Children’s films are perhaps the most unexplored genre in India even though they have the potential to bring in handsome returns
India is one of the most flourishing film markets in the world, churning out more than a thousand films a year, and this includes a mix of genres and languages. Yet, children’s films barely figure on the radar of filmmakers and even the audience, especially when it comes to homegrown content.
The happy exceptions in Hindi, in the last three decades, were films like Mr India, Chhota Chetan, Taare Zameen Par, Chillar Party, Bhoothnath and Bhoothnath Returns and, Stanley Ka Dabba, among others. But the number of films that has stirred the imagination of children is so few that they have not made so much as a dent at the ticket counters in India.
On the other hand, Hollywood has had much better luck in India, with children’s releases such as the Kung Fu Panda series, Minions, Inside Out and most recently, The Jungle Book, booking handsome profits here. Why, weeks after its release in India, The Jungle Book is still doing brisk business at the ticket window.
This suggests that there potential for kids’ films is huge; we simply haven’t tapped into it yet, locally. This week, we asked the experts why, in an age of experimentation and evolved audience sensibilities, children’s films are still commercially unviable.
Just because a film features a child or children does not make it a children’s film. It is important to remember that in a children’s film, the filmmaker’s gaze should be the child’s and not adult’s. Somehow Indian filmmakers seem to have forgotten what they enjoyed reading or watching when they were young.
Creating content for children is serious business. Children enjoy comedy and adventure. They don’t relate to message-heavy films, which definitely work with adults. With children, the message needs to be told in a highly engaging story. That’s the toughest part. Of course, there are many films that are enjoyed by children and adults alike, but this is an exception. Children need content which deals with their issues while also addressing the
Further, there is no generic children’s content. It is age-specific. When NFDC started a script lab devoted to developing children’s content, the first thing that writers were asked to specify was the age group they were targeting with their stories. That was the ‘eureka’ moment. You have to think and feel like a child to create content for children.
NFDC has tied up with Cine Kid Amsterdam to exchange ideas, projects and expertise. The idea is to encourage Indian writers with children’s content to explore the latest trends and possibilities gathering steam in other parts of the world. We also feel that this is a great area for potential international co-production.
Even though the kids’ genre has huge potential, there are barely any films being made for them in India. At Trinity Pictures, we are looking at multiple kids’ franchises that will be deployed across media beyond cinema and we will invest in scale to ensure it’s a cinema date kids will not want to miss.
I totally believe we need to give importance to children, an area we are ignoring at present. At the end of the day, a child cannot go and watch a film on his own; he needs to be accompanied (by adults). It’s not that we don’t make films for children at all. There was Ra.One, Taare Zameen Parand Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which has the industry’s biggest stars and all these were kids’ films. Bajrangi Bhaijaan did so well at the box office, it’s a story about a child who gets lost in another country and this super-hit star goes to her country to take her back.
If you treat a film properly, it will reach out to the audience. The reason we see only a handful of films like this is because, as I said earlier, we don’t give children due importance. What one requires to do is engage with children in the same way one engages with adults. If big stars keep supporting such properties, films like this can be explored further. Currently, Eros International’s division, Trinity Pictures, is backing kids’ films and I am making a film called Sniff with them.
The scope has always been there, take Mr. India for example. But I don’t think any producer in Bollywood would approve a big budget for a children centric film if it doesn’t feature a big star. And I wouldn’t blame them. The sources of recovery are very limited for a Bollywood film. And if it doesn’t have a star, recovering a big production budget would be a daunting task and I don’t think there are many who would even want to contemplate a scenario like that. Films like The Jungle Book can afford a huge production and marketing budget because of the kind of reach Hollywood has. Forget the budget of The Jungle Book, a children’s film minus a star wouldn’t even get a half decent production or marketing budget in Bollywood. Sadly, it also has a lot to do with the way our audience perceives a Hollywood film vs a Bollywood film. In case of a Hollywood film, the film is the star while in case of a Bollywood film, the star is the film.
I believe we have barely explored this genre. In simple terms, if you make a children’s film he/she will come with at least one adult, so you sell two tickets for the same movie. My film, I Am Kalam, was made on a very modest budget and it earned at least 10 times the cost of production. We cannot hold up The Jungle Book as an example because the film was made on a budget of `1,166 crore. Apart from budget, they had the whole globe to showcase their movie whereas we don’t even have the whole of India for a Hindi kids’ film. But, of course, if we work on logistics and make children’s films, not childish films, the whole family will come to watch because then there is something for everyone. In a country where more than 30 per cent of the population is aged less than 15, it is high time we explored this genre.
Within India, the children’s genre hasn’t been developed to its full potential yet. Internationally, however, the scope has always been there, and that is why Disney and Pixar movies break box-office records year after year. With The Jungle Book, the primary movie-going audience had a huge emotional attachment to the source material as the Indian public had grown up watching Mowgli on TV, which also played a huge role in the film’s success. Its incredible record collections are sure to give a boost to the children’s genre in times to come.
In India, animation movies have been largely perceived as ‘only for children’. With the advent of high quality animation and CGI and wit, the success of movies like The Jungle Book and Kung Fu Panda 3 along with the success of an Indian movie like Bahubali, more people are now watching animated films.
It’s heartening and wonderful to see the success of The Jungle Book in India, and more importantly for the animation industry, which has been churning out exciting stories during the last few years. I am sure people will watch more animation movies in future.
The astounding box-office results of The Jungle Book can be attributed to various factors besides the exceptional marketing and mounting of the presenting studio. It’s an iconic Indian story, which has been re-told in various forms, including a television series. Mowgli has delighted generations, and almost all of us fondly remember The Jungle Book characters.
There was enormous urgency among consumers of all age and social segments to see the latest, revived version of The Jungle Book. Being a brilliantly made film, it managed to impress everyone. The holiday season also played a big role in getting the audience to cinemas. However, the kid’s film genre on the whole does not get the attention it should have. Films likeChhota Chetan and the more recent Chillar Party are few and far between.
Perhaps filmmakers should attempt more children’s films and make them engaging enough for parents to take their wards to cinemas. Such films should be made aspirational too, by promoting them innovatively. The home-bred Hanuman and Chhota Bheem films were a step in the right direction. Let’s hope more films like those are made which also have franchise value.