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10 films that focussed on serious problems plaguing Indian children

A forgotten, and often neglected genre, children's films are capable of more than entertaining the child. Every once in a while, directors have used their films as a medium to convey some sensitive messages, and deliver scathing judgments on the hurdles faced by a child in society. On Children's Day, we take a look at 10 films that focussed on some key problems faced by children in this age.

Shriram Iyengar

At a masterclass with Indian Film and Television Directors' Association in September this year, Gulzar, a director whose contribution to children's literature and films remains immeasurable, said, "Children are not respected in this country. We do not make films for them, or try to understand their perspective of films." An industry that functions on the basis of economics, Hindi films have often ignored the genre of children's films for the benefit of profitability. For an industry that takes its roots in the traditional art of storytelling, Indian cinema has often turned up some brilliant films about children and their problems. These films, although clubbed in the genre of children's films, are certainly not escapist in their storytelling format. 

1. Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Aamir Khan made his debut as a director with this wonderfully empathetic film about a child struggling with dyslexia in Taare Zameen Par. Written by Amole Gupte, the film spoke in support of children who struggle to 'fit into the system', but possess talent worth nurturing. The sensitive performance of Darsheel Safary managed to bring tears to the eyes of every mother in the audience. After all, they were the only ones who believe their child is a star on earth. 

2. Boot Polish (1954)
Produced by Raj Kapoor, this little film won the Filmfare Award for Best Film, Best Cinematographer, and Best Supporting Actor in 1954. A tale of two orphaned shoe shiners in a newly independent India, the film was as much about the abject poverty of the country as it was about the children who were the collateral damage of it. Beautiful, touching, and sentimental, the film gave birth to an eternal children's ditty in 'Nanhe munne bacche teri mutthi me kya hai'. The song is a reminder of how in the past, as today, the country needs to protect children from poverty and hunger. 

3. Stanley Ka Dabba (2011)
Amole Gupte is fast becoming a director of memorable films for children. Another beautiful film, which starred his own son Partho, Stanley Ka Dabba was adorable in its plot, but had the dark shadow of child labour looming. While Stanley is a loved, praised child in school, the fact remains that he is a labourer working the nights at a dowdy restaurant. It is this fact that he continues to hide from his friends, and teachers, at school. 

4. Paa (2009)
Amitabh Bachchan's turn as a child affected by progeria was one of Hindi cinema's first attempts to explain the disease. Not only did it bring the illness to the forefront, but also raised important questions about the perception of children affected by it. The discrimination, struggles and complexes of a child who looks old was shown with sensitivity and humour in the film. It won the National Award for Best Film in 2009, as well as winning Bachchan his third National Award and fifth Filmfare Award for Best Actor. However, the true winner was the disease of progeria which found new place in discussions.

5. Black (2005)
Education is an important aspect that often forms the central crux of children's film. One film, that does not fall in this category, but has much to do with children is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black. A poignant, extraordinary tale based on the life of Hellen Keller, Black shed light on the difficulty of educating children with special needs. Amitabh Bachchan played the sometimes patient, sometimes strict teacher who encourages, and nurtures the talent of a blind Rani Mukherji in the film. 


6. I am Kalam (2011)
Produced by the Smile Foundation, I Am Kalam was a remarkable film about the aspirations and dreams of a child from the poverty stricken class. A child employed as a labourer at a roadside dhaba in Rajasthan, Chotu dreams of becoming a scientist like erstwhile President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam. A beautiful film, it focussed on two major hurdles facing the Indian population and its government — the growing illiteracy rate among children and child labour. The film was screened at the market section of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in 2011. 

7. Udaan (2010)
Vikramaditya Motwane's hard-hitting coming-of-age drama was one of the most poignant shouts against child abuse seen in recent times in Indian cinema. Ronit Roy's portrayal as the cruel, authoritative and dictatorial father was critically acclaimed. In a country where child abuse goes away largely unreported, the film brought to the fore an important and necessary question that needed to be addressed in the aspect of children. `

8. Iqbal (2005)
Disability is a theme that has been tackled several times in Indian cinema. Nagesh Kukunoor's Iqbal was different in its method, as well as treatment. Shreyas Talpade's debut had him playing a deaf and dumb teenager aspiring to break into the Indian cricket team. Through the film, Kukunoor managed to raise some valid questions about the educational and sporting system, which discriminates between differently-abled children denying them an equal chance at their future. Though the sweet, cathartic ending helped, it is a reminder that not every child and teenager in the country manages to breakthrough like Iqbal did. 

9. Masoom (1982)
Shekhar Kapur's brilliance as a director became obvious with this sensitive tale of an illegitimate child's induction into his family. Jugal Hansraj played the young boy with big blue eyes, while Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah argued about his presence in the family. Kapoor's film was a brilliant insight into the emotional struggles of a young orphan, or adopted child, in their new families. Since then, Kapoor has gone on to greater things like the Academy award winning Elizabeth series. But, this little film remains a beautiful memory worth watching for every child, and parent. 

10. Nil Battey Sannata (2016)
Although Ashwini Iyer Tiwari's film was more about the mother than the child, it certainly offered some telling insights into the psychology of children. At one point, the rebellious girl tells her mother 'What is the point of studying when I can only become a maid?' The film raised some very valid points on social discrimination, class bias, and the education system in the country. Little surprise then that this little film had an impressive run at the box office.