Bollywood's Bright Little Stars
The Early Years (1930s – 40s)
The early years of Hindi cinema saw some of the super stars of later years playing as child stars. Nargis (Baby Nargis) was perhaps the first great star to perform as a child star when she appeared in Talashe Haq (1935). She was then three year old. She again charmed the audiences in Tamanna (1942). Meena Kumari (Baby Meena) became the most favorite child actress of the directors in the 40s and was often cast to perform as the heroin in her childhood – Pooja, Ek Hi Bhool, Nai Roshni, Kasauti, Behn, Garib, Pratigya and Lal Haveli. Madhubala (Baby Mumtaz) spread her captivating smile on the screen as a child artiste in Basant and some other movies before she captured the audience attention as the most beautiful actress in Mahal.
The Golden Age (1950s – 70s)
Rightly regarded as the golden age of Hindi cinema because of the most beautiful films made during the period, it was also the era of the finest child stars that contributed in no small measure to make it so. The Irani sisters, Daisy Irani and Honey Irani, became household names and the films, which had both these sisters, fetched the biggest openings. Stories were re-written to include them in the cast or increase their footage in the films and they were prominently publicized in the promos of their movies. Their most remembered movies, together or separate, include Bandish, Jagte Raho, Bhai Bhai, Naya Daur, Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke, Musafir, Sahara, Quedi No. 911, Duniya Na Mane, Do Ustad, Dhool Ka Phool, Soorat Aur Seerat and Chandi Ki Diwar. Daisy Irani who was definitely more popular than her younger sister Honey as a child artiste, continued to act after growing up, though not in any significant roles, while Honey Irani made a mark as story and screenplay writer – Lawarris, Jab Pyar Kisi Se hota Hai, Suhag, Darr, Lamhe, Kaho Na pyar Hai, Koi Mil Gaya and Krish. Another equally popular child artiste during their time was Tabassum (Baby Tabassum). She first faced the camera at the age of three and worked her way up as child star in several films in the early 50s that included many hit movies – Mera Suhaag, Sargam, Deedar, Bahar, Moti Mahal and Baap Beti. One of the most talented performer in the industry, she made a significant statement on growing up that could be said for any child artiste – “After having been around for so long as a child artiste, it’s difficult to be accepted by people suddenly as a romantic heroin. From a little doll to a diva over whom the nation doles is a difficult act to follow.” Tabassum continued to work after overgrown for child roles, though not as heroin, in some movies – Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hun, Johny Mera Naam, Hulchul, Chameli Ki Shadi, Agnipath, Hum etc. She became immensely popular as the host of radio program on Vividh Bharti, “Phool Khilen Hain Gulshan Gulshan”, interviewing film stars.
Raj Kapoor’s highly acclaimed classic, Boot Polish, brought to limelight two stunningly talented child stars, Baby Naaz and Ratan Kumar. Baby Naaz, better known as the Boot Polish girl, remained one of the most applauded child artistes of the 50s with great hits like Gunah, Subha Ka Tara, Raftar, Mast Qalandar, Lagan, Kundan, Devdas (young Paro), Rajdhani, Ek Shola, Ek Hi Raasta, Payal, Yahudi, Lajwanti, Ghar Sansar, Ghar Grihasti, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Jagir, Char Dil Char Rahen, Ardhangini, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayee and Ganga Jamuna. The grown up Baby Naaz continued to act in supporting roles – Dushman, Amar Prem, Haathi Mere Saathi, Kati Patang, Shor, Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki and more. Ratan Kumar, the Boot Polish boy, gave beautiful performance in Afsana, Baiju Bawra (young Baiju), Do Bigha Zamin and Jagriti. He later migrated to Pakistan where he enjoyed his career as a leading man. Ratan Kumar’s place was soon filled with another great performer, Master Romi. He no less impressed the audiences in hit movies like Footpath, Dil-E-Nadan, Toote Khilone, Munna, Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke, Do Phool and Ab Dilli Dur Nahin. As he grew up, in late 60s one of the brightest child artistes, Mehmood Jr. became the darling of the audiences as well as the directors. His comic timing was as perfect as of Mehmood, the greatest comedian the Hindi cinema ever produced. In fact, Mehmood Jr. proved one up on his senior while rendering ‘Kale hain to kya hua dil wale hain’. Some of his hit films include Sangharsh, Brahmchari, Pyar Hi Pyar, Anjana, Chanda Aur Bijli, Yaadgar, Kati Patang, Aan Milo Sajna, Ramu Ustaad, Haathi Mere Saathi, Chhoti Behn, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Do Raaste. Another child star who dominated the Hindi screen during the period was Master Raju. First cast as a three year old in Parichay by Gulzar, he went on to become almost a must-have in Hindi films in the 70s, often stealing the scenes from the lead actors, as in Kitab.
