Young and restless

Child stars

Young and restless

“My mother means the world to me. She wants me to stand first in class and do many movies. I hope to make her happy and proud,” says Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, the youngest Jamal Malik in Danny Boyle’s Oscar odyssey Slumdog Millionaire. For the 10-year-old, the second of three siblings, it was the ultimate debut in movies. Especially when he won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (shared with ten other cast members), and a 2008 British Independent Film Award nomination for Most Promising Newcomer in 2009.

Child artistes have come a long way from the innocent grey-eyed Jugal Hansraj in Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom to Avika Gor in Balika Vadhu. Gone is the rare innocence, the gurgling appeal in their laughter and the ease. It has been replaced by the confident vivacity and zealous affinity for the camera. Take Ayush. His affair with the camera began when he was four, and soon he was endorsing tons of adfilms from washing powder to biscuits. Call it living the parental dream, although some parents do choose to strike a balance between work, play and posing in front of the camera.

“I have always scheduled shoots during the vacations for my son,” says Nimisha Bawa, mother to seven-year-old Shrey. He sports a busy calendar — has worked in Dostana and is currently wrapping up a Punjabi film titled Khushiyan with Tisca Chopra and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. From Ram Gopal Varma’s Phoonk and Shahrukh Khan’s promotional music video, Mooli ke paranthe wala, for Kaun Banega Crorepati’s erstwhile season, Shrey has done it all.  “There has to be a balance between school and films. It is for this reason that I desist from signing up for serials as I do not want Shrey to miss school regularly,” adds his mother.

For 12-year-old Dheirya Sonecha, acting comes easy. Powered by a portfolio of over 65 commercials, Dheirya faced the camera for the first time when he was six years old and has movies like Ravi Chopra’s Babul, David Dhawan’s Partner and Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan to his credit. “I like watching myself on television,” he admits. The boy also anchored Sa Re Ga Ma Lil Champs.

Recalls the principal of his school, Monica Bhatia, “I remember his mother coming regularly to pick him up from school and rushing him to the washroom to change his clothes before taking him to the sets, his books and tiffin in tow.” Dheirya manages to juggle his academics and showbiz with enviable elan. Or so it appears.

Just like the calm and collected Swini Khara who says, “I shoot only after 4 pm.” The 12-year-old scene stealer from  Balki’s Cheeni Kum featured in Paathshala, Hari Puttar and Chingaari as well. “I love acting. I would like to continue with this line of work when I grow up as I have already done movies and adfilms. Of course, I will also pursue my studies,” she says. Even Darsheel Safary, during the making of Taare Zameen Par, used to cart his text books to the sets as Aamir Khan did not want him to miss out on his studies.
Then there are others like Dhriti Bhatia, who is only four, but has mesmerised thousands of television viewers through her acting  skills.

Dhriti Bhatia is Durga ma in Mata ki Chowki, the toast of Indian television. She wowed audiences earlier with her portrayal of Krishna in Jai Shri Krishna. Of course, the adfilm ditty persists — from Nerolac to Colgate to Emami and so on. Isn’t shooting for serials sapping for such small kids? “She enjoys it. She is so talkative, a complete people’s person. We want Dhriti to only focus on serials that reflect our beliefs and values. Like mythological serials, which are appreciated and can be enjoyed by the whole family,” says her father, Rajiv Bhatia.

In most cases, the parental dream infuses a shuddering degree of self-obsession. Meet Anandi, the Balika Vadhu, who brought in roaring TRPs on television post the KBC phenomenon. Avika means ‘surya’ and the young girl has blazed forth over the past two years, netting more recognition than even some of the silver screen entities. All of 13, Avika is the only child of her parents and desires to be crowned Miss Universe when she grows up; and later, a successful Bollywood actress.

Somewhere in this entire race to masquerade as an adorable munchkin, a small angel, or a jewellery and pancake laden mythological character, the essence of being a child is losing its very existence. Signing autographs, winning recognition as a chief guest at school functions and attracting friends like bees seem to be the cyclical phenomena. One wonders how they will deal with it once the adulation fades and newer faces replace them.


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