In a voice that is yet to break, 13-year-old dance reality show winner Maraju Sumanth explains why he no longer stays with his parents. Ever since he won, Sumanth has been staying at the dance academy where he practises for 12 to 14 hours a day for upcoming shows. He has also given up going to school, settling for private classes instead. “I go to my school in Bhuvaneshwar to write my exams,” explains Sumanth, insisting that he does not miss school or his friends. “Academy mein bhailog rehte hai aur masti karte hai (I have my big brothers at the academy.
We have a lot of fun).” His seven-year-old dance partner Sonali Majumdar, in her childish voice, explains that she has already been all over the country for shows. “We have even been abroad, to places like China,” she giggles. Sumanth does not complain about rehearsals. “We need to rehearse for many hours, else our performance won’t have that 'wow' element,” he says, matter-of-factly.
The teenager, however, needs a moment to decide whether he misses his parents or not. “When I do miss them, I talk to them or they come here,” he says shyly.
Both Majumdar and Sumanth have only good things to say about the five months they spent participating in the reality show. But not everyone is as lucky. Mumbai-based counselling psychologist Deepak Kashyap was recently invited by the organisers of a kids reality show. The experience left him furious. “I was called late into the process, only after the contestants started getting eliminated,” he explains. “The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPRC) guidelines clearly mention that everyone on set should be groomed to handle children, but that was not the case here,” he says, adding that everyone indulged in rampant favouritism.
Roshni Mehra*, a Delhi-based parent who participated in the same show, agrees. “We were thrown out at 11pm after the elimination and asked to leave the next day,” she says, adding that the crew applied glycerine on a child as she narrated a sob story about her father’s death, for the camera. “The kids who were still in the competition were given McDonald burgers to eat, but not the children who were eliminated. My son, who hates styling his hair into spikes, started crying when the make-up artist forced him to do so. Its been two months since we came back but my son keeps asking me 'Maine kya kiya?' (What have I done?). He does not understand why they treated him that way.”
There are a lot of psychological factors at play when a child participates in a reality show, which never get talked about, point out child rights activists and psychologists. The daughter of a Mumbai-based single mother (who declined to be named) refused to go to school once she returned from a reality show as she was edited out of the show entirely. “Thirty-five children participated in that show. They showed everyone on TV except my daughter. She was sure her school mates would make fun of her,” says the mother.
Child labour or skill?
Reality show winners become celebrities overnight and suddenly stop acting their age. “The children should be treated as children but here they are treated as adults. That is dangerous,” cautions Farida Lambe, former member of the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR).
For the first time, a recent draft policy by the MSCPCR attempts to seriously look into the psychological impact that the entertainment industry has on its young workers through its many recommendations. It also hopes to bring some regulation into an entertainment industry that, as Vinod Tikoo, member of the NCPRC puts it, has ‘grey areas’. “Once, a child called us complaining that he was not given adequate breaks while shooting,” he says.
Interestingly, Lambe expects the most resistance to the draft policy from parents. “In the past, we have even had parents asking why we are interfering in this matter, especially when they don't have a problem with their kids being used,” she says.
Hemant Ruprell, producer at Frames Productions says that his crew members spend half their time solving fights between parents. “But no one wants to write about problems that production houses face,” he moans.
Sonal Yadav, non-fiction head, Zee Tv supports the draft, pointing out that things could go awry without one. Echoing Ruprell’s views on self-regulation, Yadav too feels that ideally people in the entertainment business should be following such policies on their own. “As producers, we are quite conscious while working with kids and are strict about a kids friendly environment on set ...
Now loopholes will tied up.” It's not as if production houses, TV channels and parents have scant regard for children deliberately, say rights activists. Sometimes, they just tend to miss the bigger picture.
Hopefully, with the new draft policy, they won't any more.