Over the years, one of the most noticeable factors that television has introduced to the viewer, has been the emergence of a sizeable number of platforms for children to showcase their talent across diverse passions: song, dance, mimicry, and the latest, cooking.
Having worked closely in the children’s space in television nearly a decade ago, for a quiz show, this journalist has been witness to the backroom pressures and extreme stress that young minds face when the camera begins to roll. As the tears and the heartbreak at the loss of a final round question in a tough tie-breaker round were imminent, very little of this was aired for TV viewers. It was a private affair, where teacher or parent would console the student, or the quizmaster would offer words of support to try harder in the next edition. Similarly, if a team won a cracker of a question, there was a congratulatory word, audience applause, and in an instant, the frame moved to the next segment. No eulogies about the brilliance of the student, the fantastic manner in which he/she answered a tough question, or over-the-top praise. It was simple, sans any heady words that would make most 13-year-old heads to swell with pride.
Today, sadly, the mood inside studios for such live shows has reversed. Tears flow on call, unnecessary dramatic dialogues are a must after each performance or round, and children are showered with praise and accolades, often exaggerated, by judges. Take this example: Girl sings a Bollywood classic like a dream. Judge gives her a standing ovation and promises that when she turns 18, she should meet her, with the offer of an open invite to be a playback singer. The girl was over the moon.
Genuine praise and encouragement is one thing. But selling dreams, especially in Bollywood, is a dangerous proposition while we are dealing with children of an impressionable age. What happens to the same singer, who might have to face crushing disappointment and negative comments as soon as in the following episode? Will she be able to overcome her dreams being dashed by the same people who placed her on a pedestal? What sort of an emotional rollercoaster would she have to endure after the televised saga of losing out to a ‘better’ singer? Will she be able to believe in her singing ability after such a public humiliation?
A harmless cookery show for kids might come across as a cute advertisement for capable younger stars in the kitchen, but the drama and adulation that judges engage these kids with (who seem up to bite the bait) makes one cringe. For the sake of TRPs, content is compromised and instead, one is subject to fluff, tiresome chatter and a soap opera-esque envrionment. One watch of the Australian version of the same show is a perfect example of a straightforward, no-nonsense approach. Here, more often than not, the delightful spread whipped up by these pint-sized chefs tends to get lost amid the extravaganza.
This isn’t a tirade against talent shows for children but a call for sensitive, mindful doling out of comments — positive or otherwise by judges, and the spotlight on the real thing. It can go a long way in creating a generation that doesn’t grow up craving for praise, a generation that is fragile and unsure of where they stand in society. Surely, today’s children don’t need any more confusion and lack of direction in a world that is changing and churning with alarming rapidity, and where mentors are a rarity.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY