Minor issues

Where I talk about how adultification of children is common across Tamil cinema and television

Children, to many of our filmmakers, are miniature adults. That’s why they are shown to act smarter, and be more talkative than their age; sometimes, their choice of words can put even adults to shame, like when the urban child in the recent Pasanga-2 channels her inner Vairamuthu and uses the word ‘rasipaanga’ in everyday conversation. This adultification is an easy technique to evoke amusement. In fact, so successful is it, that a TV show called Kutti Chutties is about children being asked to answer adult questions, so their naïve — or as the producers will call it, innocent — answers can be laughed at. The show’s host, Imman Annachi, sometimes encourages them to call their parents names, and give them advice on various matters, including career and family maintenance. So, when the little girl in Theri gives her father romantic advice and follows it up with, “Adhu oru flow-la thaanaa varudhu, baby”, you know it’s just another case of children being…not children in our films.

It’s not all innocent though, as they will likely make you believe; not least when children get used as unwitting tools in sexually suggestive scenes — like the one in Ko when Piaa Bajpai’s character puts back her jacket, and a boy implores her to remove it as he wasn’t really paying attention when she had removed it briefly. However, even given the predilection of our filmmakers for such disturbing portrayal, it was quite something to see a boy kissing Nayantara flush on the lips in the recent Thirunaal. Of course, the problem isn’t so much the kiss, as it is her reaction to it. If the scene were indeed as innocent as the director has since claimed, you’d expect the actress to pay the kiss no special attention, and simply brush it away. However, she reacts with the wide-eyed wonder that’s an instant throwback to Soundarya’s reaction in Arunachalam, when Rajinikanth ‘accidentally’ kisses her on multiple occasions. The Thirunaal scene has, of course, gone viral for all the wrong reasons, with many leaving behind comments envying the kid his role in the film.

Tamil television has long been a hotbed of such adultification. Anybody who has watched at least one episode of the ‘junior’ versions of our reality dance shows is aware of this. It’s normal fare in such shows to see small boys totter around in drunken fashion to songs like ‘Padichi paathen yeravilla, kudichi paathen eridichi’, or small girls shake their hips to lines like ‘Udal kothithadhe, uyir thavithadhe’. The audience is usually in raptures, and part of it are the parents of these children, usually seen egging them on, and on some level, soaking in the adulation themselves.

That explains why the mother of the kid in the Thirunaal scene thought it’d be a great idea to share a photo of the kiss with a caption that read, “My son in Nayantara lip-lock scene’. She has since faced much backlash and deleted her post, but some anonymous Internet hero has taken a screenshot and ensured that it will live on forever as a digital vestige of today’s society, where parental success has come to mean the vision of a large auditorium resonant with the sound of applause, with the child bowing on stage. The past week also saw much criticism pouring in for the NRI mother of the girl who won the U.K.spelling bee, for being “pushy” and “overly competitive”. These aren’t isolated cases.

Recent research has shown that parents, especially those who perceive their children to be extensions of themselves, view their children’s lives as fresh opportunities. Music classes, language lessons, drawing workshops… they’d like nothing better than for their ward to pursue the glory that they likely missed their shot at. In fact, a Harvard study in 2012 showed that when parents were bragging, the reward centres activated were comparable to those triggered by good food and sex.

When we talk about our childhood, it is with much nostalgia and longing; we think fondly of those glorious, idyllic years of innocence when we didn’t have a worry in the world. The present generation, it appears, may not know what that means at all. Maybe it isn’t all cinema’s fault, after all.

This column was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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