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An Open Letter to Smriti Irani

By A toddler's mother
November 26, 2014 12:46 IST
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The threat to our pre-schoolers from the worst of Bollywood is far greater than the threat to Sanskrit from German.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

A friend who went to his daughter's pre-school for a cultural programme came back worried.

He could not reconcile to the idea that three year olds were gyrating to raunchy Bollywood numbers meant to titillate adults. This, at one of the best schools in the western suburbs of Mumbai, which is also the heart of the entertainment industry.

His concern was based on the fact that he seemed to be the only parent around who found this disturbing and unacceptable.

He is wrong.

Even as Bollywood's dominance over the collective consciousness of the country is absolute, there are parents, caregivers, child counsellors and sociologists who find the idea of exposing impressionable and unsuspecting toddlers to a culture that is meant for adult consumption disturbing. And that is why schools need to exercise caution, to be more discerning.

A child dancing to Chikni Chameli or Bang! Bang! may get a lot of likes or hits on social media, but is that all that a parent should aspire to?

Is that all that a school, the first point of contact for a toddler with our world of structured thinking and learning, could think of by way of introducing them to creativity?

Should we not encourage children to write their own songs and create their own movements, rather than ape stars paid to entertain adults?

It is important to put things into perspective while we spend hours debating the utility of a classical language in the school curriculum, or the feasibility of continuing with German.

The threat to our pre-schoolers from (the worst of) Bollywood is far greater than the threat to Sanskrit from German.  

A three year old dressed up in a miniature version of an adult costume designed to seduce and titillate, simulating movements that include pelvic thrusts, boob shakes or rubbing a towel against their private parts while lip-synching to lyrics that are replete with sexual innuendos and expletives, is aesthetically, morally and ethically wrong.

It cannot be the first and best education that we can give to our children, even if the stars they are emulating are popular simply by virtue of being rich, famous and Botox beautiful.

It does not tick your boxes of Bharatiya Sanskriti either, does it, Ms Smriti Irani?

Bollywood is an industry and should be treated as simply that. It generates employment for thousands and has been successfully branded as our biggest export after Kamasutra, Yoga, Gandhi, Ravi Shankar and the sitar.

Growing up in India today, it is not possible to pretend Bollywood does not exist, unless you are the proverbial ostrich. But it can wait. There is a wealth of art, literature, music, folklore to be discovered before biting the Bollywood dust.

A school skit need not be an imitation of a masala film. The school can easily introduce young minds to Indian or international playwrights and street plays. It can help them discover the joy of reading and adapting works by gifted writers (in regional languages as well. Why not?)

A school choir can sing songs written by our indigenous composers that are more about stars in the skies than about those who bat their made-up eyes from the screens.

But then, it is much easier for a school struggling with a lop-sided student-teacher ratio to get a child to dance to a catchy Badtameez Dil than introduce them to Gulzar's Jungle Jungle Pata Chala Hai from the first dubbed version of Jungle Book for the small screen. Isn't it?

Unfortunately Ms Irani, we have created a world where a child needs to be far more aware of the difference between 'right touch and wrong touch' than the difference between six packs and eight packs on stars who often get booked for inappropriate behaviour in public, or confess to anger issues, or alcoholism among other things.

There will come a point when our kids will aspire to be a filmmaker, an actor or a writer.

Learning the craft for any discipline should be encouraged. But that comes much later in life.

For a child, who knows no better, it is not easy to understand that he may be sending out the wrong signals to the pervert in the audience, maybe seated next to his parents, as he takes off his shirt like his favourite matinee idol (who is facing trial for a hit-and-run case among other legal issues) and prances around on stage. Or a little girl who dresses up like Alia Bhatt and pouts and preens as she sashays down the ramp.

Every week, there are reports of toddlers being sexually assaulted in schools.

When young girls get assaulted on their way to work or home, you blame the way they dress or carry themselves. But what do you have to say to the schools where we send our children with the hope and the belief that it is the safest haven for them outside of their homes?

I am not suggesting that Bollywood should be blamed of sexual misconduct in school premises.

Cinema is a powerful medium. It can be used to educate and entertain, instruct and inspire. Some of the most popular stories and characters we grew up with have been immortalised on screen.

But Bollywood has repeatedly failed its youngest fans. Its concerns with encouraging crassness to make good its investments has eclipsed its obligation or the creative need to tell stories for children that are not about heists, con men or seductresses with murder on their minds.

If there is a chance to keep our children away from a sexually charged and commercially driven adult culture for a few years, why not do it?

As a mother, Ms Irani, and a woman sensitive to the issues that affect women and the girl child in particular, I am sure you will understand what I am trying to say here.

Yes, you too are a by-product of the industry and there is nothing wrong with it.

I have nothing against six packs or against Alia Bhatt.

But, instead of wasting your valuable time dealing with issues of language, should you not be enforcing a system that makes it mandatory for schools to keep Bollywood away from education and the learning system for the first years of a child's life?

A smart kid would know who Sunny Leone is anyway. But why introduce him/her to the idea of a porn star-gone-good when he/she should be learning to make paper boats and learning the names of the constellations in the night sky?

A toddler's mother

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A toddler's mother