Bhagat Chaitanya, a native of Hyderabad, has filed a complaint with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry against the popular Telugu kids reality show Drama Juniors, for allegedly putting children through undue mental stress during the elimination rounds of the show and also capturing shots that can potentially embarrass the contestants in the future.
Drama Juniors is aired twice a week on Zee Telugu and has kids aged between 4-14 playing a variety roles and enacting everyday life situations on stage. The show is hosted by Pradeep Machiraju and judged by television actors Omkar, Anasuya and Ali. The contestants are shortlisted on the basis of marks awarded by the judges and every week a performer gets eliminated.
In a complaint filed on 18 July 2018, petitioner Bhagat Chaitanya, an ex-employee with TCS, says he appreciates the channelâ€™s effort in hunting talent and also the childrenâ€™s extraordinary performances on the show.
â€śBut children belonging to such tender ages face a lot of mental stress during the high-volt theatrics that follow every week during the elimination round. Like any other reality show, the anchor makes the kids stand on tip-toe and intentionally delays announcing the name of the eliminated contestant just to add to the atmosphere of suspense. Children, who canâ€™t bear stress like adults, often break down on the sets,â€ť Bhagat alleges.
In an episode that was aired on 15 July 2018, 4 children were shortlisted for elimination.
â€śThe episode was horrendous. Children were made to stand on the stage and a girl started crying within minutes into the elimination process. Two kids got entry into the safe zone while the anchor and judges engaged in some pep talk and finally announced that none of the contestants would be eliminated for the day. If this was the case, why were the kids put through such mental trauma?â€ť asks Bhagat.
Itâ€™s not just the mental stress that can take a toll on the children, Bhagat says. Cameras zoom in on children who cry on the stage or start bickering unable to bear the stress. Such acts of humiliation that millions of viewers across the state watch on their television sets can cause major embarrassment to the kids, he claims.
â€śFor kids who cry and fret on stage, watching themselves on the TV a week later can put them through shame, especially in schools where their peers may troll and make fun of them. Also, in the episode that was aired last week, judges can be seen laughing at kids who cry on stage, worried at being eliminated. Such acts of humiliation cannot be tolerated,â€ť Bhagat says.
Time and again, kidsâ€™ reality shows have faced major backlash for making innocent children perform roles that are age inappropriate. â€śNeedless to mention, the tiny kids play roles of married couples where they dance together for romantic ditties and say dialogues inappropriate for their age. For example, one of the episodes of Drama Juniors had a female contestant playing the role of an item dancer from the movie Rangasthalam. The children quite often do not know the depth of the roles and dialogues they are made part of,â€ť Bhagat says.
Speaking to TNM, Shyam, who heads the non-fiction department at Zee Telugu, says that the channel has not received any intimation from the I&B Ministry so far.
â€śOur channel has certain guidelines that we strictly follow during the execution of all our programmes. We ensure that parents always accompany their kids and we do not allow them to put any stress on the kids while on the set. We also have a counsellor whom the kids can approach anytime. The content of the programme is created in such a way that even if the kids are made to act as a married couple, the dialogues never go over the board. In fact, the kids love the time they spent on the floors during shooting,â€ť Shyam says.
Zee Telugu was in the dock in 2014 when childrenâ€™s rights activists cried hoarse and the telecast of a popular kidsâ€™ reality show Atta was banned.
Talking to TNM, Achyuta Rao, spokesperson of a city-based childrenâ€™s rights organisation, says that programmes like Drama Juniors only serve for the commercial exploitation of kids.
â€śItâ€™s a form of child labour in disguise. Children are made to go through hours of rehearsal without proper sleep or food. Such programmes do not help in finding talents rather they only help in nurturing an unhealthy competition among talented kids. Itâ€™s high time we enforce laws that ban programmes with such inappropriate content.â€ť