The kids are watching. They are watching TV shows and movies, cartoons and live action, fantasy and reality. In a world dominated with visual content, this generation of viewers has what some look at as a treasure chest, and others as a minefield.
In India, cinema for children was recognized as a niche area of production as early as 1955 when the Children's Film Society of India was set up. While entertainment was naturally a part of it, the purpose then was weighted in favour of education and instilling in children values considered critical in the nation-building project. This strain of instrumentality continues to permeate the production of children's content along with influence of the market that dominates all things cultural today.
The popular perception is that if it's for kids, then there has to be a lesson in it. There is a tendency to forget that experiencing any kind of art is a learning in itself. And that learning is far more complex than a "moral of the story" nugget at the end. Within this broad scenario, however, there are people producing children's content that is nuanced and perceptive.
With the online space opening up new viewing possibilities, there is a feast for children's eyes. But the internet is a cavernous beast and it gives to us only what we seek. So, it's important to guide children's viewing while we still can, to expose them to diverse content so that they go on to make better viewing choices on their own. Teens are certainly making independent viewing choices and perhaps, so are pre-teens. So, if you've got a kid who still listens to you, here's a beginner's menu:
Peg + Cat Animated series
Netflix shows us what edutainment can be when it works, and Peg and Cat show us that we use Maths everyday and that it can be fun.
An American Girl-Story – Melody 1963: Love Has to Win
An Amazon Prime original series that has stories set in different time periods in America, with the first being a skillful drama about young Melody's experience of growing up as a black American during the Civil Rights movement that resonates even with our times.
Neil Gaiman's imagination and Henry Selick's animation make this dark film a masterpiece of animated cinema, now available on Netflix. Remember to watch it with your kids though and make sure they know you are not the Other Mother or the Other Father!
Hotstar streams one of the loveliest children's films to come out in India recently, though arguably, like all good children's cinema, this is a film for everyone with layered storytelling, superb acting and attention to detail.
Amazon Prime streams this somewhat derivative and sprinkled-with- stereotypes animated series. But the kid is a super hero! Set in the contemporary urban Indian child's world, the series presents kids with more spirit and sense than the average adult.