Doraemon versus Teletubbies

Published: Dec 30, 2011, 07:36 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar |

Nobita is such a loser. He is lazy, stupid and generally inept at whatever he does. Doraemon, a cat of sorts usually saves the day for him by producing one fantastic gadget after another.

Nobita is such a loser. He is lazy, stupid and generally inept at whatever he does. Doraemon, a cat of sorts usually saves the day for him by producing one fantastic gadget after another. 

It could be a tablet on which Nobita writes ten commandments which come true or a time machine or an intelligence transferring contraption. Doraemon and Nobita, Japanese characters who speak in Hindi, are heroes to an entire generation of Indian kids. They are also part of my parental dilemma. Are these the guys my two and a half year old son should be looking up to? 

Switching channels isn't of much help because the alternatives are Phineas and Herb, Shin-Chan, Ninja-Hattori, Tom & Jerry  and Chhota Bheem, all of which come around the same time. They are all equally loud in both sound and visual. The language is aggressive. 

Foreign made: Production houses in India are not geared to make 
kids' shows, since doing so requires extensive research and specialised 
skills. Thus they prefer importing content.

At that time, between 7 pm and 8 pm, the only shows that feel safe from a toddler's perspective are Teletubbies, In the Night Garden or Waybuloo. These are aired on CBeebies, a BBC channel. These shows are soft on the ears and eyes and full of nuggets of information built into the stories. Teletubbies may look really dumb from a grown-ups perspective, but millions of kids around the world love watching them while having their dinner. Mine did till he saw Doraemon one day!

Cbeebies has been designed in the UK keeping the psychological and learning needs of kids in the age group of 0-6 years. Shin-Chan, Doraemon and many of the others are imported from Japan and other countries to fill up the over half a dozen odd kids' channels India has. Some such as Chota Bheem are made locally. Their heart is in the right place �  good always wins. It is their story-telling that is jarring. They work for some parents but surely not for all. The thing is there isn't much else on offer. 

India is the second largest television market in the world. There are over 650 channels fighting it out in this market. It also has a very robust film and television production industry. Kids' channels hog over six per cent of the total time Indians spent on television nationally and get about Rs 700 crore in advertising. Clearly, there is a market. Why then don't we see more options for kids on television?

There are two possible explanations. One, more than 80 per cent of kid's television is about animation. India is very good at doing off-shore animation work for global companies, but our record in creating home grown characters is pathetic. Except perhaps for Hanuman, none of the home-grown animation films or shows have really struck a chord with viewers. This is because good animation takes a long time and is terrifically expensive to create and produce. It is more lucrative, from a tax perspective to export animation (classified as software). So we subsidise animation exports to other countries, while importing 2D animation from Japan and other countries for channels in India.

There is always the option of 'live action' or regular programming. This brings us to reason number two for the lack of options. Making kids' shows is the sort of research-oriented, specialist job that not many production houses in India are geared to do. Most are sweat shops that prefer economies of scale that come from daily soaps and reality television. 

This leaves kids with the current options. What could change things is digitisation. Already 30 per cent of the TV homes in India are digital. These homes are more likely to pay for and get speciality channels and programming. This could be infotainment, kids, health or lifestyle. Already several of these genres are seeing a rise in time spent across TV homes in India. This means more revenues for broadcasters and therefore more investment in programming. Some of this will hopefully go into kids' programming that is less violent and more, well, childish. Till then I will just put up with Nobita and Doraemon. And maybe play a DVD. Noddy perhaps. 

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and author.

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