Remembering the lovable child artiste- Baby Naaz

By

Sharada Iyer

Child actors have been an integral part of our films from a very early stage and many wonderful and talented children have made immense contribution to the world of Indian cinema. Some remained in our memory as child actors only as they left the industry after a certain age while others stayed on to make a name as adult artistes as well.

Today’s blog-post is about a few outstanding roles played by the child artiste Baby Naaz. Born as Salma Baig on the 20th of August, 1944, in Mumbai, little Salma started her journey as a child artiste in the year 1952. She was given the screen name Naaz and as Baby Naaz she went on to become one of the most loved child artistes of the Golden era of our Hindi cinema…

Her father Mirza Dawood Baig was a writer but never got any work and their family struggled to make both ends meet. Little Salma was interested in dancing and her parents encouraged her to perform on stage. As she started getting paid for her dances, little Salma became an earning member for the family from a very young age. It was during one such stage performance that noted director Lekhraj Bhakri spotted her and impressed with her talent he offered her the role of playing young Suraiya in the film Resham in 1952.

BOOT POLISH

The turning point in her life came with the film Boot Polish in 1954. This film produced by Raj Kapoor under the banner of R K Films was a masterpiece from every angle- story, direction, natural acting, natural dialogues, mesmerizing music, poignant lyrics and the perfect casting. The heart-warming tale of two orphan children won both critical acclaim and box-office success. Every aspect of the film was brilliant and Baby Naaz’s outstanding performance left an indelible mark in the memory of a generation of cine-goers. For her impressive work in the film, Baby Naaz received a Special Jury mention at the Cannes Film Festival.

This film is a must-watch for every child. The film beautifully showcases the innocence of childhood and how the two orphans in spite of being ill-treated and beaten by their despicable aunt, manage to find happiness in small things. Their friend, the boot-legger John Chacha, played by David, helps to boost their morale by teaching them not to resort to begging and stand on their own two feet and keep dreaming for only then can they move towards a new dawn.  

Here is an outstanding song from the film. Baby Naaz’s expressions and natural acting in the song are a treat to watch…

DEVDAS

The story of Devdas written by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay has been brought to life on screen so many times by so many different directors and actors that the characters remain embedded in the psyche of all cine lovers. In 1955, director Bimal Roy made his version of this classic tale and Baby Naaz was chosen to play the character of young ‘Paro’. He could not have asked for a better child artiste to lay the foundation of this important character of this love saga. She was a delight to watch in every scene- the way she dressed up in the small saree, her body language, her gestures, her eye movements-every little detail was so much in sync with the character she was portraying. The first 20 minutes of the film dealt with the childhood scenes and that gave little Naaz a lot of scope to showcase her talent.

LAJWANTI

In this 1958 film, directed by Narendra Suri, Baby Naaz plays the daughter of Balraj Sahni and Nargis. The film deals with problems arising between her parents due to a misunderstanding which leads to their separation. Nargis is forced to leave the house and much against her wishes she has to leave their young baby with Balraj Sahni. In his anger and ego, he makes the mistake of telling the daughter that her mother is dead. Later however, he comes to know of the cause of his misunderstanding and how wrong he had been to judge his wife and throw her out of the house.

After some years when he brings home Baby Naaz is upset and thinks that Nargis is going to be her stepmother. She had been a baby when the separation occurred and she had grown up thinking her mother is no more. Hence she does not believe when Nargis is introduced to her as her real mother. She rebels and fights and dislikes Nargis and refuses to accept her. There are many dramatic scenes before things are sorted out and Baby Naaz is excellent in bringing out the child’s dilemma under the circumstances. She leaves her mark despite the presence of veterans like Balraj Sahni and Nargis.

DO PHOOL

This film was also released in the year 1958. Directed by A R Kardar, the film was an adaptation of the famous children’s novel Heidi written by Johanna Spyri. The film had Baby Naaz playing the title role of Heidi, though her screen name here is Poornima. The film is about a small girl who is left in the mountains by her wicked aunt to stay with her old grandfather. She grows up in the hills and befriends a young goat-herd of her age and become attached to his blind mother too.

