Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jayashree Rajagopalan on Chidren's Films in India

Sometime in January, 2013, Jayashree Rajagopalan got in touch with me regarding an article that she was writing on Children's films in India. She had picked up four films for a detailed analysis - Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan (2008), Jayashree Kanal and A. S. Kanal’s Chota Sipahi [Little Soldier] (2005, in Hindi, Vinod Ganatra's Harun-Arun (2009) and my Putaani Party (2009). 
Putaani Party 
Here is the link to the entire article by Jayashree Rajagopalan...



 I am pasting the relevant portion of what she has written about Putaani Party .....

  By involving children in politics, Ramchandra P. N.’s Putaani Party presents a completely different kind of idealism that deals with substance abuse at the rural household level and covers the larger argument of a child’s ability to reason with adults. Ramchandra P. N. reveals that his child protagonists “have discussions and dialogues through which they want to get themselves heard. The subject matter of the film itself is that they are in a conversation.” Shot in realistic documentary style in a rural setting, the film opens with a dedication: “To the children of Keradi and to all the socially organized children of the world.” The rural setting is established in several panning crane shots, and in several important sequences dialogue precedes the visual—the viewer hears the children speak or reason before seeing them. “Putaani Party” refers to a self-elected children’s wing in the Gram Panchayat [village governing body] of Keradi district in the south Indian state of Karnataka. Ramchandra P. N. has based this fictional film on his 2007 documentary Makkala Panchayat [Children’s Governing Body]. His illuminating documentary showcases five children’s groups in Karnataka that drive reforms in their respective villages. One group actually organized a movement to ban the distribution of illicit liquor. 

 The adolescent members of this party—Anil, Geeta, Gaarya, Hussain, and Chandru—take seriously their empowerment to drive social change. They are supported by “Neelu teacher” [End Page 16] and the Panchayat head “Deshpande Sir.” Deshpande’s willingness to help them is driven by his political interests and desire for publicity. From the outset, it is clear that while the adults are corrupt and harbor selfish interests, Neelu and the children use organized political power to introduce reform. Neelu is perceived as a troublemaker despite her genuine support of the cause of the Party. “Ideology is always a matter of politics,” and it “consists of the ideas that support and empower particular segments of society” (Nodelman and Reimer 80). Ideologically, this film underlines an observation often made in children’s literature criticism: the sense of power that is characteristic of adulthood is in fact verified and maintained through the control of children. Although children are capable of forming their own views independently, Deshpande mocks them—“Within a few days you have learned the language of our village governing body”—and sarcastically lauds Neelu: “You’ve trained them well, teacher!” Anil’s father, too, thinks that since the formation of the kids’ committee, “our children have become uncontrollable.” 

The ugly side of adult hypocrisy and moral corruption comes to light when the Party tackles the serious issue of substance abuse. The children see Gaarya’s father in a drunken stupor. Gaarya’s father spends the family’s hard-earned money on alcohol. The children realize that their village is at the mercy of alcoholism as there are many others like Gaarya in their village. When Anil discovers that his father runs an illicit liquor-producing unit to supplement his income as a grocer, he chooses to support his committee. His sense of responsibility highlights the hope that each child ideally should harbor to progress toward an ethical, peaceful, and optimistic future. In another political move to discontinue the children’s anti-alcohol movement, Neelu is transferred to another village. To the adults, it seems as though the storm has subsided and they have regained control. However, the children are persistent, albeit passively. Under the pretext of a cleanliness drive, they collect liquor bottles and sachets, calculate the cost of each, and discover that their village spends 2,800,000 rupees annually on alcohol alone. The children know that they will not be heard by the adults and decide to voice their opinions at a public forum. Instead of showing the staggering figure to the fickle Deshpande, Geeta shares their findings while giving a speech in honor of a visiting Health Minister. She makes her point when she says, “Some of us don’t have school uniforms. Some of us don’t have textbooks. Streetlights don’t have bulbs in them. We have taps, but no water comes out of them. Our roads are unsur-faced, yet we spend 28 lakh rupees on liquor.” This definitive move leaves the adults speechless; they have no choice but to take the matter seriously. In a final frame breaking moment, Geeta’s gaze shifts to the audience outside the frame. She looks into the camera lens and demands, “Can you do something about this?” This powerful question undeniably addresses Indian households that deal with the grim reality of alcohol abuse. By subversively challenging the ideologies of the adults, this Putaani Party shows faith that it is possible to change, and that the children are here to drive this change. 

One can download the entire pfd file here....

Heal the World, Make It a Better Place:Social and Individual Hope in Indian Children’s Cinema (PDF)

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You can watch Putaani Party, the entire film here....