CHILDREN AT WORK

How do you keep children in the entertainment industry safe? A panel discussion offers some insights

Filmmaker Amol Gupte and actress Divya Dutta were among the panellists at the event held to mark World Day Against Child Labour.

An old Hindi song set the tone for the evening: “Insaaf ki dagar pe, bachchon dikhaao chal ke.”

The tune from Nitin Bose’s Ganga Jumna (1961) urges children to walk the path of justice. The moderator hummed a few lines and then posed the question, “Before children can grow up to become the torch bearers of justice, we have to think about something else – are we doing justice to them?”

So began a discussion on the rights of child actors in the film industry at a South Mumbai hotel on Tuesday. The event was organised by the non-profit Child Rights and You with the United Nations Children’s Fund to mark World Day Against Child Labour, observed internationally on June 12 every year.

The panelists included filmmaker Amole Gupte and actress Divya Dutta. They highlighted the long working hours of child artists and their loss of innocence. “Even the audience do not understand how to accept them as children,” Dutta said. “They often lose their childhood. Children are too young to know if they really want it [acting]. I have seen children work all night. We have to give them all the basic needs.”

Actress Daisy Irani’s recent revelations that she was raped as a child during a film shoot added heft to the discussions. “Daisy Irani’s story really shook me,” Dutt said. “It is important to give them a safe place. Recreation and education is important.”

Concerned about the physical and psychological health of child artists, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in 2010-11 released its Guidelines to Regulate Child Participation in TV Serials, Reality Shows and Advertisements. These included instructions to limit working hours – not more than five hours a day and 27 consecutive days – supervise children on set and ensure their education is uninterrupted, among other things. But these rules are rarely followed, the panelists said.

“A lot of therapists and psychiatrists are often invited [by production houses] to assess reality television shows and give them certificates,” said clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany, who was on the panel. “But we saw what was happening. We told them that we could not give them certificates because of a few reasons and the matter just fizzled out. The guidelines went out of the window. They start shooting at 4am. The parents are also at fault as they force children to do this.”

In March, the Commission announced that it would revise its guidelines for television after singer Papon was accused of kissing a minor contestant of a reality show.

Gupte, a former chairperson of Children’s Film Society of India, urged filmmakers to add to the rules listed in the government’s guidelines. Gupte has written and directed children’s films, including Taare Zameen Par (2007), Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) and Sniff (2017).

“Once I knew I would pick up the baton of producer-writer, I changed the rules of filming children,” Gupte said. “When you are writing for children you should write about places [where] they are comfortable: school and homes.”

Gupte said he never auditions children for his films as that can be traumatic. Instead, he holds workshops and picks out children while conducting activities with them.

He also emphasised that the education of child actors must not be disrupted. “Why should you take a child out of school for anything? Why not work around the child?” he asked. “Out of the many children that I have worked with, not one child has missed even one day of school.”

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Stanley Ka Dabba (2011).

Several panelists raised the need for regular inspections at film and television sets to ensure the government’s rules are being followed. The guidelines do not specifically mention such checks, though they say that regulatory mechanisms are required if self-regulation does not work. They further state that the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should periodically review the rights of children in TV shows.

Ashwin Kakatkar, Deputy Commissioner of Labour (Konkan division) in the Maharashtra government, reiterated that self-regulation was the best bet to ensure the rights of child artists are protected. “Self compliance is the best in this case,” Kakatkar said. “Implementation authority cannot monitor everything 24/7. Self compliance is the best compliance. Complaints are very less as parents bring in their children into acting. But there is a lot of monitoring.”

However, Dutta argued the increased scrutiny could help ensure that rules are followed. “For the parents it becomes a high to take their children further up,” Dutta said. “But we follow then rules only when it is slapped on us.”

Pravin Ghuge, Chairperson of the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said the responsibility to uphold child rights fell on adults. “Women and workers and fight for their rights,” Ghuge said. “But children cannot because they do not understand this. It falls upon us to follow the guidelines and fight for it.”

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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.