Ghoul, the recently released web series starring Radhika Apte, caught the attention of one and all for its theme. The posters for the dystopian series, reflecting the gore and some with blood-dripping visuals, put up at several locations in the cities are difficult to miss, grabbing the interest of onlookers, including children.
When concerned parent Satish DeSa drove by the hoardings with his children, he said he was forced to divert his curious children’s attention away from the visuals. Later, Mumbai-based DeSa took to social media to post pictures of the hoardings, talking about the impact they could have on children. He wrote, “Free nightmares for children. Even if they don’t watch the show. These hoardings need to be pulled down immediately. Keep our kids safe on roads.”
Following DeSa’s social media post, a lot of parents have come forward to share personal anecdotes about how the hoardings and trailers are affecting their children. The kids seemed curious about what it all meant, commented some of the parents on the thread, saying they found it difficult to explain it to them. Others complained of how the posters scared their children. After all, the hoardings of Ghoul depict spine-chilling images, no doubt, similar to usual horror movies.
‘The images leave nothing to one’s imagination’
“My children don’t even watch television. I got very upset when I saw the hoardings. It’s a very rash way of advertising. One of them was too graphic and left nothing to one’s imagination, and affected me even as an adult. I had to turn my children away when I came across the hoardings,” DeSa told Express Parenting.
“The images are really very dark and frightening for small children. My son asked, ‘What is this? It is so scary’,”said publisher Preeti Vyas, mom to a nine-year-old.
Horror as a genre isn’t an alien concept to children. Kids are usually exposed to stories about ghosts and supernatural elements since childhood through children’s literature, mythology and other forms of art. But reading about them is different from giving it a pictorial interpretation, remarks DeSa. “I have studied storytelling and advertising and I also teach folktales and theatre. I believe children should be introduced to horror stories at the right age, which can be at the age of nine and above. When we come to mythology or horror stories, it is all about oral rendition without feeding them visuals. There is no problem with the story but when you add graphic imagery, it doesn’t leave any scope for the child’s imagination. Children need to figure out visuals from their imagination,” he expressed.
There’s no harm in exposing children to horror, as long it is tailormade for the audience of that age group, said Vyas. “There is nothing wrong with any genre as such. When the content is meant for children, it is written and presented in a way appropriate for them. There is a whole series called Goosebumps, for instance, which is meant for children,” she said.
‘Questionable public hoardings take away parent’s agency’
While these parents do not object to the content of the series, the main issue rattling them is that having such content on public hoardings takes away from them the agency to decide whether they want their children to be exposed to such images or not. With popular culture offering various kinds of content, some controversial, parents need to supervise what their children are reading, hearing or watching. “Promoting such content through an outdoor medium means everybody is exposed to it, irrespective of their age. And that’s very irresponsible. It’s not about kids watching the series. They won’t watch it anyway. But why would we expose them to such images?” DeSa remarked.
At this point, one needs to remember that parents can supervise children only up to a certain extent. Their grip on children tends to loosen the moment they start interacting with the world outside, through schools, friends, and other medium. The child, for instance, is exposed to complex emotions and things that he or she may not comprehend at the outset. In such cases, it is important to sensitise children, something that psychologist Dr Rachna Khanna Singh recommends. “A child’s mind is extremely impressionable and absorbs every single information rapidly. In such a situation, the concern among parents is genuine, but how long will you keep them away from things? In the case of this web series, in particular, if children are getting scared, it should be explained that this is merely fictional. Children need to learn to draw a line between fact and fiction,” she suggested.
That’s how Hemal Khambatta, producer and director, White Hope Films, explained the series’ trailer to his five-year-old daughter. “We switched on the TV for my five-year-daughter to watch cartoons. That’s when she saw the promo on the default channel. She got really scared and started crying and complaining. I changed the channel and I tried to convince her that it was a story and they are playing a game,” he recalled.
What does the Advertising Standards Council of India say?
When it comes to protecting creative liberty, is demanding the removal of these hoardings because of their impact on children the only way to deal with the situation? The Advertising Standards Council of India categorically states a set of rules that every advertisement needs to conform to. These are “honest representation, non-offensive to public, against harmful products, and fair in competition.” If we assume that the hoardings of Ghoul were put up only after they cleared all criteria, the fact that it turned out to be offensive to some parents could be subjective. “While some parents are worried that the hoardings are scaring their children, it is possible that it may not hold true for other kids. If the hoardings would have affected kids unanimously, they should have been pulled down. But an image in itself cannot have such a strong impact of children, although a moving visual or audio can,” said Dr Singh.
“The image may have only aggravated existing fears, which parents need to identify. We can try make our children stronger. On the other hand, we can sensitise filmmakers regarding the impact of their content to children, but that doesn’t mean we should censor it. Perhaps, the only feasible option could be reducing the size of the hoarding,” suggests Dr Singh.
DeSa, on his part, has written to ASCI (The Advertising Standards Council of India) and is awaiting their response. When Express Parenting got in touch with Shweta Purandare, Secretary General, ASCI, she said, “As a policy, we do not comment on a specific product or an advertisement. Each complaint received by us is examined further to check if the advertisement being referred to contravenes any of the provisions of the ASCI code for self-regulation of advertising content.”