Films that celebrate childhood and give valuable life lessons to adults too

Cinema for children in India has had an indistinct presence even though over the years, there have been popular films including Kidar Sharma’s 1957 classic Jaldeep which won the Best Children’s Film Prize at the International Film Festival at Venice. There was also Shyam Benegal’s 1975 film Charandas Chor while in mainstream cinema, films like Jagriti (1954), Boot Polish (1954), and Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957) entertained children. Tapan Sinha’s 1978 triumph Safed Hathi won the National Film Award in 1978. In recent times, India has not produced enough content exclusively for children but here is our pick of some films that not only engrossed the young but also gave food for thought to the grown-ups.

1. Taare Zameen Par:

Released in 2007, this Aamir Khan and Amole Gupte directorial was an eye-opener for many parents and teachers who were not aware of what dyslexia is and how the children who have learning disabilities are not “slow” or lazy but need help to overcome the challenges they face while reading or writing. Produced by Aamir Khan, the film revolves around a gifted eight-year-old dyslexic boy, Ishaan Awasthi (Darsheel Safary) who is deeply observant, sensitive and loves to paint. His teachers and father repeatedly make him feel worthless and he is sent to boarding school where he withdraws into his shell even more till a teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) decides to mentor, guide, and befriend him. Taare Zameen Par was screened in Seattle, Washington by the International Dyslexia Association in 2008 and in 2009. It was India’s official entry for the 2009 Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category and also won the Filmfare Best Film Award and the National Film Award for Best Film on Family Welfare.

2. Gandhi & Co. :

Producer Mahesh Danannavar and National-Award-winning director Manish Saini have put Indian cinema for children on the world map with their acclaimed film, Gandhi & Co which recently garnered global recognition by winning the Golden Slipper award at the 62nd edition of the prestigious Zlin Film Festival in Czech Republic. ‘Golden Slipper’ is a coveted award presented to the best feature film in the children, youth, and animation category. The film’s child artists Reyaan Shah and Hiranya Zinzuwadia also won the Best Child Actor awards at the New York Indian Film Festival 2022. The film won the Second-Best Indian Feature award at the 13th Bengaluru International Film Festival and the Best Children Film award at the International Gujarati Film Festival (IGFF) 2022. It has been winning hearts and minds in the international festival circuit, highlights the enduring value of Gandhian principles and revolves around two boys who discover the gentle heroism of Gandhi via a mentor. They learn that Gandhi is not just a chapter in a school book but a way of life. The movie also stars Darshan Jariwala, Jayesh More, Druma Mehta, Sunil Vishrani, Reyaan Shah, Hiranya Zinzuwadia and Dhyani Jani.

3. Stanley Ka Dabba:

Directed and produced by Amole Gupte, the film offers you a shattering insight into the life of unloved children who are exposed to life’s harshest realities before they are ready to face them. The movie revolves around a schoolboy called Stanley who doesn’t carry a lunchbox and has to rely on his friends to feed him during recess. Nobody knows the dark facts about his life because he is witty, has an irresistible smile and is always cheerful. Despite his hard circumstances, he makes the people around him happy. While his English teacher (Divya Dutta) is impressed by his sunny demeanour, he is always at the receiving end of his Hindi teacher’s (Amole Gupte) hostility. The story offers a heart-breaking twist in the end, revealing why Stanley cannot bring a lunchbox to school. And why he is not like any other child in the school. Partho Gupte received the National Award along with the Filmfare Special Award for his role.

4. Chillar Party:

Produced by Salman Khan Films, the 2011 comedy entertainer Chillar Party, captured all the purity and joy of childhood. Directed by Vikas Bahl and Nitesh Tiwari, the National award-winning movie (Best Children’s Film) has an ensemble of feisty young children, who challenge adult cruelty and political corruption to protect a dog from certain death. In doing so, the children teach the adults that ideals like, “We must always help others” “A friend in need is a friend indeed” and “We must do what is right” should not be relegated to books but also incorporated into real life. Led by young actors, Sarath Menon (Arjun/Encyclopedia), Naman Jain (Jhangya), Chinmai Chandranshuh ( Panauti/Lucky) and others, the film beautifully shows how only coexistence can bring true happiness and harmony. The stellar performances by the children also overshadowed the adult actors.

5. The Blue Umbrella:

Director Vishal Bhardwaj beautifully adapted a Ruskin Bond novella to the silver screen in 2005. Set in a Himalayan village called Banikhet, the film captures an idyllic, rural life of simple joys till a little girl Biniya (Shreya Sharma) gets a blue umbrella from a Japanese tourist and the umbrella becomes the cynosure of everyone’s eyes. It inspires jealousy and negativity and even irks the middle-aged shopkeeper Nandakishore ‘Nandu’ Khatri (Pankaj Kapur). One day the umbrella is stolen and Binya initiates an investigation into the theft of her prized possession. The film, jointly produced by Vishal Bhardwaj and Ronnie Screwvala also bagged the National Film Award in 2006 for the best children’s movie and was also screened at the Pusan International Film Festival.

6. I am Kalam :

This 2010 film directed by National Award winner and Padma Shri recipient Nila Madhab Panda depicted how a positive role model can inspire a child to rise above his circumstances. The film was screened at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival and won 34 international awards at various film festivals. The story is told from the perspective of a child labourer Chotu (Haresh Mayar), who works in a roadside dhaba. There, he befriends Ranvijay Singh (Husaan Saad), and being an avid learner, takes his help to gain more knowledge. An accidental glimpse of the Republic Day Parade and President APJ Abdul Kalam’s salutation march changes something within him and he instantly decides to become just like him. The film continues to remind us of the untapped potential in street children and child labourers whose dreams and reality never match but whose zest for life can inspire us all.

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