afaqs!

The Sound of Silence

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | February 15, 2013
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Magazine brand Vanitha has released a public service film to spread awareness about sexual abuse among children. It is gaining noticeable traction on social media.

Here's a moral dilemma. If a fact-based story moves an audience, does it matter whether every aspect of that story is correct or not? If a more factually correct version holds less mass appeal, which of the two would you narrate?

The Child Sexual Abuse TVC

An unusual, recently launched public service TVC by magazine brand Vanitha has begun to create buzz online and also leads to some intriguing questions.

The film addresses the issue of child sexual abuse. It shows a modern-day, urban couple playing dumb charades with their son. It is not hard to picture a family of viewers being thrown into stunned silence at dinnertime as the little boy, barely six or seven to look at, uses the game to tell his parents that he is being sexually abused by his uncle.

From a developmental standpoint, a child that young will certainly not have the linguistic representation for the kind of emotions evoked by being abused. And the ad-makers seem to have paid heed to this fact by using a silent game. The voiceover even says, 'Bacchon ki khamoshi bahut kuch bolti hai. Unhe dhyaan se suniye'.

However, a second question looms: Does a child this young have the mental sophistication to use a mime game to convey his distress? While children of that age do have a sense of make-believe - thus enabling them to play these games with ease - this level of pre-planning and using the game as a crutch to put across an unrelated message, appears to be a very 'adult way' of doing things.

afaqs! spoke to mental health professionals on the matter. While experts differ in their view on how realistic the film is, the intent of the effort is lost on none.

Anju Kapoor

Kamlesh Soni

In the opinion of Anju Kapoor, practicing psychotherapist, who comes across children in this age group regularly, the ad is effective and conveys intended point. From a cognitive standpoint, though, she sees a flipside. "This (the way the child conveys his story) is a rather complex way of explanation. While it does appeal, the content lacks research work," she thinks.

According to Kapoor, depicting the child trying to correlate his message to a specific movie, would've served to move the ad closer to reality. But since the ad makes it clear that there doesn't exist a movie by that name (Chacha mere kapde), the concept, from the child's point of view, is a rather abstract one.

"The child is shown to have come up with a very indirect mechanism to convey his point - something we adults use. There's too much of an assumption that the child is cognitively sophisticated enough to convey his point without resorting to association. It's implausible and difficult to buy," she argues.

Kamlesh Soni from Apogeo Films, the film director, tells afaqs! that he consulted professional child psychologists on the behavioural indications of abuse in order to get the intricacies and nuances right. While he found that it is indeed difficult for abused children to confide in someone and reveal the name of the perpetrator, the 'play-way' or 'role play' methods tend to help them open up. These are techniques used in therapy that provide children with the relatively 'safe' context of play so that they can emote successfully.

Agreeing that it may be hard for a child to stage such a dramatic disclosure of trauma, Soni argues, "Yes, it may not be entirely in line with reality. The film has taken certain creative liberties. The game was used more as a creative device, to ensure the message reached the audiences, than as a flawless depiction of reality. The idea is always to convey the message; it need not be 100 per cent accurate and 'real'." It is easy to see Soni's point of view: after all, nobody argues that poetic license should be available only to poets.

When it comes to assessing the mental faculty of the child, Anuradha Sovani, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, is more liberal. "The child looks bright, the parents seem receptive, and ready to listen and respond. Ordinarily, given this scenario, children would speak and cry openly. However, a lot of children feel they are responsible, and hence bear a burden of guilt, which would lead them to 'tell all' in such a circuitous manner. Since the purpose of this ad is worthwhile, and much needed, I would not reject it altogether," she says.

Pointing out a specific detail in the film, she adds, "This (his message) is a four word sentence in English, but requires five words in Hindi. He cannot convey what he means with 'Chacha mere kapde' plus one more word. So maybe the error is intentional in the script given the age of the child." Apogeo's Soni shares that the child is supposed to be seven years old.

The ad has been created by Interface Communications.

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