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Little big stars

It’s a pity when child actors show so much promise — and then disappear from the firmanent

By Khalid Mohamed

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Published: Fri 18 Jul 2014, 9:44 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:49 PM

CLASS ACT:Not intimidated by co-star AmitabhBachchan, ParthBhalerao’s acting chopswere extraordinary in Bhoothnath Returns

CLASS ACT: Not intimidated by co-star AmitabhBachchan, ParthBhalerao’s acting chopswere extraordinary in Bhoothnath Returns

Truly, the best performance I’ve seen this year — so far — has been belted out by a 14-year-old boy. Absolutely spontaneous, his body language fluid and a complete lack of artifice — even while mouthing awkwardly-scripted dialogue — the knee-high Parth Bhalerao evoked unqualified praise for his act as a street smart kid hobnobbing with a ghost in Bhoothnath Returns.

Not intimidated for a minute by his co-actor Amitabh Bachchan, Parth’s acting chops were nothing short of extra-ordinary, while dancing with blonde chorus girls, expressing pleasure or pain, and handling scenes that called for emotional depth. I was bowled over.

However, three months after the release of Bhoothnath Returns, Parth appears to have vanished from the scene. No more roles for him in A-list Bollywood productions, and not a shred of media exposure. Inquiries indicated that he lives in Pune, had earlier acted in a couple of unreleased Marathi language films, and his film assignments are managed by his mother. Her cell phone number, however, remained stubbornly unreachable.

It would, indeed, be sad if Bhalerao’s acting career is nipped in the bud, so to speak. Whether a child or an adult, visibility and strategised management have become endemic in a business where out-of-sight is irrevocably out-of-mind. By contrast, seven years ago, Darsheel Safary of Taare Zameen Par had become an instant celebrity, after his knockout 
performance as a school kid coping with dyslexia.

NIPPED IN THE BUD: Young stars like Partho Gupte in Hawaa Hawaai may have already faded into anonymity

At the age of 17 today, Darsheel continues to be a celebrity, participating in TV reality shows, and is surrounded by autograph seekers wherever he goes. Darsheel has fetched up in product endorsements galore and a few films, including Midnight’s Children. Currently, he’s in that transitional stage where he can neither portray adult nor adolescent roles.

In fact, that’s a near-impossible transition to achieve, what with most child actors fading away into anonymity — the most obvious example being Jugal Hansraj, the adorable moppet of Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom. Despite landing some lead roles as an adult, including Papa Kehte Hai, directed by Mahesh Bhatt no less, he has had to diversify into film production and direction, albeit with scant success. Earlier, Baby Naaz and sisters Daisy and Honey Irani couldn’t make it to leading lady status either.

There have been a few exceptions to the rule, of course: Meena Kumari, Sridevi, Kamal Haasan, Sarika, Sachin, Urmila Matondkar, Aftab Shivdasani and Kunal Khemu started out as child artistes and segued, with varying degrees of success, into lead roles.

Darsheel Safary of Taare Zameen Par fame

Darsheel Safary of Taare Zameen Par fame

At this very moment, there’s a virtu-al boom of astonishingly gifted junior actors. That some of them lose out, in the process, on their childhood and formal education is endemic, unless their parents exercise a semblance of control. In this context, Amole Gupte who wrote and directed Taare Zameen Par — before Aamir Khan took over control — has 
followed exemplary rules.

His son, Partho Gupte, as well as other kids in Stanley Ka Dabba and Hawaa Hawaai, faced the camera only during their school holidays, to prevent any disruption of studies. Gupte also conducts acting workshops for underprivileged kids during their vacations. An outstanding child actor he had coached, Shadab, passed away in a drowning accident last year: a tragedy that remains unregistered. Shadab could recite reams of dialogue at one go fluently. His forte was passages from Girish Karnad’s play Tughlaq. Having seen video rushes of Shadab’s rehearsals, I can say that he could have become a powerhouse of an actor.

Director Nitesh Tiwari of Bhoothnath Returns, who earlier helmed the bright and bouncy kid flick Chillar Party, topped by Naman Joshi, Sanath Menon and Rohan Grover, appears to share a relaxed rapport with children. Cajoling natural performances from the kids, who often freeze before the camera, calls for an infinite amount of patience and camaraderie.

For example, Satyajit Ray’s comfortable equation with his child actors was palpably evident, especially in his short feature film Pikoo.

Often, child actors slip through the cracks as it were. The livewire kid who portrayed the younger version of Dhanush in Raanjhanaa was brilliant. Yet, his name doesn’t figure among the film’s cast and crew of any of the prominent sites online. Surely, Raanjhanaa director Anand L Rai could still rectify the omission.

And there’s the light-eyed Siddharth Nigam, who exuded charm and grace 
as the child version of Aamir Khan in Dhoom 3. Clearly, here’s another bundle of energy, who like Parth Bhalerao, could go places in Bollywood — if only children weren’t treated like second-class citizens.

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