This year, the United Nations is marking the World Day Against Child Labour (June 12) with a special focus “on the global need to improve the safety and health of young workers and end child labour.” Though there are laws to prevent the exploitation of children, it remains a grave concern and this day is a chance for activists, governments and care-givers to reaffirm their dedication to the cause.
A large number of child artistes are employed by the different film industries in India and is not considered child labour. There are laws to protect the interests of these child artistes so that their education is not hampered and that they are protected from any kind of abuse or harassment and adult content on the film sets. In fact, many films are made memorable because of the powerful performances of the child actors – Darsheel Safary in Taare Zameen Par, Shweta Basu Prasad in Iqbal, Partho Gupte in Stanley Ka Dabba – there are so many examples. Some of these child actors go on to become successful stars, while others fade into oblivion. But the transition is never easy. Here’s a look at five child actors who transitioned into successful actors while overcoming all odds and hardships.
Sridevi, the first female superstar of India, began acting at the age of four with Thunaivan (1969), directed by MA Thunaivan. Malayalam film Poompatta won her a Kerala State Film Award for the Best Child Artiste in 1971. She also co-starred with late actress-politician Jayalalithaa in three films, including Adi Parashakti. In 1975, a year before Sridevi made her debut as a leading lady, she appeared in her first Hindi film, Julie, playing the sister of the heroine. The late actress became the lead actor in Moondru Mudichu at 13.
With movies like Moondram Pirai, Sadma, Chaalbaaz and later English Vinglish, there was hardly ever a dip in her career-graph. However, she always had the regret of not having a normal childhood. In an interview in 2013, Sridevi spoke about missing out on a carefree childhood when she began working as an actor in the 1970s. “I lost out on going to school and college life but I got into the film industry and worked without a gap – from child actor I went straight to heroine. There was no time to think and I was grateful for it,” she said.
Telugu superstar Savitri was brought into the film industry by her uncle. She toured the film studios in Madras and was told that she was too young to act as a heroine in films; this despite her uncle trying to make her look older with the help of makeup.
Savitri was only 17 when she was cast in Devadasu (Devdas) in 1953 and played Parvathi to Nageswara Rao’s Devadasu. At the age of 16, she met Gemini Ganesan, who was 16 years older than her, and married him in 1952.
The story of her rise to super stardom, the financial troubles and losing her battle to alcoholism was recently brought to the big-screen in the Nag Ashwin film Mahanati.
“All this while, neither her husband Gemini Ganesan nor the many that benefitted from her came forward to help her financially. She tried to drown her sorrows in more drink and finally succumbed to her disease at a young age of 46, after being in coma for 19 months,” according to Hans India report.
Famous child star of the yesteryears and comedian, Daisy Irani, had revealed decades later that she was raped during a shoot when she was six by a family friend who was incidentally also her guardian on the sets.
“The man who did this was supposed to be my guardian. He accompanied me to a film shoot (Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke) in Madras. One night in the hotel room he violated me, hit me with a belt and warned me that he would kill me if I ever told anyone about what had happened,” Daisy told Mumbai Mirror.
As for the rapist, he’s “dead and gone’ , she said. “His name was Nazar, he was related to the famous singer Zohrabai Ambalewaali. Obviously, he had contacts in the film industry. My mother was hell-bent on making me a star,” she was quoted as saying.
Daisy and her sisters, Honey Irani and Menaka, have worked together or separately in movies like – Bandish, Jagte Raho, Bhai Bhai, Naya Daur, Hum Panchi Ek Dal Ke, Musafir, Sahara, Quedi No. 9211, Soorat Aur Seerat andChandi Ki Diwar.
“Child actors have it tough. In a majority of cases they have been taken advantage of. Maybe a few have had it easy, but most don’t, really,” she also said.
Sweta Basu Prasad
Shwetha Basu Prasad was the kid to look out for after shouldering films like Makdee, Iqbal with her powerful performances. For Makdee, she even won the National Film Award for Best Child Artist. She also appeared in several television shows as well.
In 2014, her name cropped in a prostitution racket and she spent two months in a rescue home. Eventually, all charges against her were withdrawn by the Hyderabad sessions court.
In an open letter, she had stated: “I was in Hyderabad for Santhosham Awards, which was conducted on 30th August. I was never encouraged to get into commercial sex and no agent booked my tickets and stay there… My parents did not want me to act after Iqbal (2005). My parents’ bigger concern was me passing my 10th and 12th grade properly and not jumping into movies at 16!”
On her absence from the big screen, she wrote, “I did few south films (Telugu and Tamil) when I was about 18 and then past 3 and half years I had been busy making a documentary film called Roots on Indian Classical music.”
After appearing in an AIB video which was on a woman’s social media nightmare, she was seen in a supporting role in Badrinath Ki Dulhania.
Meena and Nainika
Meena started her career in 1982 as a child artiste in Nenjangal, featuring Sivaji Ganesan in the lead role. She has also acted alongside Rajinikanth in Anbulla Rajinikhanth, in which she played the role of a terminally ill child who warms up to Rajinikanth. Meena has appeared in over 45 films as a child. Now, her daughter Nainika has started her acting career, impressing everyone with her role in Vijay’s Theri and more recently Bhaskar Oru Rascal.
On her daughter’s acting career, she told the Deccan Chronicle, “I accompanied her to the shooting spot every day. I realised the importance of my daughter’s character after I heard the story, but as an actress, I know what difficulties the child would face during shooting schedules. But the team co-operated with us quite well. Sometimes, Nainika would refuse to do the same thing over and over, as she knew nothing about movie making.”
“Honestly, I am not going to say ‘yes’ if anybody wants to cast my daughter for any movie. I don’t want her to miss her childhood — I missed mine; I feel bad about it now. I know it’s too late,” she added.