Just when Poornima settles down to this happy-go-lucky life, her aunt comes back and much against her grandfather’s wishes, drags her away and sells her to a rich business man to be a companion for his invalid young daughter. The daughter can’t walk and is stuck to the wheel chair and feels caged. Poornima’s presence in her life makes a lot of difference and she is very happy but Poornima is very sad and misses her life and family. In fact, she grows ill and the doctor recommends that she be sent back to her life.

The businessman’s daughter now misses Poornima so much that she decides to go and stay with Poornima in the hills. This makes her goat-herd friend jealous of her and he starts resenting her presence so much so that one day he throws her wheel-chair down the mountain to spite her. He thinks now the girl would leave the mountains, but his move backfires and now miraculously, she starts walking and is thrilled.

Baby Naaz once again has a meaty role, in fact, a full-length role and she is brilliant as Poornima. She gets to show many emotions and she is adorable. Music director Vasant Desai manages to get both the sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle to sing some duets beautifully picturized on Baby Naaz and Master Romi, who plays her goat-herd friend. The other supporting cast also act very well.

Here are two lovely songs from the film- one sung with Master Romi, and the other when she misses her family in the businessman’s house. The second song has actor Jeevan playing piano which is indeed a rare sight…

KAAGAZ KE PHOOL

This Guru Dutt classic had Baby Naaz playing his daughter. Once again, she has an important role. Being the product of a broken marriage, she is sent away to a boarding school as her mother’s wealthy family feels her father’s profession as a film director is not respectable and denies him the custody.

Meanwhile at work, Guru Dutt meets Waheeda Rehman and impressed with her looks and talent he casts her as the heroine of his next film and turns her into a star. Both of them start having feelings and get close to one another. However, Baby Naaz when she comes to know of this relationship, blames Waheeda Rehman for her parents being unable to come together and pleads with her to leave Guru Dutt.

Baby Naaz is impressive in the daughter’s role and her character causes a series of incidents to happen which change the course of the lives of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. The film was released in 1959 and is one of Baby Naaz’s memorable films.

PAYAL

This 1957 film was directed by Joseph Taliath and stars Sunil Dutt, Padmini , Ragini, David, Bipin Gupta and Baby Naaz. She plays a blind girl in the film. While Padmini plays her elder sister, Ragini is Sunil Dutt’s younger sister. Both Padmini and Baby Naaz are leading a happy life with their parents when tragically while travelling together, their parents are killed in a plane crash and Baby Naaz becomes blind. To raise money for her operation, the two sisters sell their home and with the money they reach the city but here again ill-fate strikes when some goons rob them of all their money.

They find shelter in a poor old woman’s house and Padmini decides to start dancing on stage to raise the required money. Sunil Dutt belongs to rich household but after a fight with his father decides to leave his home and starts working in a hotel business. By a quirk of fate, he and Padmini meet and fall in love but his father refuses to accept a dancer as his daughter-in-law. Meanwhile Naaz’s operation is successful and her eyesight is restored.

Sunil Dutt’s father is murdered and he is blamed for it. Padmini takes the blame on herself to help Sunil Dutt but unknown to anyone, Baby Naaz had been the sole eyewitness to the murder and had seen the murderer. In the end everything is fine and everyone is happy. Her performance is very natural and as her character is very important, she gets a lot of screen time and she sure doesn’t disappoint. Here is a song picturized on her when she cries at her fate to the Goddess.

BHAI-BAHEN

Here Baby Naaz plays the ‘Bahen’ or sister and Daisy Irani plays the ‘Bhai’ or brother. Naaz is an only child and belongs to a rich family and her parents are Rehman and Nishi. She longs for a brother to play with and becomes friends with a street urchin-Ramu- played by Daisy Irani. One day her mother suggests that she could tie a ‘rakhi’ around the small boy on the festival day of ‘Rakshabandhan’ and make him her brother. She is thrilled with the idea and having chosen Daisy Irani as her brother she invites him home much to the chagrin of her father Rehman who is not at all pleased with all this.

