Once Were Children

The transition of child actors to adulthood is often painful and has seen many, many careers round the world die out or have limited success once these children grew up. Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, no less, were among those who found the going extremely tough once adolescence kicked in. In India too, Tabassum, Naaz, Daisy and Honey Irani, Master Raju amongst others saw their careers faltering once they became adults while some like Sachin and Sarika had but limited success playing leading roles.

But some of this little thespians did manage a seemingly impossible and successful crossing over to the other side, so to say. In fact, they had far more glorious and successful careers once they grew up, becoming huge stars in their adulthood. In this feature, I look at songs of some of them in their lesser-known avatars when they were tiny tots.

The Venus of the Indian screen as she was called and arguably India’s most beautiful heroine ever first made her mark as a child actress in Bombay Talkies’ Basant (1942). As Baby Mumtaz, she played the child of the lead pair, Mumtaz Shanti and Ulhas and had a couple of songs in the film as well.

Meena Kumari:
The Tragedy Queen too donned the greasepaint on when but a little child. Beginning with Vijay Bhatt’s Leather Face (1939), she played a child artiste in various films amongst them playing the childhood of heroine Noor Jehan in Lal Haveli. (1944). Here she is enjoying a song from the film as one of the audience.

Rishi Kapoor:
He won the National Award for Best Child Actor in his father, Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus, Mera Naam Joker (1970). Though the film flopped and it has to be said due to Raj Kapoor’s indulgences, the first chapter where Rishi Kapoor plays his father’s childhood is absolutely brilliant. Rarely has Indian mainstream Indian cinema captured that first crush (for his teacher, Simi Garewal) and sexual awakening in a young boy better. Here are some sequences of Rishi Kapoor from the film.

Neetu Singh:

Rishi Kapoor’s other half and leading star of the 70s, she began as Baby Sonia, best known for the dual roles of twin girls in the Hindi version of The Parent Trap (1961), Do Kaliyan (1968). Playing both the ‘kaliyans’, with two distinct looks, she brings her estranged parents, Mala Sinha and Biswajeet together. Here she is  in both avatars in a song from the film.

Kamal Haasan:
One of India’s greatest actors, Kamal Hassan was born to act. He worked with the holy trinity of Tamil cinema in his a career as a child artiste – MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan between 1960 and 1963. Barely 5, Haasan made a terrific impact in Kalathur Kannamma (1960), his debut film, playing the son of Savithri and Gemini who grows up in an orphanage. Looking at the clip, I repeat – he was born to act!

Well before she became a leading heroine who not only conquered South India but the entire nation in the 1980s and early 90s, Sridevi had already learnt the art of winning hearts as a child actor in several films starting with Kandan Karunai (1967) where she played the child Muruga. Here she is in her element in the Muthuraman-Jai Shankar- Lakshmi starrer, Kanimuthu Pappa (1972).

Urmila Matondkar:
Little Urmila Matondkar acted in films such as the Marathi film Zaakol (1980) and Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug (1981) before scoring heavily as the elder daughter of Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in Shekhar Kapur’s version of Man, Woman and Child, Masoom (1982). Here she is with co-stars Jugal Hansraj and Aradhana in what is possibly one for the finest children’s songs ever written for Hindi cinema.

Header Picture: Shashi Kapoor as the young Raj Kapoor in Awara (1951).

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  1. Wow,
    THe article brings out the artistic aspects of these movies in a way that was never done ever.. takes away any ‘flaky connotation’ that many Hindi & Regional movies were tagged with, esp by the Hollywood philes of yesteryears. Great read!

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