Guest Post by SIVAKUMAR RADHAKRISHNAN
The Chhota Bheem television series, highly popular among the nation’s children and also among many adults, is telecast daily in many Indian languages. The program is a long running show of many years and has its viewership in millions. Its popularity is evident from the fact that other children’s programs and advertisements are churned out from it.
The series evokes interest mainly by its plot, which is almost similar for every episode. Also the plot is a simple one, where a cute city-state is ruled by a king, with his daughter, a princess of tender years. The king resides in a citadel atop a pretty hill. The citizens are generally good natured. A group of kids is shown playing in the countryside, of which the most smart and attractive is Chhota Bheem. He is assisted by a few other kids and a little talking monkey. Suddenly, evil people with sinister designs will start disturbing the peaceful city state of Dholakpur. The king will be found helpless in dealing them. At the right juncture, will enter the little Chhota Bheem and with his might, he will clear the evil elements from Dholakpur. Thus, Chhota Bheem saves the kingdom and the king at the right time. The citizens will celebrate him and continue to be happy thereafter. What could possibly be wrong with such a simple, evil-defeating, goodness-forging narrative?
A peculiar feature that can be noted by anyone within few minutes into the series is that every Chhota Bheem episode seamlessly stitches a medieval rural setting with modern scientific achievements. The problem with such a setting is that the world at large has reaped the advantages of scientific advances by going through various phases in which the outdated medieval ethos is discarded for new and rational thinking. But here we have a setting of a medieval kingdom that uses the equipment of modernity (like travelling to Mars in a rocket), and thus the show gives an impression of scientific advancement without any change in the old ways of living, such as feudal kingdoms and so on. This anachronism collapses the scientific narrative of progress through stages, and ridiculously juxtaposes “power packed ladoos” with space age rockets.
Further, the stereotypes and prejudices that the series perpetuates are very distasteful. Chhota Bheem’s sidekick is a fat boy, who is foolish, who continually receives a battering and whose complexion is shown as darker than the others’, is named Kalia, meaning Blackie in Hindi. The problem is not just naming a character by his skin tone, but when the character is associated with cowardice and made an object of ridicule, the dark skin tone is indirectly associated with such traits.
Similarly, the evil elements that disturb the tranquility of Dholakpur always happen to be foreigners. The magicians, showmen and other tricksters who try to usurp and corrupt the kingdom are always shown to be coming from outside. Their accent, attire, talents are shown in a peculiarly strange way. Every time a foreigner visits Dholakpur on the pretext of entertaining and helping the citizens, they always have a hidden agenda. As the country supposedly progresses with transnational transactions, such mean depictions of ‘the foreign’ as evil, is certainly backward and a clear example of stereotyping. Such typecasting of foreigners will induce hatred among the little children who watch the programme.
Moreover, in the current political climate, in which the ‘foreigner’ is often portrayed as the minority communities, who need to continuously prove their non-foreignness and nationalism again and again, this kind of xenophobia is pointed and dangerous.
This generation does not need scientific anachronism, racism and xenophobia, but a message of universal friendship and progress based on cooperation. Chhota Bheem would do well to rethink the messages it is sending out.
Sivakumar Radhakrishnan is an Assistant Professor at The New College, Chennai.
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