The period also saw some of the leading actresses starting their career as child artistes, like Nargis, Madhubala and Meena Kumari did in the 40s. Baby Nanda was part of films like Jaggu and Angaarey in the early 50s. Neetu Singh, who grew into Rishi Kapoor’s screen and life partner, also began as a child artiste Baby Sonia in the super hit Do Kalian, followed by other roles in Pavitra Paapi and Waaris. Rishi himself gave a sterling performance as a child artiste in Mera Naam Joker. Sarika grew into pretty actress after playing child artiste, often little boy roles – Manjhali Didi, Hamraaz, Ashirwad, Satyakam, Jyoti, Balak, Devi, Jawan Mohabbat and Haar Jeet. Padmini Kolhapur was extraordinary as the young Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram and from there went on to become a very powerful performer in Prem Rog.
The New Age (1980s onwards)
Masoom, Shekhar Kapoor’s hit movie of the 80s, ushered in the new era of child artistes with two bright little stars, Jugal Hansraj and Urmila Mantodkar. Jugal was adjudged by critics as one of the most talented child artistes of Hindi cinema with his award winning performance in the movie. Unfortunately there weren’t more child roles to follow and he remained famous as the Masoom boy for years before he appeared in the forgettable role of Muhabbatein. Urmila Mantodkar on the other hand left far behind ‘Lathi-ki-kathi-kathi-ka-ghoda days to transform her Masoom image to the Rangeeli of every adult fantasy. Its not just Ram Gopal Verma factor that’s taken Urmila to where she is. It’s the way she managed to break away from her Masoom identity and packaged her in a new hot avatar. Kunal Khemu made his adorable entry as child artiste in Ham Hain Rahi Pyar Ke followed by Raja Hindustani and Zakhm for which he won National Award for Best Child Artiste. Not deterred by the belief that good child actors seldom make successful stars, he is working hard to make it a success in Bollywood, bagging an important role in Madhur Bhandarkar’s next movie, Signal. Amongst the current favorites as child stars are Shweta Prasad, Rucha Vaidya and Aisha Kapoor. Shweta was immensely delightful in double role of Chunni-Munni in Vishal Bhadwaj’s Makdi. She again impressed audiences with her performance in Nagesh Kuknoor’s Iqbal, although she got more mention for being the Makdi girl than for her role in Iqbal. After innumerable TV ads, Rucha Vaidya made a mark with her very powerful performance in Main Aisa Hi Hoon with Ajay Devgan and Ek Ajanbi with Amitabh Bachchan. This little girl has expressed a desire to be a scientist when she grows up. Ayesha Kapoor, the little girl with wild curls became the darling of the nation after she lit up Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black. With her award winning performance she easily eclipsed every little star that twinkled this year or the several years past. Literally, like the diamond in the nursery rhyme, this half-German, half-Indian girl dazzled us with the heights she scaled at the age of nine.
Bollywood’s little stars have always been shining bright, some very bright. It is very heartening to note that with the turn of the millennium some of the most talented child stars have been spotted. These child artistes have startled the audiences with their stunning performance while playing side by side of super stars, even stealing some of their scenes. The living legend of Hindi cinema, Amitabh Bachchan, who has shared varied experiences with talented child artistes like Aisha Kapoor in Black and Rucha Vaidya in Ek Ajanbi, has this to say on Bollywood’s little bright stars – “It’s amazing the way they act. In spite of being young, they have tremendous self-confidence. What’s fascinating is that they get their shots right in one take, while we senior actors keep giving retakes. These little children are, indeed, very intelligent.”