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Children's Day special – Best children's films of the new millennium

The 21st century has seen an increase in the number of filmmakers willing to create stories about, and for, children in India. On Children's Day, we take a look at the most memorable children's films since 2000.

The Cinestaan Team

Whether it is Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bimal Roy, Gulzar or Satyajit Ray, filmmakers in India have often turned to the vision of children to give their stories new life. In the new millennium, more filmmakers in India have grown to realize the power, complexity and sensitivity of children's lives and stories. From Vishal Bhardwaj to Aamir Khan and Amole Gupte, filmmakers have created stories that tackle the many issues of children, in a format that is suitable for children.

On Children's Day, we look at a list of Indian films that have raised the bar for quality and form in Indian children's films. 

Makdee (2002)

Vishal Bhardwaj might be known for adapting Shakespearean epics on the big screen, but his directorial debut was a magical little childhood fantasy about haunted mansions ruled by witches. While fans were thrilled with the film that played on the very childlike fear of the unknown, a fantastic performance by Shabana Azmi as the witch with something to hide also did not go unnoticed. 

The film was screened at the Critics' Week (Spotlight on India) section at Cannes in 2003. This was the beginning of Bhardwaj's stellar career. 

Shwaas (2003)

Sandeep Sawant’s Shwaas is a moving saga of a boy (Ashwin Chitale) with retinal cancer and how his grandfather (Arun Nalawade) fulfils his wish before he loses his vision completely. More importantly, Shwaas was a turning point for contemporary Marathi films. It was this film that began the industry’s resurgence with stories that would appeal not only to Indian audiences, but would also make a mark on foreign shores.

The film was India’s official entry for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It won the National awards for Best Feature Film and Best Child Artiste.

The Blue Umbrella (2005)

Vishal Bhardwaj followed up Makdee with another childhood mystery in The Blue Umbrella. Adapted from his Mussoorie neighbour Ruskin Bond's short story, the film was a wondrous tale about a little girl's umbrella and the chaos it brings to an idyllic village in the hills. Gulzar's lyrics and Pankaj Kapur's performance did the rest.

Taare Zameen Par (2007)

Aamir Khan's directorial debut was written by Amole Gupte. It captured the tale of every misunderstood child trapped in a conventional education system. The tale of Ishaan (Darsheel Safary), a dyslexic boy who cannot come to terms with the textbook form of learning, became a pathbreaking moment that forced people to acknowledge the flaws in India's education system.

Taare Zameen Par not only won the Filmfare and National awards for Best Film but was also India's official entry to the 2009 Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) 

Amole Gupte followed up his brilliant Taare Zameen Par screenplay with the wonderful and innocent Stanley Ka Dabba. Starring his son Partho, the film told the story of a schoolboy and his struggles with lunch. Wonderfully enacted, with Gupte himself taking on the role of a despotic teacher, the film captured the struggles, friendships, and excitement of the lunch hour at school.

Stanley Ka Dabba is one of the rare films in Hindi cinema that managed to portray a child's struggle without reducing or enhancing it. 

Chillar Party (2011)

At the recent MAMI Directors' Special, Nitesh Tiwari confessed that he might never be able to replicate the innocence of his first film, Chillar Party, and rightly so. Set around the lives of children in a housing colony, and their fight to protect a stray dog that they have adopted, Chillar Party was a surprise hit and won the National award for Best Children's Film. 

With characters like Jhangiya, Aflatoon, Panauti and Silencer, Chillar Party was a hilarious, sensitive and heartwarming story that touched everyone — young and old.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari (2012) 

Another directorial debut, Ferrari Ki Sawaari was the first film by Rajesh Mapuskar. The director, who went on to win the National award for Best Director for Ventilator (2016), created a film that revolved around a boy's love for cricket, his father's love for his son, and Sachin Tendulkar's Ferrari. 

With an ensemble cast of Seema Pahwa, Boman Irani and Sharman Joshi, the film was a success. With a young boy dreaming of playing at Lord's at the centre of its plot, it was bound to be. 