But Daisy Irani is very poor and has no money to buy a gift for his sister and does all kinds of odd jobs to buy her a frock as his ‘rakhi gift’. The film also has some villains plotting against Rehman who is in the business of horse-racing and they also end up kidnapping Baby Naaz and demand a hefty ransom. Some drama ensues before the happy ending.

The film was written by I S Johar and directed by G P Sippy. The song ‘Saare Jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara…’ with lyrics by Jan Nissar Akhtar and music by N Dutta became a big hit. Picturized on Baby Naaz, the song was sung by Asha Bhosle and chorus.

GANGA JAMUNA

Released in 1961, the film directed by Nitin Bose went on to become one of the biggest box-office grossers of 1960s. The film starred Dilip Kumar who apart from writing the story and screenplay was also the producer of the film. While he essayed the title role of Ganga, his real-life brother Nasir Khan acted as his reel-life brother also in the role of Jamuna. His love interest in the film was played by Vyjayantimala.

Baby Naaz gets to play the role of young Vyjayantimala and managed to lay down the foundation of her character and her relationship with Ganga in these beginning scenes. Though her screen time is not much, she looks lovely and acts well in the few scenes that she has. Incidentally we also see young Aruna Irani being the young Nasir Khan’s classmate in school in the film.

DIL APNA AUR PREET PARAYI

Produced by Kamal Amrohi and directed by Kishore Sahu, this film released in 1960 and had Baby Naaz playing the younger sister of hero Raj Kumar who is a doctor in the film. The role had a few scenes where she shares a good bond with her brother as well as Meena Kumari who plays nurse and secretly loves Raj Kumar.

On the personal front:

While Baby Naaz was lighting up our screen with her radiant charm and superb acting, her own personal life was a very sad one. Having been forced by her mother to enter show-biz at a very young age, her earnings became very important to run the family. She had to drop out of school as she had no time to attend classes and she also witnessed the constant fighting and bickering of her parents who finally separated when she was 12 years old.  There are articles which state she even attempted to end her life a couple of times, and if this is true, it is really heart-breaking!

With age, slowly her roles as a child artiste started dwindling. When she was 16, her mother remarried again and Baby Naaz stayed with her mother but she was not happy. In 1960, she starred in Sohrab Modi’s Mera Ghar Mere Bachche. This was probably her first adult role where she played the role of his teenage daughter who secretly falls in love with a car mechanic played by actor Subbi Raj. Incidentally Subbi Raj was actor Raj Kapoor’s cousin. They became close to one another in real life and and got married in 1963.

Here is a lovely song picturized on them from the film:

Apparently, Raj Kapoor who had faith in her talent, had expressed his desire to send Baby Naaz to Switzerland to join a finishing school after the completion of which he planned to launch her as a heroine. But her ambitious mother could not wait so long and she pushed her daughter to accept any role which came her way. Owing to the awkward age, she could not get good heroine roles. Barring a few character roles, she could not make a mark as an adult actress. Her best-known role as an adult remains that of playing Rajesh Khanna’s sister in the super-hit Sachha Jhoota (1971). (Adult roles of Baby Naaz could make for a separate blog-post).

Slowly she started compering shows for Kalyanji-Anandji and also became a dubbing artiste and dubbed for Sridevi in her early films. Tragically, at the young age of 51, on October 19th, 1995, she succumbed to liver cancer and the industry lost one of its most-loved child artistes. Her presence as a child artiste had been so impactful that she remained Baby Naaz even after she grew up and was addressed by this name till the end. Looking back, she had a great innings as a child artiste and worked with the best directors and stars and her short but sweet innings will always be remembered with love.

I end the blog with this lovely song from Devdas. As a bonus, the first two minutes also show the scenes preceding the song and Baby Naaz’s natural acting steals our heart.

5 thoughts on “Remembering the lovable child artiste- Baby Naaz

  1. What a wonderful blogpost. It reads like the screenplay of a movie charecter. All aspects of her personality have been covered comprehensively. She all but comes to life as one reads this exhaustive post. Very well done. Keep it up

    Liked by 1 person

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