Tiny stars take centre stage

At the India Social and Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi, pupils of all ages have been gearing up to take a lead role in what has become an annual event.

ABU DHABI // The leading actors are petulant, studiously avoiding eye-contact with the camera. The crew shuffle about offstage, in dire need of direction. And the extras are so excited they have to be hushed to allow the main dialogue to proceed.

It is just a typical day on set - except in this production, all the participants are children. At the India Social and Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi, pupils of all ages have been gearing up to take a lead role in what has become an annual event. Among summer classes where they learn to swim, sing and dance, a few have signed for the class in making short films. For the past three weeks, they have worked on scripts, grasped the technicalities of lighting and camera work and, in their final week, joined their instructors in bringing it all together.

Madiha Faiz's untitled script is one of the two selected for production this year. Madiha, 15, from Sherwood Academy, is a returning scriptwriter. Last year, she cast her younger brother, Miraj Ahmed, as the central character in a film on bullying. This year, she has turned her focus onto the global economic crisis. Having seen her father's alarm at the downturn, she hit on the idea of penning the story of a family, told in flashback through the father's eyes as he casts his mind back to better times before making a critical decision: whether to take his own life.

Earlier in the week, Rajah Balakrishna, the vice president of the centre, gave scriptwriting classes, warning of the constraints that location or budget considerations might take on their vision. "If you don't have money but you want to adopt a script, it can be done," he told them. "Forget about special effects and high production values. If you want to show something, think of symbolism. "Think emoting through dialogue instead of showing it."

So young Madiha took his advice. Instead of rewriting her script, she tweaked a crucial part. "It is a suspense in the end," she said. Of the 87 pupils at the centre this summer, aged seven to 17, 15 opted for the film classes. Among them was Zeba Amena, 16, from Delhi Private School in Dubai. She vacations annually in Abu Dhabi, where her parents live. And her script, entitled Tribute Zeba, also hit a sombre note in its treatment of social issues.

Her central characters are twins who lose their parents at the age of 10. The film takes its viewers on a journey in which the children "support each other and encourage each other to fulfil their dreams" as they grow up, she explained. Progressing through secondary school, the siblings pay homage to their parents, who hope to see them qualify to become an engineer and a doctor. Zeba said she drew inspiration from her own life. Although she enjoyed painting, she would like to realise her father's dreams and study medicine, she said.

Watching from the sidelines with his friends, Rohan Rade, 13, from the Abu Dhabi Indian School, said he was picking up tips just by observing what was going on. "I am learning something about how to create frame shots," he said. Meanwhile, Madiha said she had spent three days on her own script. She appointed her friend, Neha Devadas, 14, from the Abu Dhabi Indian High School, to be director. Neha received technical instruction from Sam Elias, the centre's entertainment secretary, who has acted in and directed several Tamil and Malayali films.

"You are executing something you have learned," he told the giggling extras at one point as he taught Neha to assert control. "Silence!" The centre's restaurant, Foodworld, served as the backdrop for the second scene from Madiha's script. The cast comprised pupils and centre members who volunteered to oversee the children during camp. Pooja Nair, the centre's yoga instructor, has been cast as the mother. Another volunteer, Vikas Karunan, plays the role of the father. Sharin Sam, eight, plays the part of the daughter while Madiha's brother, Miraj, plays the son.

The shot involves a waiter who works at the restaurant taking the father's order as he confidently buys a meal before the economic crisis takes its toll on his family's fortunes. "I am good at writing," said Madiha, who hopes to be a paediatrician when she grows up. "But this is just to pass time. Working in Bollywood? I don't think so. It is a lot of trouble." sbhattacharya@thenational.ae