To limit myself to just five favourite child actors and their performances is like putting me on a diet of one frugal meal a day. I say this because I belong to the children’s wonderland where, for me, every child is special. Small inflections, little gestures, a valued grain in the voice, all contribute to some of the most honest performances in cinema, leading to my belief that thespians should humbly learn from spirited and truthful child actors. Since I am being restricted to that one frugal meal, consisting of five showcases of talent, I shall comply.
1. Mohsen Ramezani in The Color of Paradise
A very able sightless performer, he was 10 years old when he captured hearts around the world. The protagonist of Majid Majidi’s The Color of Paradise (1999), Mohsen plays Mohammed, a sightless boy from the hills of Iran, dumped by a heartless father in a state-run boarding school in order to create a conducive environment for a new bride. The boy’s father has no intentions to take him back home in the holidays. A symbiosis, later in the film, touches new lows when a sightless carpenter takes little Mohammed as his apprentice in the wake of him being bundled out of the family. The keen understanding of a blind child playing a blind character crushes you with such ferocity that it is not possible to utter a word after the viewing experience.
2. Babek Ahmed Poor in Where Is The Friend’s Home?
I couldn’t get past Babek Ahmed Poor’s portrayal of little boy Ahmed in Abbas Kiarostami’s cine-poem, Where Is The Friend’s Home? (1987). Little Ahmed is concerned about having mistakenly carried home his friend’s book in his satchel, and wonders about the severity of punishment if his friend returned to class the next day without the homework done. The trials and tribulations of Ahmed, whose friend resides in a village a few hills away, is an example of what a poet of cinema can etch out from a supremely transparent box of delight, namely the child played by Ahmed Poor.
3. Master Tarun in Subarnarekha and Subir Banerjee and Uma Dasgupta in Pather Panchali
Here I would like to list three protagonists from two films. I am talking about Abhiram, played by Master Tarun from Ritwik Ghatak’s partition epic Subarnarekha (1962), and Apu and Durga in Satyajit Ray’s cinematic treatise Pather Panchali (1955), played by Subir Banerjee and Uma Dasgupta respectively. If, in our nation something has rung true in terms of cadence, flavour, pitch and tone, then it belongs to these Indian stalwarts whose age defies all pre-conceived notions of adults kidding down children. All this, much before Indian cinema began stereotyping children’s roles as cute little muppets.
4. Jugal Hansraj in Masoom
When Shekhar Kapur set out to make Masoom (1983), an adaptation of Man, Woman and Child, he set off a chain reaction of motherly emotions even among brothers and fathers. Ably assisted by child actors Urmila Matondkar and Aradhana, the vulnerable little boy Rahul, played by Jugal Hansraj, walked into the hearts of all viewers. What were the boy’s thoughts when he was playing the complex role of a castaway child? My guess is Kapur steered the boy’s heart and mind through the complexity of the role, little Jugal unmindful of it.
5. Partho Gupte in Stanley Ka Dabba
The child is the father of the man... In this case I’m talking about Partho Gupte, who played Stanley in Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) with measured reserve. How does an upper middle-class child portray an environment to which he doesn’t belong? It may sound a tad nepotistic to bring Partho in this hall of memorable performances, but I can’t help telling the truth.
Amol Gupte is a filmmaker, who has made several children’s interest movies, many of which star his own son, Partho Gupte (See point 5 above).
From HT Brunch, December 25, 2016
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