He is all of nine years old,but Darsheel Safary has given ace actor Aamir Khan a good run for his money in
Taare Zameen Par
. So last week, when the little prodigy said he should be “chosen the best actor, not the best child actor,” there were quite a few who backed his call.
As for precedents, even a fleeting glance around the world provides plenty of them. In 2004, Japanese film Nobody Knows’s 14-year-old star Yagira Yuya won the best actor prize at the Cannes film festival. The following year, it was the turn of 10-year-old Jin-bin Park to be voted best actor at the New Montreal film festival for his performance in the Korean film Little Brother.
The Oscar Academy of course is even more favourably disposed towards child actors, nominating 10-year-old Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin as the best supporting actress against the majestic Cate Blanchett last year. And Justin Harry, when nominated in the same category for Kramer vs Kramer back in 1980, was even younger than Safary.
In India, child actors may not be awarded on a par with the adults but they have come up with equally wonderful performances. In fact, from Raj Kapoor and Rekha in the golden yesteryears to Hrithik Roshan, Kamal Hassan and Aamir Khan in the present, many of our brightest stars made their film debut as children.
Also legendary are tales of horrifying exploitation. Sarika, for instance, was exploited by her mother who did not send her to school and placed the four-year-old in front of the camera and lived off her earnings for years.
Today, the demand for child actors has gone through the roof, extending beyond film to primetime soaps, reality shows and advertisements. But even as opportunities are aplenty, child actors find the competition draining.
Last year, the Sa Re Ga Ma Little Champs and Voice of India: Chhote Ustad talent shows pulled in kids from Jabalpur, Kurukshetra, Lucknow, Ludhiana and Raipur in unprecedented ways.
Safary himself beat down 5,900 other children to land the “lead” in Aamir’s directorial debut, where he not only gets top billing but also carries the entire first half of the film by himself.
Now, with childish forthrightness, he has demanded the top awards too. Perhaps, the next blockbuster carried on a child’s shoulders will see the venerable ladies and gentlemen of the jury heeding his call.