Coming of Age: Child stars that could make it bigby Dhruv Somani August 9 2020, 8:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 44 secs
Film historian, Dhruv Somani, looks back at Bollywood’s babies and moppets who could make that tough transition to leading roles.
Children in Hindi cinema have been sugar and spice and all things nice because that’s the way we have always perceived our children to be. After all, the urge to flaunt one’s child is irresistible. In the process, our cinema created the wonder child, typified quintessentially by the Irani sisters - Daisy and Honey - and Baby Naaz.
Before them, adored child actors namely; Nargis and Meena Kumari, proved to become legendary artistes. The hit girl Asha Parekh had to cut short her studies at the J.B. Petit High School for Girls to face the camera and lights as a loveable moppet. And of course, there was Sridevi whose childhood was spent at the south Indian studios enacting countless kiddy roles and she was also seen as a teenager in Julie.
On screen, children were shown to be incredibly intelligent, ever ready with smart-alecky answers and one-liners guaranteed to evoke warmth and laughter. They could even belt out trenchant dialogue credibly like Master Sajid did in Mehboob Khan’s Mother India. However in Khan’s Son of India, the same child became somewhat of a caricature, especially in the courtroom climax, which looked contrived.
For this Sunday’s column, I look back at the child stars that could make the difficult transition to leading roles, to become glittering names on the movie marquee.
Take the instance Aftab Shivdasani. He could never make it to the A-list as a hero. His coming of age, however, is worth studying. Before he sprouted whiskers, he was noticed in Mr. India and Chaalbaaz. Popular as the Complan boy in commercial ads, he returned as an adult in Mast. Ill-selected roles, particularly is sex comedies, perhaps, blindsided his market equity.
Child artistes Hansika Motwani and Rajni Sharma could also make the grade to a degree as leading ladies but neither is too visible on the scene today.
Neil Nitin Mukesh appeared in Yash Chopra’s Vijay and then in Jaisi Karni Waisi Bharni, to make his mark as a hero (or anti-hero if you like) in Johnny Gaddaar. Sana Saeed who made an impact in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, on growing up, featured in Student of the Year.
As is widely known, top-rung actors Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan also appeared in their father’s films. Kunal Khemmu, a natural-born child actor who was noticed in Zakhm, Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke and Raja Hindustani made the transition to lead roles with Kalyug, Traffic Signal, Dhol, Golmaal Again and the recent Kalank and web series Lootcase.
Over then, to a selection of more of the little ones who made it big-time:
Nanda Karnataki was born on January 8th 1941, to a Marathi family in Bombay. Her father was the popular actor Master Vinayak. At the age of five she faced the camera reluctantly to enact a boy’s role in Mandir (1948). Her father passed away prematurely during the filming of Mandir, which was completed by Dinkar Patil. The film’s success led to more assignments in Jaggu, Angarey and Agra Road to cite a few examples.
As a teenager she was spotted dressed in a traditional saree, after which she played the part of a sister in Toofan Aur Deeya, directed by Prabhat Kumar for V. Shantaram’s Rajkamal Kalamandir banner. She went on to become one of the top actresses of the 1960s, making a winsome pair particularly with Shashi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna.
Born in Amritsar, he debuted in Ragini, the film in which he played the role of the young Kishore Kumar. He also did some mythological of that era like Balyogi Upamanyu and after a sabbatical came back as a hero in Ek Thi Reeta opposite Tanuja. Called Vinod Mehra, he was selected as one of the finalists in the All-India Talent Contest of 1965 organized by the United Producers and Filmfare; but lost the first rank to Rajesh Khanna.
A reliable actor, his filmography of over 100 films includes Pardey Ke Peechhey, Elaan, Anuraag, Lal Patthar, Amar Prem, Nagin, Jaani Dushman, Kartavya, Bemisal, Ghar and Jurmana. He passed away suddenly in 1990, leaving his dream production and directorial venture Gurudev, starring Rishi Kapoor and Sridevi unfinished. Raj Sippy completed it.
Born in 1939 in Datia, (near Gwalior) Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed Jafri’s father was a lawyer for the maharaja of Datia. Following his father’s death, at the age of seven he lost every asset belonging to the family during partition. Lore goes that he survived on the footpaths of Bombay with his family doing odd jobs like selling knives, combs and soaps.
