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  Entertainment   Bollywood  07 Aug 2017  The ‘not so happy’ reality of kids in the entertainment industry

The ‘not so happy’ reality of kids in the entertainment industry

Published : Aug 7, 2017, 12:29 am IST
Updated : Aug 7, 2017, 12:29 am IST

Knowing that you have to make them proud — cameras zooming even harder into their faces when their children fail to perform well.

Harshali Malhotra in Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
 Harshali Malhotra in Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

As adults, I’m sure all of us have our very own not-so happy memories of our completely well meaning parents asking us to perform in front of guests every time someone visited home.

We too, as parents, fall into this trap sometimes — of making our little ones perform their favourite rhyme, dance or song in front of our colleagues, friends, neighbours etc when they come over. Our guests are very generous with their praises, of course. And that moment of pride just watching our little ones being showered with praises for their performance must feel quite incredible. We, as parents, feel we are doing our children good by this practice of giving them platforms, no matter how small, to perform and thereby apparently increasing their level of confidence. Little do we realise that in our repeated attempts to showcase our children as excellent achievers and how they outshine other children, we are slowly failing them. Little do we realise that these situations where they have to perform in front of strangers whose glares are rather scrutinising and patronising, sometimes must make them uncomfortable.

Now imagine the trauma and discomfort that a child goes through every day when put in similar situations, except this time, instead of one guest there is a huge number of audience, judges and cameras scrutinising every aspect of your performance. This, unfortunately is the everyday reality of children in the entertainment industry. Adding to this is a constant anxiety and pressure to perform better, to monitor your emotions, to constantly wear your hair, your smile, your clothing, accessories to make you desirable and fit into an idea that popular media would like to see you in.

To constantly live with the knowledge that you are in the public eye with cameras zooming in and out of your face; to look “happy” or cute all the time; to have to master the art of being able to laugh, cry and perform on demand — sounds like too much we’re asking out little ones to do, doesn’t it? It must be emotionally exhausting and alienating for them.

And then there is the knowledge that your parents who are pinning all their hopes on you, who are vicariously living their dreams and ambitions through you are also in the audience.

Knowing that you have to make them proud — cameras zooming even harder into their faces when their children fail to perform well.

What message would that give to a nine-year-old, who is already under so much of public scrutiny? That you have let your parents down, after how much they invested in you, you have disappointed them. And then to put on a brave, happy face again and pretend to move on.

But moving on, isn’t as simple as it sounds? Failure brings with it a lot of burden.

For most children, their childhoods are made in schools but unfortunately for many children in the entertainment industry, their childhoods are made in spaces that are dominated by adults. Apart from the fact of only a handful of people in the industry being mindful of structuring their schedules keeping the child’s schedule in mind, in most cases the child has to depend on home schooling which thereafter not only affects their educational well being but also severely affects their ability to socialise, learn and grow with peers their age. Now, having to go back from the glamourous world to completely different spaces that they have never actively been a part of, must be a very alienating experience of these children.Even if say, they manage to do well in the industry in their initial years, with the onset of adolescence they will have to face the reality of many bodily changes.

This then, is a specially challenging time for these children who are now subjected to a ruthless and harsh criticism once puberty hits them and they no longer look “cute”. These child artists and their desirability comes with a sell-by date.

This sudden downfall of their stardom must have a huge impact it on their self-esteem and self worth. Sunidhi Chauhan, who herself was a part of a reality show as a child artist and later as a judge spoke very recently about how she herself wouldn’t want her children to go through the pressure that she sees many children go through in reality shows these days. “They don’t need to mature ahead of their age”, she said. Shaan too, who has been a part of similar shows spoke up very recently about how these children “continue to play the same image that gets formed during the show. At this age it is not easy to switch on and off. They start talking the same way and that doesn’t allow them to grow.”

The history of our children in the entertainment industry in India in itself is witness to how many of them have suffered paralytic attacks and undergoing severe forms of mental illnesses because of the harsh reality of these spaces. Some have even resorted to killing, robbing and kidnapping other children just to be a part of these spaces.

The story of the 11-year-old Neha Sawant who committed suicide because her parents barred her from participating in any more reality shows is witness to how children who are a part of these spaces find it extremely challenging to come back and live a normal life of a school-going child capable of learning and interacting with children their age. Imagine how alienating this entire exercise must be for them. And then to not be able to speak about all these struggles they go through must have a huge impact on their mental health.

As adults, the choice is ours to make. Are we striving to bring up a nation of young people who are struggling with self-esteem and self worth, a generation that is constantly looking at others for validation or are we striving to respect our children. If you, think the latter then here’s the little things you can do to bring about a little change back home. Let’s start respecting children. Let’s take their voice seriously. Let’s ask them what they want before we decide what we think is best for them. Let’s give them spaces to explore, let them learn dancing, singing, sports, maths, science and then let them pick for themselves what they like. When they say a no to our ideas, let’s not coax them. Let’s be role models for them and show them that what they see on television is, in most cases scripted. Let’s put them in spaces where they interact and learn from children their age. Only then can we dream of a world where every child grows up in a happy, healthy, creative environment and where they feel respected and grow up to achieve their full potential.

Soha Moitra is the regional director of CRY for northern India. Veronica Xavier is a child rights and gender activist who is involved in mobilising youth to bring about social change

Tags: sunidhi chauhan, entertainment industry, child artist