It was my afternoon with my grandchildren. Pataki (names changed) is six years old and Dhanush (because he won’t go anywhere without his dhanush since Dussehra) is three. They wanted to see a movie in a real movie hall and Chota Bheem Himalayan Adventure was showing, so that’s where we headed. Besides reading to them what we deem they should be exposed to, as well as films that enhance their knowledge and awareness, I do believe kids should be exposed to what their peers are watching (so they are not clueless in their conversations). Pataki is a great fan of Chota Bheem (how old is Chota Bheem, anyway?) and all the characters are part of conversations in school. There are jokes comparing people, especially teachers, to characters in the Chota Bheem series. This was to be my first exposure to Chota Bheem for 97 minutes.
Pataki was so tense about missing the beginning that I was not allowed to buy pop-corn. She raced in with tickets in hand, checking seat numbers to find our seats. Settling in, she was shocked when the advertising commercials began. Where’s Chota Bheem? I explained to her, exactly what I had told my children when they were her age. They are trying to capture your mind to tell you what to buy. But you only buy what you need, not what they tell you to. I see the results of that today. Pataki sat there clearly determined they were not going to capture her mind.
The film began and I oh so wished it hadn’t. Even the commercials were better than this. A frightening looking dacoit came racing on skis, yes skis, towards us, hideous, snarling, roaring with rage. Dhanush whispered, “I’m scared. But I’m brave.” In a blink, Dhanush was on my lap. This dacoit was then shown ravaging a village, killing, pillaging, stealing, while pathetic villagers begged in whining voices for mercy. Jump to Indumati, a princess of undeterminable age, in her palace in Dholakpur. Dressed in a pretty choli, lehenga and with full make-up on, she tells her friends in a kitty-party-lady voice, what fun it would be to go to Manipal to play in the snow. So the King of Dholukpur, her father, waves off Indumati and her friends that include Chota Bheem, as they drive off in what looks like Queen Elizabeth’s coronation carriage. At this point, I whisper to Pataki that royal privileges were abolished in India in 1971 by Indira Gandhi. She hushes me up and makes my point irrelevant to her enjoyment. I try to block the movie from my mind. I start wondering: Is Pataki going to get the idea that she can round up her friends and go off to another town without an adult? Will this be “normal” for her? How old are these “kids”?
When Indumati and friends reach Manipal, they are stopped at the border since the king has ordered no outsiders will be allowed in. But being jugaad experts they find a way to smuggle themselves in. In convoluted twists, Indumati, Chota Bheem et al have decided they will hunt down the dacoit and destroy him. Now follows 80 minutes of sheer, ugly violence of everybody beating everybody else up. It is unrelenting. If you have a problem, no problem. Just beat him up. These “children” speak in an adult, archaic language. Compassion, negotiation, resolution and thought process are completely missing from the script.
And check this out. Kalia, who is dark-skinned and over-weight, is shown as a bumbling fool. Kalia sneezes and triggers an avalanche that nearly kills all of them. Stereotyping in the ugliest way. I doubt that children will miss the message that it’s alright to mock dark skinned and/or fat people.
So what was the Central Board of Film Certification (un-euphemistically called the Censor Board) thinking? Were they thinking at all? Pahlaj Nihalani and his group of esteemed choppers/cutters/snippers could labour over the duration of a kiss but not what could damage young minds? In November, in the latest James Bond film Spectre, Nihalani and gang ordered the duration of kisses to be shortened by 50 per cent. Why was the length of time of a kiss so dangerous? What did they experience while watching that kiss that led them to believe that if other Indians saw it, it would lead them into dangerous areas? Do they even watch children’s films or do they presume that animation films are harmless? If I were on the CBFC, I would certify Chota Bheem Himalayan Adventure as Adults Only, since I don’t believe in censorship.
As we read the credits, I noticed that it was produced by Samir Jain. Of course, l jumped to the conclusion. THE Samir Jain. No wonder a packet of Parle biscuits strangely popped up in the middle of a scene when they are wondering how they were going to ascend an impossible-to-climb mountain. They eat Parle biscuits and then it’s easy. Not only “native advertising” or “entertainment industry promotion feature” but now paid content in feature films? No, I was wrong. A little research and I discovered this was another Samir Jain.
Check out this Samir Jain’s press conference. First of all, what kind of a person puts people in costumes and masks of characters and doesn’t make holes for the eyes? They had to be led around!
Samir Jain: Bachpan mein jo innocence hoti hai, bachpano mein, joh dosti hai…etc. Well, there goes their innocence. Because children watching these films will imbibe that the way out of any problem is to simply beat up the problem, with fists, swords, arrows and jumping on them. The stunted thinking in this press conference is disturbing because these people are influencing millions of Indian children watching this polluted garbage and they are making crores out of it.
A perfunctory look at some of their other films on YouTube shows Kalia punished by a teacher to freeze in the murga position for not doing his homework. Yeah! Humiliating a child is a sure-fire way of teaching him to love learning. This film shows that the teacher is right in doing so. Every Indian child must grow up with the awareness that no one, no teacher or parent should humiliate them. Yes, that’s a far cry from reality but that’s where creativity must be used to change old habits to a more humane, respectful ways of teaching. Punishments have to be creative to draw children into desired behaviour. Why are they reinforcing old stereotypes?
While Pataki was in bliss after watching this film, I was worried. But, there’s hope. Dhanush walked out of the movie hall mumbling, “This movie was really bad!”
Update: The article erroneously identified the princess in Chota Bheem as Chutki. The princess’ name is Indumati.