EVERY once in a while in the movies, a performance by a child actor leaves a mark. When we see them in real life, most of them turn out to be extensions of the characters they have played on screen. Parth Bhalerao isn’t one of them. When the 14-year-old went up on stage to receive the award for the Best Child Actor at the recent 21st Life OK Screen Awards for his role in Bhoothnath Returns, he came across as any shy kid next door. Unlike the character in the film, Akhrot, a pint-sized, mischievous slum child, who dampens the efforts made by the ghost — played by Amitabh Bachchan — to scare him, Bhalerao barely managed to put together a sentence in his acceptance speech. Yet when host Sidharth Malhotra asked him do a jig, Bhalerao put up an impromptu show, matching steps with the actor. Transforming into a consummate performer in a jiffy, on stage or in front of the camera, comes easily to him. “Acting allows you to be where one can be what one isn’t in real life,” he says.
Pune-based Bhalerao is just two films old — Bhoothnath Returns and Killa. But thanks to his training in theatre, he is a confident actor. But, it took a while for him to move to centrestage. A backbencher in New English School in Ramanbaugh, he was in Class V, when a theatre group came looking for new actors. Bhalerao still doesn’t know what caught the eye of his drama teacher Ravindra Satpute. But he got the role of “chhota don”, a badass kid, who takes on the bigger guys. Four years later, he plays the protagonist’s friend Bandya, in the Marathi indie movie Killa, directed by Avinash Arun. He is a likable bully, who soon becomes an emotional catalyst in the protagonist’s life.
He owes it all, he says, to the basics of theatre. “The first thing I learnt in theatre was to speak loudly, so that the audience can hear me. And to never turn my back to them. Theatre continues to be my first love and I still act in plays. I enjoy the instant audience reaction I get there,” says the actor, when we meet him at an Andheri hotel. Next to him are a number of half-open books kept on a table. “With board exams in March, he could only do films with a longer schedule so that he gets time to study,” says Bhalerao’s mother, accompanying him for a film shoot in Mumbai. Besides his school plays, he acts in Satpute’s theatre group, Collage Collection. He is currently working in Laxman Utekar’s next film titled Lalbagchi Rani.
Killa, which won the Crystal Bear award by the Children’s Jury at the Berlin Film Festival and has been received warmly across other international film festivals, is now ready for a theatrical release in May. It’s this performance that landed him the role in Bhoothnath Returns, which released in April last year. But, Bhalerao doesn’t seem too enchanted by showbiz, is undecided about his acting career, and wants to pursue animal psychology, he says.
After he is done with school and homework, when his mother is busy running the photocopy shop and his father is at work, Bhalerao returns to his favourite pastime — playing with his pet cat and Cocktail parrot, which flies freely in the house. Sometimes, when people from the streets, which his first floor balcony overlooks, point at him speaking in hushed voices, he quietly goes inside.