In the past,most children worked in their childhood to support their families. Many of these actors,like Junior Mehmood and others,failed to make it later as leading artistes even when they tried.
Others in this category were Master Satyajit (best known for his handicapped turn in Shor),Master Alankar and his sister Pallavi Joshi,Master Raju,Baby Farida and many others. Television proved a good alternative for some of these artistes,with Pallavi also hosting the popular Antakshari.
Some artistes,like the sisters Daisy and Honey Irani had variable runs as character artistes,mostly playing male roles,with Honey finally opting for screenwriting for a while (Lamhe,Aaina,Darr,Kya Kehna) and finally dabbling in direction with Armaan.
Several child artistes graduated to other zones of cinema,like Ahmed Khan,who can be spotted as one of the kids in Mr India,went on to become a leading choreographer and has also directed two films, Lakeer and FoolNFinal.
Lata Mangeshkar,a global icon of Hindi cinema along with Amitabh Bachchan,was a child artiste too,singing and acting to support her widowed mother and sisters. Aruna Irani and Baby Naaz failed to make the grade as heroines but enjoyed a spectacular innings as character artistes,while Baby Tabassum became a top-ranking live show anchor and hosted Indian televisions first-ever talk-show. Laxmikant and Pyarelal,later to become Hindi cinemas most prolific and successful composers,started out as child artistes in Hindi as well as Gujarati films. Sonu Niigaam,todays most versatile singer,had acted as the young Sunny Deol in Betaab,besides doing other films like Kaamchor,Ustadi Ustad Se and Taqdeer (1983).
Master Sachin and Master Mahesh Kothare were,in their respective times,major child artistes in Hindi films. While Sachin had a decent run in Hindi cinema as a leading man,both preferred to move to Marathi cinema,where they became frontline stars and directors,though they dabbled in making a few Hindi films too. Successful for a while was also Master Suraj,actually Sarika,who played only male roles as a kid. Sachin and Sarika started together,and did a spate of films as a popular romantic pair after their debut film Geet Gaata Chal proved a hit. Sarika had a better innings in Hindi cinema,and after her marriage to Kamal Haasan,became his costume designer. After their marriage ended,Sarika tried to revive her career with films like Bheja Fry.
Baby Khushboo (who debuted in Qurbani) had an indifferent run in Hindi cinema as heroine but became a superstar down South. The same is true of Hansika Motwani,hailing from a well-to-do family,who acted in TV and films like Koi…Mil Gaya and others,tried her luck at Hindi films and made it big in South Indian cinema.
Which brings us to the fact that not all child artistes had economic compulsions to work. A childhood love for films,a flair for cinema discovered by family or teachers,or a sudden opportunity all led to similar stints. Some even acted for a larkjust once or twice for various reasons.
And for every child artiste forced to work there were others who came in because indulgent parents raved about their offsprings talent.
The pioneering names
Chronologically,the first child artiste to emerged as major star in adulthood was (Baby) Noorjehan,who started out with Hind Ka Tara (1930) at the age of four and became a singer-actress in Sheila in 1935 while she was still a child. She moved on to be a singing-star sensation,chalking up films like Yamla Jat (1940),her adult debut as star-singer at the age of 14 with future legend Pran as her hero! Khandaan,Mirza Sahiban,Zeenat and others were among her famous films. Lata Mangeshkar has always said that Noorjehan was her role-model as singer.
In 1935 came Talash-E-Huq,featuring six-year-old (baby) Nargis. After a few more child portrayals,Nargis graduated to lead roles,chalking up among others,blockbusters and cinematic landmarks like Mela,Andaz,Aag,Jogan,Deedar,Awara,Shree 420,Chori Chori and of course the epic Mother India. Nargis had a hit on-screen pairing with Raj Kapoor and later married Sunil Dutt.
Three more Muslim girls came in like Baby and later singing sensation Suraiya,whose first film was Usne Kya Socha (1937) at the age of eight and who was only 13 when she played heroine in both Tamanna and Station Master. Anmol Ghadi,Dard,Vidya,Pyar Ki Jeet and Badi Bahen were among her best-known works. Madhubala was known by her real name as Baby Mumtaz during her innings as a child artiste when she began at the age of six with Swastik (1939),Basant and some other films. She had several releases in 1947,and while her lead debut was in Neel Kamal that year as Mumtaz,she soon changed her screen name to Madhubala. Mehjabeen,forced by her strict father to act as the sole bread-winner of the family,became Baby Meena at seven with Leather Face (1939). When she turned adult,she became Meena Kumari,beginning with a small role in Veer Ghatothkach (1949) and a breakthrough in Baiju Bawra (1952). Each of these five actresses rose to be among the biggest names in Hindi cinema.
The trend continues
Asha Parekh,a major force for over a decade and the pioneer of the 60s prototype of incandescent heroines,was trained in Kathak at an early age. Beginning with Aasmaan (1952),incidentally the debut film of composer O.P.Nayyar who was to later compose some of her biggest hits,she acted in popular films like Dhobi Doctor,Baap Beti and Aasha (Nargis too had acted as a kid in a film interestingly named Nargis). It was in 1959 that she was introduced by S.Mukerji and Nasir Husain in the film Dil Deke Dekho opposite Shammi Kapoor,to become the first big star among heroines who began their careers with him as hero.
Baby Nanda was also a child artiste,though her films are not well-documented. The 1939-born actress turned adult with Toofan Aur Diya (1956) and hit big-time with Dhool Ka Phool and Chhoti Behen (both 1959). In the 60s,she was best-known,besides her array of hits and memorable portrayals like Hum Dono,for willingly accepting films to help upcoming heroes like Dharmendra,Manoj Kumar,Sanjeev Kumar,Shashi Kapoor,Jeetendra,Sanjay Khan and Rajesh Khanna and delivering at least one hit with each of them.
It is interesting to know that the 1966 film Dus Lakh featured Babita as the heroine and the younger Raj Kapoor bahu Neetu Singh,as Baby Sonia! Baby Sonia first appeared in the same years Suraj. She delivered one of Hindi cinemas finest performances by a child artiste in Do Kaliyan (1968) as twin kid sisters who reunite their estranged parents. She was later seen in a few films like Waris and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani before becoming one of the topmost heroines of the 1970s. Interestingly,she was to romantically co-star with Jeetendra and Rakesh Roshan,the respective leading men in the two movies mentioned above.
In 2009,Neetu essayed a fleeting cameo in Love Aaj Kal and then did Do Dooni Chaar,both with husband Rishi Kapoor.
Sridevi began working down South at the age of four,but in Hindi films she was spotted first as the heroines sister in the Julie when she was 12. This long-standing relationship with the camera explained her ease with it right from her first film as a heroine,which in Hindi was Solva Sawan (1978). In the 80s,she rose to be the Numero Uno heroine in Hindi cinema,peaking with films like Nagina,Mr India,Chandni,Chaalbaaz,Lamhe and Khuda Gawah. After quitting films following marriage,Sridevi returns in 2012 with English Vinglish.
Padmini Kolhapure,now Sharma,made an appearance first in small roles in the 1974 Ishq Ishq Ishq. But she proved her calibre as young Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram and in Saajan Bina Suhagan,both in 1978. Followed three more power-packed performancesInsaf Ka Tarazu,Thodisi Bewafaii and Gehrayee. These daringly diverse turns got this versatile actress early films with author-backed roles like Ahista Ahista,Prem Rog and Woh 7 Din.
Internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Shekhar Kapur turned out to be quite a talent scout for children. It was he who introduced Urmila Matondkar in Masoom (she followed it up with films like Kalyug,Sur-Sangam and Bade Ghar Ki Beti) besides Jugal Hansraj,who did not make it big,and also Aftab Shivdasani (in Mr India). Kapur is said to have also directed Ayesha Takia (now Azmi) in an ad film! Shahid Kapoor and Ayesha are two names who entered films after long stints as child-models.
The only significant male artiste with a fabulous innings as a child artiste was Shashi Kapoor,later to become Indias first hero to work in English films on a regular basis. Starting out at the age of seven in Tadbir (1945),Shashi Kapoor went on to do several films from mythologicals like Bhakta Dhruva and Veer Babrubhawan to playing his brother Raj Kapoors childhood roles in Aag and Awara. In 1961,Shashi Kapoor became a leading man in Char Diwari,broke through with Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) and became Hindi cinemas busiest star in the 70s. In the following decade,the actor became famous for his banner Filmvalas that produced offbeat films. And soon,he became the founder of Prithvi Theaters,his late father Prithvirajs long-standing dream and an iconic institution today.
In Hindi cinema,to tweak the popular adage,the child is the father of the star.