“The man who did this was supposed to be my guardian,” said Daisy Irani, a veteran actor who wowed audiences with her performances as a child in the 1950s.
In a recent interview to Khalid Mohamed of Mumbai Mirror, the actor made a shocking revelation – she was raped by a man, supposedly her guardian, when she was shooting for Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke in Chennai. She was only six years old at the time.
Daisy’s story reveals the dark underbelly of the lives of children thrust into glamour and fame very early on. What made her come forward with her story, sixty years after she was sexually assaulted, is the increased number of children who are now finding themselves pushed way too young into the limelight, thanks to reality shows, TV programmes and films.
Daisy wants parents and guardians to be aware of the dangers such an industry poses to children and keep a protective eye on them.
Daisy, who made her last appearance in the Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone starrer Happy New Year, is by no means new to the film industry. She has been seen in a number of supporting roles in TV as well as films. The peak of her stardom perhaps was when she was a child actor in the 1950s, starring in iconic films like Naya Daur and Dhool Ka Phool.
Daisy spoke about how her mother’s ambition of making her a star deprived her of her childhood and also left her vulnerable to sexual predators in the Hindi film industry.
Nazar, the man who raped her when she was six, was related to singer Zohrabai Ambalewaali, she said. He committed the heinous crime in a hotel room in Chennai where Daisy was shooting for Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke. He then hit her with a belt and threatened to kill Daisy if she revealed the incident to anyone.
Daisy believed him, and did not speak about what had happened for a long time. Her rapist is now dead.
“Obviously, he had contacts in the film industry. My mother was hell-bent on making me a star,” Daisy said. After she made her debut with a Marathi film called Baby, ‘uncle Nazar’ accompanied her to Chennai for the shoot of another film.
“I can recall the incident only in flashes, but I do remember the killing pain, and the visual of him belting me. The next morning, I was back at the studio as if nothing had happened,” she said.
Her mother’s ambition for making Daisy a star went well into her teen years. In another instance, when Daisy was 15, she was made to ‘pad up’ with a new-fangled sponge, and left alone with producer Mallikchand Kochar, who was planning a film called Mere Huzoor. Mallikchand sat with Daisy on the sofa and allegedly started touching her. “I knew what was on his mind,” she recounts. And then, she took out the sponge and handed it to him. Mallikchand was furious. “Now why did I do that? Because, I’ve always seen the funnier side of things,” Daisy remarked.
When asked if the sexual assault affected her psychologically, Daisy said that as she grew up, she became “outrageously” flirtatious. She did not understand what she was doing at the time.
It also made her protective of younger sisters Honey Irani (Farhan and Zoya Akhtar’s mother) and Meneka (Farah and Sajid Khan’s mother) when they were made to enter films by their mother.
“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,” Daisy said.
Not all glamour and fun for child artistes
Daisy’s story is just one among the many of Indian child prodigies who are pushed into the limelight for their talents, way too early.
Gita Aravamudan wrote for Firstpost that children forced into the “hard and unforgiving glare” of the limelight by ambitious parents, may learn to survive in the industry, but it comes with a price.
Gita recounts the many child prodigies – singers, dancers, actors – she has seen and interviewed during her career and what she observed. The first she saw was Ravi Kiran, who came from a family of renowned musicians and gave his first performance at the age of two in 1969.
While he not only survived, but thrived under the limelight, others are not as fortunate.
For instance, Shakuntala Devi, India’s mathematical genius and prodigy, spoke about “wandering across the world as an exhibit”. She earned money, but had no control over it, and it was used by her father to put food on the table for the family. Growing up, Shakuntala desired anonymity and resented her childhood lost to the exploitation of her talent.
Another example is Sarita Devi, Kamal Haasan’s ex-wife, who talked about running away from home to escape her exploitative mother. Then 21, she reportedly slept in a car for six days because she did not have anywhere to go. Like many child artistes, going to school was a luxury she was denied.
“Fame and money make for a heady combination, and ambitious parents care little about how if affects their wards,” Gita wrote.
Reality TV and children
It is increasingly easy for children to become prey to predators from the show business, thanks to the number of reality shows which have come up – both on TV and online.
To give you an example, TNM’s Priyanka Thirumurthy had earlier reported on Kutty Chutties, a reality TV show which started in 2013.
“The show's participants are between the ages of three and six. It aims to extract laughs from its audience through ignorant statements made by these children. The first episode started off with a child telling the audience that his father regularly beats his mother, even as the watching adults chuckled uncontrollably. The host then asked this boy who his girlfriend is and he pointed at a young woman in the crowd, who looks visibly embarrassed,” Priyanka wrote.
“The children talk too much and broach subjects that are not age-appropriate. At every age, there is a certain level of physical, emotional and social growth expected from a child. This cannot be violated constantly," Dr Jayanthini, a Chennai-based psychiatrist, had told TNM.
In July last year, Bollywood director-producer Shoojit Sarkar had asked for such shows to be banned for their exploitative nature.
(Image credits: From left - Daisy Irani (Bollywood Hungama via Wiki commons), Daisy Irani in a still from Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke)