Our film industry has been very fortunate to have had some of the most brilliant child artistes who have given memorable performances in scores of films. These child-stars have endeared themselves to us with their spontaneity and natural acting. Coupled with their innate innocence and amazing confidence, they have effortlessly stolen the show from their seasoned co-stars on screen.
Daisy Irani, Honey Irani, Baby Naaz, Baby Tabassum, Baby Farida, Baby Gowri, Wonder child-Bobby, Baby Guddu, Master Raju, Master Ratan, Master Sachin, Master Satyajeet, Master Alankar, Master Shahid, Master Tito, Junior Mehmood, etc., are some of the names which immediately come to our mind though there are many more who have been associated with our films. It is really difficult to comprehend how such small children could memorize such long dialogues and bring such perfect expressions and emote with so much feeling and understanding…
They have been an integral part of many of our popular social films and family dramas of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. Often entire films have revolved around the character of the child artiste, for instance Pyaar Ki Pyaas revolved around Honey Irani, Nanha Farishta had Baby Rani in the title role, Mastana was all about ‘wonder child Bobby’, Boot Polish was the story of Baby Naaz and Master Ratan, Do Kaliyan had Baby Sonia in a classic double role, Majhli Didi had Master Sachin in a pivotal role, and more recently Bajrangi Bhaijan centred entirely around little Harshaali Malhotra.
Sometimes films started with or showed in flashback the childhood scenes of our heroes and heroines like Awaara, Sangam, Deedar, Muqaddar Ka Sikander, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Afsana, Haathi Mere Saathi, and more recently Dhoom 3, etc. Some films have many children coming together as part of an ensemble cast in Brahmachari, Chillar Party, Parichay, Koi Mil Gaya, Jaagriti, Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke, Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, Bachpan, Raju Chacha, Mr India, etc., with all of them putting up a brilliant act due to perfect team work and unbelievable tuning and timing.
At times, they have not been given too much screen time yet were important to the plot thereby contributing to the whole film, eg., Mrinal Jadhav in the recent Drishyam, Sana Saeed in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Sarika in Satyakam, Daisy Irani in Dhool Ka Phool and Duniya Jhukta Nahin, Master Raju in Woh Saat Din, Junior Mehmood in Do Raaste, Master Alankar in Deewaar, ‘wonder child Bobby’ in Amar Prem, Sweeni Khera in Cheeni Kum,etc.
Most of the popular child artistes became big stars of their time with a round-the-clock shooting schedule. Daisy Irani and Honey Irani with their wide innocent eyes and curly mop of hair were much in demand. Baby Naaz was the highest paid child actress of her time and even got international recognition when she was awarded a special merit certificate for her role in Boot Polish at the Cannes Festival that year. Similarly Junior Mehmood reached such dizzying heights of fame and popularity that at the height of his success he is said to have owned many imported cars like the big stars of his time. Some like Jugal Hansraj and Parzan Dastur became popular with just one film, viz., Masoom and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, respectively.
Many big stars of our industry started their career as child artistes and worked in a few films before moving on to adult roles like Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Aruna Irani, Mumtaz, Mehmood, Jagdeep, Shashi Kapoor, etc. Some like Rishi Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt, etc., acted in just one or two films.
Sadly, all was not hunky-dory with the lives of all the successful child artistes. Some child-stars had a sad story of an overambitious mother or father who exploited them mercilessly and they were forced to become bread winners of their family. Baby Naaz is one such example. Her mother made her sign so many films that she could not attend school because of which she was rusticated and she was very bitter about it. Sarika also was a victim of an over-ambitious mother. Meena Kumari and Madhubala were exploited by their fathers and forced to work as their families depended on their income. Daisy Irani in one of her interviews has mentioned that sometimes she had been slapped or pinched on the sets so that she would be able to get natural tears for the required scene…
But a vast majority of our writers and directors have been very patient with the child artistes and had an uncanny knack of extracting superb performances from them. Director Chetan Anand deserves a special mention for capturing some touching and poignant moments of a one and a half year old child in his film Aakhri Khat, which remains a rare and unbeatable experiment by any director.
Honestly there are so many terrific performances by various child artistes in a variety of films, that it is a really difficult task to list all of them at one go. This blog is just an attempt to highlight some outstanding acts which are my personal favourites:
Baby Naaz and Master Ratan in Boot Polish (1954)
It is said that Raj Kapoor scouted at least twelve schools in Mumbai before zeroing in on Baby Naaz to get the perfect child actress to play the main role and what a find she turned out to be! Her outstanding act as the little orphan slum girl ill-treated by her aunt is heart-rending and remains a classic act to this day. Master Ratan as her elder brother also gives an equally brilliant performance.
Daisy Irani in Bandish (1955)
This is a very unusual film and basically revolves around Ashok Kumar and Daisy Irani. Daisy Irani plays a boy in the film and after a chance encounter with Ashok Kumar in a park one evening the child refuses to leave him as he firmly believes that Ashok Kumar is his Dad. Ashok on the other hand tries his best to dump him and get rid of him .This results in many interesting confrontation scenes between them which are both funny and poignant. Meena Kumari breezes through in a small but light-hearted role. Little Daisy Irani is simply brilliant in the film and gives an equal ‘takkar’ to veteran Ashok Kumar .
Daisy Irani and Honey Irani in Zameen Ke Taare (1960)
In this Chandulal Shah production both the sisters play the role of boys who are friends. While Daisy Irani is very rich and has a stepmother, Honey loses his mother because the father beats her everyday. Both of them set out in search of God to request him to give back Honey’s mother. Thereafter the movie basically deals with the various incidents that happen during the course of their eventful journey. Both of them come up with a commendable performance.
Honey Irani in Pyaar Ki Pyaas (1961)
Honey Irani plays a little orphan girl who is adopted by a childless couple. Initially life is like a fairy-tale for the little girl but trouble starts brewing when the mother gives birth to her own child after which Honey Irani is completely ignored. Her performance is top-notch and the character leaves a deep impression in the minds of the audience.
Master Babloo in Main Chup Rahoongi (1962)
This is the Hindi version of the Tamil film Kalathoor Kannamma with which superstar Kamal Haasan had made his debut in films at the tender age of four. Well! The Hindi version had Master Babloo as a child artiste and his performance was simply outstanding. His natural expressions and dialogue delivery outmatched all his adult co-stars- Sunil Dutt, Meena Kumari, Nana Palsikar, Raj Mehra, etc.
(An interesting trivia about the film is that it also had a Telugu version. In all the three versions there is a prayer which is sung in the orphanage by the children. The tune is the same and the meaning of the words is also more or less the same. However, the deity in front of whom they are singing changes in accordance with the language/region they represent. In the Hindi version it is Lord Krishna, in the Tamil version it is Lord Kartikeya (also called Lord Murugan) and in the Telugu version it is Lord Balaji. For readers who are interested here are the links to the three versions:
Master Sachin in Majhli Didi (1967)
Director Hrishikesh Mukherjee manages to extract an unbelievably brilliant performance from a very young Master Sachin. In the film, the child first loses his mother tragically and later ends up being ill-treated by his step-sister- Lailta Pawar (in one of her most venomous screen avatars ever). His yearning for maternal love and his unique bonding with Meena Kumari (in the title role) tugs our heart and forms the crux of the film
Baby Sonia in Do Kaliyaan (1968)
I remember seeing this film on big screen when I was very small yet it left such a powerful impact that to this day it remains one of my favourite films and personally I feel one of the finest children’s film made in our industry. Baby Sonia (Neetu Singh) is outstanding in a double role and brings about the subtle differences in the mannerism and demeanour of the two sisters. After the divorce of their parents, one grows up with the father and one with the mother. Initially they fight a lot in school but later become friends and decide to interchange places to get to know the other parent and experience the love they had been missing. There is a scene in which the interchanged Baby Sonia meets her mother for the first time. The way she calls out ‘Maa’ with so much emotion and expression and runs to Mala Sinha to hug her is just amazing . The tone in the child’s voice not only conveys the sheer joy of the child meeting her mother for the first time but also the sadness that she had been away from this love for so long…
Master Mahesh Kothare in Raja aur Runk (1968)
This is a colourful costume drama based on Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and The Pauper’. Two look-alike children are born on the same day and at the same time but into different families –one is a prince and the other a poor commoner. They meet each other by chance and decide to have some adventure by exchanging places. Master Mahesh is a delight to watch in both the roles and delivers a heart-warming performance.
Baby Rani in Nanha Farishta (1969)
A small child is kidnapped by three dacoits after killing her rich parents and looting their wealth. How the child’s innocence and her friendship with the dacoits bring about a transformation in their characters forms the crux of the film. Baby Rani delivers a remarkable performance.
Bobby in Mastana (1970)
The story revolves around the unique friendship between Mehmood -an illiterate poor man and Bobby-a rich child neglected by her parents and ill-treated by her governess. Her effortless expressions and natural dialogue-delivery rightfully won her the title of ‘wonder child’.
Master Sachin, Junior Mehmood and Master Shahid in Bachpan (1970)
The story revolves around three children yearning for parental love in a village who become emotionally attached to a toy-seller because he is kind to them and also because he has lost his own children in a flood. When he is accused of a murder he has not committed, these three kids come to his rescue as they had inadvertently witnessed the real murderer committing the crime. The story had enough juice to extract terrific performances from the child artistes.
Master Mahesh and Junior Mehmood in Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1970)
One of the really good children’s films to have been made, the film teaches the value of hard-earned money and how important it is to spend it wisely. While Master Mahesh comes up with an outstanding performance and gives tough competition to veteran Balraj Sahni, Junior Mehmood is brilliant in a role which has a comical touch.
Master Jugal Hansraj in Masoom (1983)
With his wide innocent eyes and a beautiful face, there could not have been a better choice for the role of the child who is hated by Shabana as he reminds her of her husband’s one-night stand with another woman. For no fault of his, he is treated badly and the pain and anguish he brings to his eyes are just too good and have left an indelible mark in every cine-goer’s heart.
Ayesha Kapoor in Black (2005)
The 11-year old child actor Ayesha Kapur came up with a stunning performance as the blind Michelle McNally – playing the younger version of Rani Mukherjee in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black. She effortlessly brings out the frustration and anger of having to cope up with blindness as well as the joy when she finds a ray of hope with her new teacher Amitabh Bachchan.
Master Darsheel Saffrey in Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Little Darsheel Saffrey plays the role of a dyslexic boy and comes up with a heart-tugging brilliant performance. The subtle nuances in his expressions are top-class and will remain one of the most challenging roles written for a child artiste.
Master Harsh Mayar in I Am Kalam (2010)
A superb film dealing with poverty, illiteracy, child-labour, self-belief, and survival of the human spirit is brought to life by the earnest and winning performance of the child artiste Harsh Mayar, who won several awards for this film.
Parth Balerao in Bhootnath Returns (2014)
This youngster is so confident in the film that he makes Superstar Amitabh Bachchan look like an ordinary actor. His dialogue delivery is very natural and he also gets to mouth some great one-liner jokes. In the film the child doesn’t realize Amitabh is a ghost and treats him as some magician friend and their scenes together are superb. It is indeed admirable how this young child artiste is so unaffected by the presence of a towering actor like Amitabh…
Harshaali Malhotra in Bajrangi Bhaijan (2015)
Released in July this year, this movie created a sensation by breaking every box-office record. As the mute girl separated from her mother by a quirk of fate and left behind in a new country, she puts up an outstanding performance. Her expressions take us through a gamut of emotions from helplessness and fear to joy and excitement which spoke volumes of the talent of this little girl. To share screen space with Salman Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and yet manage to be the scene-stealer and that too without uttering any dialogues is not a small thing at all.
Irrespective of whether it is a mega-budget film with big stars or a small budget Children’s film, they always leave an indelible mark in the role allotted to them. Hats off to all the writers and directors who gave them ample scope to display their skill which is why each one of them is remembered to this day for his/her outstanding work…
Here are links to some more popular numbers picturized on our child artistes:
Taare Zameen Par
Here is the link to Part II of the post :