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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
India waits for its own Sesame Street

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

The soft and fluffy residents of Sesame Street will soon speak in Hindi to engage Indian children with local stories.

Sesame Street characters
India's Sesame Street will have local characters

The long-running children's educational show featuring colourful puppets is to have an Indian adaptation.

Aired in over 120 countries and with more than 20 local versions, Sesame Street helps teach pre-schoolers numbers and words using cartoons and puppets.

The show has different educational storylines and characters around the world, to reflect issues affecting children in specific countries.

The New York-based Sesame Workshop, a non-profit educational group, has sent its people to India to talk to teachers, broadcasters, government agencies and non-governmental organisations about how to develop the Indian adaptation of the show.

Multi-dimensional Muppet

The United States Agency for International Development (USaid) has given a grant of $500,000 to Sesame Workshop to design and develop the Indian version.

[Indian] issues are education of the girl child, ethnic differences, health and hygiene
Project director Isheeta Ganguly

"We will create local Indian Muppets. They will be characters that will engage Indian children and whom they will be able to relate to.

"We will need to work with local experts to explore the look and personalities of these characters," Beatrice Chow, a spokesperson at Sesame Workshop, told BBC News Online.

The producers of the show for India are looking at developing characters which will highlight pressing local issues.

Kami was introduced to help South African children accept HIV-positive peers

"Some of these issues are education of the girl child, ethnic differences, health and hygiene. So the Muppets for the Indian version could be multi-dimensional, encompassing many issues," says the show's project director for India, Isheeta Ganguly.

International versions of Sesame Street are given their own Muppets to reflect local issues.

In the Egyptian adaptation, girl Muppet Khokha (Peach) wants to be an astronaut or a doctor and serves as a female role model.

The South African version of the popular children's TV series has an HIV-positive character called Kami to encourage acceptance of people living with the virus.

Popular in India

Indian children can look forward to their own Sesame Street on cable television and, possibly, the state-run Doordarshan channel by next summer. A name is still being thought up.

Plans are also afoot to develop the show for radio in India - South Africa is the only other country where the show is being developed for radio.

Presently, an imported version of Sesame Street is shown on one of the 80-odd cable networks available in India.

1972: Vila Sesamo, Brazil
1973: Sesamstrasse, Germany
1978: 1, rue Sesame, France
1996: Ulitsa Sezam, Russia
2000: Takalani Sesame, South Africa
2003: Hikayat Simsim/Sipuray Sumsum, Jordan and Palestinian territories/Israel

"Its one of our strongest shows," says Rajen Soni, who markets the network beaming Sesame Street in India. "Lots of pre-schoolers wake up early to catch the show at 7.30 am."

Germany, Mexico and Brazil were the first countries to have their own versions of the show with local characters, and locally-developed live action and animation sequences.

A Bengali version aimed at the huge Muslim population in Bangladesh is also in the making.

The sheer popularity of Sesame Street has attracted celebrities and some controversy for the show.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and US first ladies Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton, are among the leaders to have appeared on the show.

Sesame Street has been praised by US State Department officials who have been given the responsibility of turning the tide of anti-Americanism around the world.

Kofi Annan with Muppets
Kofi Annan says Sesame Street promotes understanding

An American official once said the show helped educate people about national values.

In the US itself, Elmo, a puppet in the show, was sponsored by Wall Street firm Merril Lynch to "give kids a head start in forming good financial habits".

And in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian show makers have tried to keep a fine balance by writing sequences which combine both Jewish and Arab Muppets.

There have been reports that show has also been put to unlikely uses by US interrogators in Iraq.

Last year it emerged they had tormented captives with the Sesame Street theme music in an attempt to make them talk.

Sesame Workshop's Beatrice Chow, however, called this an "unfounded rumour".

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17 Sep 02  |  Africa
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17 Jul 02  |  Entertainment
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07 Dec 01  |  Entertainment

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