CHILDREN AT WORK

Children who work in films and TV shows need to be protected

The law is clear on the rights of children working in the entertainment industry, but proper and strict implementation is what is needed.

A recent tweet by film director Shoojit Sircar expressing his concern and sensitivity for children engaged in the entertainment industry and demanding an urgent ban on all reality shows involving children has gone viral. In the past we have seen another filmmaker, Amole Gupte, known for his immensely popular film Stanley ka Dabba, structuring the shooting time in accordance with the child actor’s school schedule. It is indeed commendable for people like Sircar and Gupte to voice their concerns and be sensitive about children on the sets. When concerned individuals come together as champions of child rights, it paves way for finding solutions that can be suggested to authorities and ensure that existing rules are adhered to till better provisions are made.

If we look at the legal framework related to this issue, the recent amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 puts a blanket ban on all children in all occupations with exceptions of her/him helping the family (other than hazardous occupations and processes) after school hours and vacations and child artists in the audio-visual entertainment industry. This means that legally, it is allowed for children to work in television and the audio-visual entertainment industry.

The Amended Act defines child artists as children who perform or practise any work as a hobby or profession directly involving him as an actor, singer, sportsperson or in such other actively related to the area of entertainment or sports. While the law recognises the work by child artists and also the need to regulate it, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendments define certain minimal safeguards only.

Besides the legal framework, we also have National Commission for Protection of Child Rights guidelines released in 2010-11 (Guidelines to regulate Child Participation in TV Serials, Reality Shows and Advertisements) that attempt to safeguard children.

School education must not stop

The recent amendment to the Child Labour rules mandates the producer of any production house or any commercial event to seek the District Magistrate’s permission before involving children. The producer, according to the rules, would have to submit an undertaking to the District Magistrate along with the list of child participants’ names, consent of parents or guardian and details of the person responsible and accountable for the safety and security of the child. It is also mandatory for the production house to appoint one responsible person for every five children to ensure the protection, care and best interest of the child.

The undertaking to the District Magistrate shall have to clearly state the provisions for the child actor’s education, safety, security and reporting of child; timely nutritional diet; safe, clean shelter; and compliance to all laws applicable for the time being in force for the protection of children, including their right to education, care and protection, and against sexual offence.

The rules also emphasise on ensuring that the child shall not be subjected to any discontinuity in school education and no child shall be allowed to work consecutively for more than 27 days. The rules allows a child artist to work up to five hours a day (and for not more than three hours without rest) without actually clarifying the total number of days which a child can work in an academic year. Besides this, the Child Labour Rules do not provide for any differential protective provisions for children under six years, including infants.

While these regulatory processes intend to ensure that children are safe and their schooling or education is not compromised with, what is ignored is the child’s right to leisure and recreation in order to grow to his or her full potential.

Implementation is key

The other worrying question is that how much of these regulations can actually be brought to implementation, especially since there is no mechanism to track the number of different places a child artist could be working at simultaneously. Also, how the monitoring happens when a child has to travel overseas with the film unit?

There remain other questions too. In an industry that is largely adult-dominated both in structure and content, there are instances in which child participants are subjected to competition the way competitive exercises are perceived and defined by the adult domain. And in doing so, we don’t often take into account the amount of emotional stress children may have to go through. We as duty bearers need to be aware of what an impressionable young mind feels. Children are well appreciated and accepted among masses as child artists. However, the risks of them handling rejection or the journey thereafter when the limelight and success fades away is not well thought through or even discussed with adequate sensitivity.

While parents are in charge of their children’s welfare, both parents as well as production houses need to be very careful that their guardianship does not treat children as commodities to be profited from. Moreover, even though the state has put together certain norms, there is scope enough to sharpen them and ensure a more robust monitoring mechanism in place working in the best interest of the child.

Komal Ganotra is the Director of Policy, Research and Advocacy at CRY – Child Rights and You.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.