Daisy Irani's confession, Papon's example show how money and fame-driven parents are child actors' worst nightmare
Behind curtains, these abused performers has emotional scars from being used by someone who was meant to nurture and protect. Case in point: Daisy Irani.
Almost a decade ago, a young starlet I was interviewing suddenly broke down in the middle of our conversation. Apparently, her mother had fixed a ‘meeting’ for her with a famous Bollywood producer for an evening that she was desperate to get out of. In between sobs, the 20-something actress told me how her mother would force her to meet sleazy producers. The mother would force her to dress as per the ‘tastes’ of the men she was to meet. And though she would accompany her daughter to these ‘meetings’, the older woman would always find an excuse to step out for long periods of time.
Reading child actor Daisy Irani’s interview in Mumbai Mirror where she talked about being raped by a family acquaintance, who was her chaperone on an outstation film shoot, instantly reminded me about that decade old conversation. In the interview, Irani talks about her mother Perin who forced her into movies. She told the newspaper, “My mother was hell-bent on making me a star”.
A few generations after Irani, nothing had changed. The mother of the starlet I met would also do anything to make her daughter a star. Even though the actress had substantial roles in a few blockbusters, including a Shah Rukh Khan starrer, her career just refused to take off. So this woman decided to try any means to make sure her daughter was cast in a film; she was the most merciless and repulsive showbiz mother I have met in all my years of writing on Bollywood. But, she was not the only one.
In the 80s, a leading actress’ aunt used to be her chaperone. Before shooting a rape sequence, the director told the aunt to leave the set because he wanted to ‘shoot freely’. With no one to look out for the actress’ interest or comfort, the director had a free reign refusing to call ‘cut’ and encouraging the men to do more than the actress had consented for. At the end of the shoot, the director raved about how ‘cooperative’ the heroine and her aunt were.
There was a time when ‘Heroine ki mummyji’ used to be omnipresent on film sets but those days are long gone with our female actors being a lot more independent than their predecessors. Today, however, that mantle seems to have been passed on to pushy parents of child actors and performers seen on the sets of movies, TV shows and ads. For their parents, these talented kids are either the proverbial golden goose or a means to live out their own unfulfilled dreams. Their single-minded focus, as they drag their kids from one audition to another, is the pursuit of stardom. It does not matter if the kid is missing school; being robbed of his/her childhood; does not enjoy being a performing monkey or even is being touched or spoken to inappropriately.
Remember, the 11-year-old girl Papon forcibly kissed on the sets of Voice India Kids last month? Her father defended the singer, calling the kiss a ‘moment of affection’ while her mother could be heard prompting her in a video to say that Papon had ‘no wrong intention’. It is possible that the minor girl could not tell the difference between good touch-bad touch but it is appalling that her parents condoned that behavior.
Bollywood has had a long history of actresses being forced into the business by their families. Meena Kumari was the sole earner in her family from the age of six. Rekha started acting at age 14 to support her family. Sarika, who started acting at the age of four, never went to school. Irani was just four when her mother pushed her into films. In the Mumbai Mirror interview, the actress recalls an incident when her mother left her along with producer Mallikchand Kochar when she was "15 or so". “Mother made me wear a sari, padded me up with a new-fangled sponge. It was all quite hilarious. He joined me on the sofa, and started touching me. I knew what was on his mind. I took out the sponge things and handed them to him. He was furious. Now why did I do that? Because, I’ve always seen the funnier side of things.”
Behind the glitz and glamour of showbiz, every one of these abused performers has emotional scars from being used by someone who was meant to nurture and protect. The hunger for fame and money can drive parents to become their child’s worst nightmare.
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