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Child's Play

entertainment Updated: Apr 23, 2008 19:20 IST
Ashok Rai

Right at this moment, the focus is on Darsheel Safary. His outstanding, natural performance as a dyslexic 10-year-old had the nation crying their hearts out into their hankies in the dark of the multiplexes.

Since then, the adorable Peddar Road boy has been interviewed ceaselessly. Everything from his favourite actor/actress and breakfast cereal to his school subject has been avidly chronicled.

He showed up to walk the ramp at the Fashion Week in Mumbai, at a fee rumoured to be in several lakhs. For consumer product endorsements and more movie roles, too, the sum decreed is the kind of money that’s in the realm of dreams.

Plus, Darsheel isn’t permitted to attend award shows unless he is winning the highest-rung award (no child actor awards needed).

What Hollywood did to Macaulay Culkin after the stupendously successful Home Alone, is happening to Darsheel Safary, in a mitigated degree perhaps, but it’s happening. And this is not to say that the kid does not deserve it. With Aamir Khan as his mentor, he is in the right considerate hands, goes the gut feeling.

Indeed, child actors now get much more remuneration and prominence than they have been doled out in the past. The savvy kid has raised the bar. But.. On viewing the larger picture, doubts gnaw. Can he or any child actor for that matter partake of the joys and innocence attached to growing up? On a positive note, you hope that his parents and those in charge of his business portfolio, will ensure that he remains unaffected.. and normal. Tough. So, here’s going fingers and toes crossed.

<b1>In fact through the decades, there have been child stars and superstar child stars. And there have been the questions: Is there an endemic danger of their minds getting warped? Could they, lord forbid, become bitter on growing up..when the parade’s gone by?



One-dimensional only Simplistic answers, simplistic judgements aren’t possible when it comes to the unreal world of star children. Be it America’s legendary curly top Shirley Temple of Hollywood or Baby Naaz of Bombay moviedom, star kids grow up, with the past hanging over them like so many thick monsoon clouds.



Naaz could never match up to her kiddie glory days. She played the lead role in RK’s

Boot Polish

, besides featuring in 50 films as a kid, including

Gunga Jumna

and

Kaagaz ke Phool

.



Towards the fag end of her life, she had tomake do with dubbing assignments. She voiced the dialogue of Sridevi and other heroines, she became an also-heard.



As for her

Boot Polish

knee-high hero Master Ratan, he vanished into thin air. That he had featured in the memorable

Baiju Bawra

,

Do Bigha Zamin

,

Jagriti

and

Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke

, hardly counted.



Public memory is short, the film industry’s shorter. One theory has it that he had migrated; the other more realistic one that he was working as a production person in Ramesh Sippy’s office during the

Sholay-Saagar

days.

Still the same


Roly poly and precocious, Baby Tabassum was so steeped in film mannerisms that to date she behaves as if she were performing before the camera, a quality which she used to a fair measure of advantage in the

jhatak-matak

celebrity show

Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan

in the days of black-and-white Doordarshan.



For anyone growing up on cinema of the 1950s,

Baby Naaz

was the epitome of sweetness. On touching her teens, she featured as leading lady in B-graders for a while, including Juari opposite Shashi Kapoor.



She wasn’t accepted as a heroine, just the way Master Ratan did not get to the lead star league.



Siblings rule

Naaz was edged out, from the junior league, by the saucer-eyed sisters Daisy and Honey both of whom played boy roles. They held a virtual monopoly on kid star roles, appearing in as many as 100 of them, and together in the near-forgotten

Zameen ke Taare

, about a road trek by orphans to find parents. As adults, Daisy and Honey showed up in inconsequential parts in blockbusters like

Seeta aur Geeta

and

Kati Patang

.

On interviewing them separately, they both expressed deep resentment towards their mother, who used physical violence to keep them awake at unearthly hours at the studios. The trauma faced by the sisters was so intense that when either speak of them candidly about their childhood, you respect their request to keep their experience off the record.



<b3>Not everyone has horror stories to tell. Urmila Matondkar has no complaints about going through a childhood of all work, no play. Ditto Pallavi Joshi. Some child actors who could make the transition from kiddie roles to the front slot are Meena Kumari (Baby Meena, as she was called, started out at the age of seven with Leather face), Madhubala (at nine, she was called Baby Mumtaz in Basant), and Nargis (at six as Baby Rani, she was featured in Talaash-e-haque).



Some are lucky


Then there was Sridevi who at age four, fetched up in the Tamil

Kandnan Karunai

. And Sarika at age five in

Humraaz

. In Bombay cinema, male moppets, however, have not evolved into heroes, unless you count Aftab Shivdasani,who was first seen in Mr India. Jugal Hansraj, the heartbreaker of

Masoom

, waited for stardom patiently before turning to the other option of helming an animated movie.



Parroting overwritten dialogue and often directed to be noxious chweetie pies, child stars have frequently evoked murderous instincts in the audience. Being cute is one thing, being irritating another.



Remembered for Yet despite, their weirder-than- life roles, some babies and moppets did leave an impression: notably Baby Farida, Baby Pinky, Baby Guddu, Master Alankar, Master Satyajeet, Babloo, Bunty Behl, Mahesh (now a producer-director), Master Raju (brilliant in Kitaab but that’s it) and Sachin (producer-director-actor, currently directing and acting in films).



Master Mayur made an industry out of being an Amitabh Bachchan Jr (the less commented on this the better). Mehmood Jr had his flash moments of fame, especially with his debut in

Brahmachari

.


Education first


Okay, if the parents aren’t solictious enough—in nine cases of 10, they are not — and view the kids as golden geese, there’s bound to be trouble and a disturbed psyche.



Gratifyingly, Parzaan, the boy wonder from Karan Johar’s

Kuch Kuch Hota

Hai seems to have been pulled out by his parents from the studios, to complete his studies. There was the controversy over the

Vastu Shashtra

whiz kid Ahsaas. Unbeknownst to the director, the knee-high girl had been passed off as a boy.



No one objected to Honey and Daisy turning into boys.. but in Ahsaas’ case, it was his father who sparked personal objections. The kid, as you had watched him at a film shoot,was a natural born performer. Terrific before the camera. And his mother had responded cagily, “I ensure that he keeps upwith his studies. He’s a bright child.”



It had been alleged that the child had not been made aware about its gender. To this the mother had replied firmly, “Ahsaas knows that she is a girl.”



The kid had pranced up to you, and nodded in agreement eagerly. The mother, a TV actress herself, had requested that the lengthy interview you had done with her should not be published. Fair enough, since she insisted that itwould only complicate the already complicated lives of the parents and their child. Enough said?