The youngest of ten siblings, his fortunes turned with B.R. Chopra’s Afsana. He played the young Kishore Kumar in Dhobi Doctor and caught the public eye with Do Bheega Zameen, Naukri, Footpath (in which he played the young Dilip Kumar), Railway Platform and Dhake ki Malmal. He adopted the screen name of Jagdeep. After playing a hero for a while, he opted for comedy, and became one of the prominent funsters in Noor Mahal, Pardey Ke Peechhey, Sarhadi Lutera, Punar Milan, Poonam Ki Raat, Naunihal and Kaun Ho Tum. His eye-catching performance in Sholay (1975), became iconic after which he directed a film titled Soorma Bhopali. He passed away last month, at the age of 81, after a prolonged illness.
Born as Kiran Bala Sachdev, she kickstarted her career as a child actor in a film called Nargis, followed up by Mera Suhaag, Majhdhar, Bari Bahen, Deedar (in which she played the young Nargis). She made a mark with Baiju Bawra, portraying a younger Meena Kumari. She resurfaced as an adult with Zimbo ka Beta, Ganwaar, Bachpan, Heer Raanjha and Gambler among several others.
She became a pioneer by hosting the first talk show, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, which was on television for almost 21 years. She directed Tum Par Hum Qurban, to launch her son Hoshang Govil, in vain albeit. Today, she has her own YouTube channel, Tabassum Talkies, which is pretty popular, especially with the nostalgia-philes.
She made her debut with Dilip Kumar’s Ganga Jamuna, when she was nine years old. Daughter of stage artistes Faridun and Shaguna Irani, Baby Aruna was also seen in Anpadh. She graduated to grown-up roles with Parasmani. Sister of director Indra Kumar, her vast stock of films include Andaz, Bombay to Goa, Caravan, Garam Masala, Do Phool, Bobby, Khel Khel Mein and Beta. She continues to act and at one stage, she was extremely active in producing TV serials.
She earned adulation with films made in the south along with her brother Yogesh Bali. Next, she was the young Vyjayanthimala in Chhoti Si Mulaqat (1967). She was introduced as a Bollywood heroine in Jawab Aayega, opposite Ravikant and acted in a variety of films, notably; Pardey Ke Peechhey, Ajnabee, Mehbooba, Free Love, Jaani Dushman, Nagin and Oh Bewaffa. She was married to Kishore Kumar and after separation, with Mithun Chakraborty.
One of the perkiest child stars of yesteryears, she was the young Nutan in Sujata and among other films, was seen in Ram Aur Shyam, Dosti, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Kabuliwala, Brahmachari and Sangam. Her parents who were apprehensive about her switching to heroine roles encouraged her to quit the studios and to get married and settle down.
She was back almost two decades later with the TV serials Uttaran and Ghar Ki Lakshmi Betiaan and also films like 3 Idiots and Dhol. Affectionately, because of her kindly nature, she has been nicknamed Farida Dadi. Incidentally, Dadi is also her real-life married surname.
Baby Sonia/Neetu Singh
Born as Harneet Kaur, she became a child actor by chance. On one of her holiday trips to Bombay, she had visited a couple of studios to watch film shootings with her mother. On one of the sets, she looked unhappy to see another child actor perform a shot and began to practice the scene in her own way. Impressed, the film’s producer signed her on for Dus Lakh.
She returned to her boarding school but Bombay beckoned her again to attend the silver jubilee celebrations of Dus Lakh. On sighting her Panju of the Krishnan-Panju duo signed her on for a double role in Do Kaliyan (remake of Hollywood’s Parent Trap) with Biswajeet and Mala Sinha. She featured in quite a few Hindi language films made in Madras like Suraj, Waaris and Ghar Ghar ki Kahani and was constantly jetting between Delhi-Bombay-Madras - breaking the earlier diktat child stars and their mothers travelling by train.
Inexorably, Baby Sonia moved to adult roles and became an overnight heartthrob as Neetu Singh with Rikshawala and a cameo in Yaadon Ki Baarat. She married Rishi Kapoor soon after, with whom she had co-starred in many breezy entertainers, and in latter-years returned to the screen in his company with Do Dooni Char, Love Aaj Kal, Besharam and Jab Tak Hai Jaan, after which she decided to quit forever.
He was only four years old when he starred in Raja Paranjpe’s Marathi film Ha Maaza Marg Ekla, an adaptation of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kida, which fetched him the National Award for Best Child Actor.