Elizabeth Ekadashi (2014)

Paresh Mokashi’s debut Harishchandrachi Factory (2009), which was based on Dadasaheb Phalke’s effort in making India’s first feature film, became India’s official selection for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

The audience then had to wait for five years for his next film, Elizabeth Ekadashi (2014). The film turned out to be worth the wait. Starring two kids Shrirang Mahajan and Sayali Bhandarkavathekar, the film about a lost cycle called Ekadashi managed to warm the audience’s heart. It also won the National award for Best Children’s Film. 

Killa (2015)

Good films make the target audience happy. But great films go beyond the target audience. Avinash Arun’s Killa is primarily a children’s films but it managed to awe even grown-ups. This was the reason it won the National award for Best Feature Film in Marathi. Starring Archit Deodhar, Parth Bhalerao and Amruta Subhash, Killa traces the journey of a boy who, having lost his father, is forced to adjust to a new place and a new school where his mother is transferred. The film was a fine example of mature and artistic storytelling. 

Kaaka Muttai (2015) / Half Ticket (2016)

In 2015, M Manikandan directed a hilarious little film about two street urchins dreaming about eating a pizza. The film balanced itself on humour to tell a story that is reflective of two very different Indias. While both the original Tamil film and the Marathi remake won critical acclaim, the Tamil version went on to win two National awards as well — Best Children's Film and Best Child Artistes (Ramesh and Vignesh).

Nil Battey Sannata (2016)

Ashwini Iyer Tiwari stunned film critics with her nuanced tale of a mother who returns to school to egg her daughter on to study. Swara Bhaskar delivered a tour-de-force as the maid who knows the value of education, and imparts that knowledge to her daughter. The film also had a wonderful ensemble cast of Ratna Pathak Shah, Pankaj Tripathi and Sanjay Suri raising it to another level. 

Ashwini Iyer Tiwari deservedly won the Filmfare award for Best Debut Director, and has since become one of the directors to watch out for in Hindi cinema. 

Dhanak (2016) 

Few filmmakers portray complex human relationships as sensitively as Nagesh Kukunoor does. The filmmaker returned after a long hiatus with a sweet, touching tale of two siblings on a journey across Rajasthan.

The story revolves around a young girl who takes her blind kid brother on a journey to help him meet the film star Shah Rukh Khan. Buoyed by wit, sarcasm, and a life-affirming tale, the film is a delight for both children and adults. 

Dhanak (Rainbow) was premiered at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival and won the Best Children's Film trophy at the 64th National Film Awards.

Dangal (2016) 

The blockbuster of the year, Dangal can hardly be called a children's film. Yet, at its heart, Nitesh Tiwari's wrestling drama revolves around a parental relationship that touched a chord with younger audiences. While many parents admired Aamir Khan's portrayal of a father who raises his daughters to be champions, many children identified with the struggles and sacrifices the daughters made in pursuit of the dream. 

Dangal review: Aamir Khan and his daughters score a win

The film has already broken records by becoming the biggest blockbuster in Hindi cinema, and winning four Filmfare awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Action Director).

Secret Superstar (2017) 

Like Amole Gupte, Aamir Khan shares a close bond with his younger fans. In Secret Superstar, he took a backseat while his Dangal co-star, Zaira Wasim, stole the show playing a girl from a conservative Muslim family who dreams of becoming a pop icon.

Secret Superstar review: This veiled sensation has something to sing and say

The film's sensitive portrayal of the girl's dreams, the obstacles placed in her path by societal customs, and the sacrifices of a mother to help her daughter raised Secret Superstar to another level.

Powered by fabulous performances by Meher Vij, Zaira Wasim and Raj Arjun, and a quirky cameo by Khan himself, the film has been praised by critics and audiences alike.

Walking With The Wind (2017)

Directed by Praveen Morchhale, this delightful Ladakhi film follows young Tsering (a charming Sonam Wangyal) who accidentally breaks the classroom chair of his friend and fellow student. Remorseful, he 'borrows' the chair during a four-day break for exam preparation and tries to get it fixed before anyone can notice.

However, things do not go as planned and there are several roadblocks in place before Tsering can atone for his mistake. Morchhale, who is inspired by and dedicates the tale to the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, brings to life the languid but gruelling pace of the daily world in Ladakh. With stunning vistas and a simple story, the director shows young audiences a view to a lifestyle much different from their own.

While there is a growing siege of cash-rolled blockbusters at the box office, these films reinforce the belief that there are filmmakers who value the innocence of their stories far more.