in condemning this practice. As the celebrity anchor on the biggest launch pad for dance talent in India, he could afford to be much more stronger on his disapproval of some of the steps.

I hope parents begin to see sense some time soon. They are always going to try to live out their own dreams through their children - that isn't going to change any time soon. But I do hope they stop turning their children into adults before their time.
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