His debut in Bollywood was with Zimbo Ka Beta followed by Nishaan with Sanjeev Kumar. Master Sachin was seen in films like Majhli Didi, Jewel Thief, Chanda Aur Bijlee, Brahmachari, Mela and Sholay. As an adult actor the Rajshree Productions’ in Geet Gata Chal cast him opposite another former child artiste Sarika. The popular pair reappeared in Jaan-e-Bahar and Anjaam.
Sachin Pilgaonkar achieved mass appeal with Ankhiyon ke Jharonkhon Se (a spin on Hollywood’s Love Story), Balika Badhu, College Girl, Nadiya Ke Paar, Gopal Krishna and Aur Kaun. He shifted to supporting roles with Avatar, Trishul, Judaai, Krodhi and Satte Pe Satta. He directed Prem Deewane, a film for Subhash Ghai, and later on helmed Aisi Bhi Kya Jaldi Hai. Today, he is active in the Marathi film industry as an actor-cum-director, and frequently shows up in web series.
Master Sooraj - Sarika
Born in Delhi, she started acting at the age of five, going by the name of Master Sooraj in Baalak, Satyakam, Aashirwaad, Beti, Devi and Chhoti Bahu. She was remarkably effective in Humraaz as the daughter of Vimi. She was sprinting ahead but missed going to school.
As an adult she debuted in Rajshree’s Geet Gata Chal opposite Sachin. Her other impressive performances can be evidenced in Vidhaata, Kranti, Devata, Dil Aur Deewar, Jaani Dushman, Bin Phere Hum Tere, Daulat, Pyara Dushman, Sannata, Dahshat, Jyoti Bane Jwala, Shreeman Shrimati and Kunwari Bahu.
She quit acting for while after she was married to Kamal Hassan only to return after a decade with the critically acclaimed Parzania (for which she won the Best Actress National Award) and other films like Manorama Six Feet Under, Bheja Fry and Baabul. Separated from Kamal Haasan, she has moved back from Chennai to Mumbai. Her daughters Shruti and Akshara, are both actors.
She was the second among the three daughters of musician Pandharinath and his wife Nirupama Kolhapure. Padmini and her elder sister Sivangi were popular child singers, often rendering playback for films.
Their family is related to the Mangeshkar family. Indeed, Asha Bhosle recommended Baby Padmini’s name for Dev Anand’s Ishq Ishq Ishq. After that, the child star went on to appear in Dream Girl, Zindagani and Saajan Bina Suhagan.
Raj Kapoor cast her as the young Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivan Sundaram, and critics raved about her performance of a rape victim in B.R. Chopra’s Insaaf Ka Tarazu, as well as that of a girl possessed by a spirit in Aruna Raje’s Gehrayee (a la The Exorcist).
As a heroine, she was rated as an actress of substance with Ahista Ahista, Zamane ko Dikhana Hai, Prem Rog, Vidhaata, Swami Dada, Lovers, Mazdoor, Souten and Woh Saat Din. She continues to act occasionally in Hindi and Marathi films, and once in a while, on stage.
She featured in a spate of films but is immediately recallable for The Burning Train, singing Teri Hai Zameen Tera Aasmaan with a group of children. Her other films were Laawaris, Naseeb, Kaalia and Bemisal. Sunil Dutt directed her in Dard Ka Rishta in which she played his daughter suffering from leukemia.
As an adult she found a break with Meri Jung, shaking a leg to the chartbuster Bol Baby Bol Rock and Roll with Javed Jaffery. She was also seen in Tan Badan, Janoo and Deewana Mujhsa Nahin after which she moved to Chennai where she gained superstardom.
Known for her forthright political views, it’s believed that her fans at one point, built a temple in her name.
She was introduced in Dr. Shreeram Lagoo’s Marathi film Zakool and played a boy in Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug. She was adored in Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoom. Her other films as a child artiste include Dacait, Bhavna, Sur Sangam and Bade Ghar ki Beti.
As a grown-up, Urmila Matondkar was cast in the Malayalam film Chanakan (1989), opposite Kamal Hassan. In between she also did some video films of Nari Hira after which she appeared in N. Chandra’s Narsimha. She went on to become a frontline actress with noteworthy performances in Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Chamatkar, Rangeela, Satya, Daud, Ek Haseena Thi, Bhoot, Jaanam Samjha Karo, Judaai, Kaun, Mast, Tehzeeb and Pinjar. Her collaborations with director Ram Gopal Varma often yielded her most engrossing films.
She contested the general elections as Congress candidate but lost. So far, Urmila has kept away from the digital medium and says she will make her comeback on finding a script, which