THE SECRET IN HER EYES
Courageous star confronts pain, goes public sixty years after the traumaIndia’s best-known child star of the 1950s, Daisy Irani, whose moppet curls and saucer-eyed charm captivated generations of film lovers, has revealed that she was raped and abused at the peak of her stardom.
It has taken over 60 years for Irani, these days better known as the maternal aunt of Farhan and Zoya Akhtar and Farah Khan, to speak publicly about her trauma. More than #MeToo, what has prompted her to break her silence is the very large number of children working via films, TV and talent shows. Through her story, she serves a cautionary note to parents, guardians and mentors to keep a protective eye on their wards.
The mega child-star of yore reveals that she was just six years old when she was raped: “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 Irani, all of six, and all alone with him, believed him.
Coerced into movies by an ambitious mother when she was only four, Irani worked multiple shifts to star in over 50 films including the iconic Naya Daur, Jagte Raho, Boot Polish and Dhool Ka Phool, essaying roles of boys mostly. Such was her popularity that heart-tugging roles were written especially for her and her footage often extended. She shared the limelight with the top stars of that time including Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Vyjayanthimala and Meena Kumari. Her bond with the last-named was so close that she convinced herself that “Meena Kumari was my mother. She was so loving towards me.”
But in the darkness behind the klieg lights lay a story of sexual exploitation, which she has spoken about to Mumbai Mirror spontaneously.
Irani’s two siblings Honey (Farhan and Zoya Akhtar’s mother) and Meneka (Farah and Sajid Khan’s mother), too, stepped into the movies prompting Daisy to be extra protective about them: “Thanks to our mother Perin, our lives, when we were kids, resembled a never-ending black comedy,” she says with a rueful laugh.
More than six decades later, she can recount her childhood trauma without a trace of self-pity. “That man is dead and gone. 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. I made my debut in the Marathi movie, Baby. So Uncle Nazar (she rolls her eyes here) had accompanied me to the shoot of Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke in Madras. 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. For years, I couldn’t dare to tell my mother about what he had done.”
Did the incident did take a psychological toll on the young Daisy? To that, she replies, “All I can say is as I grew up, I started flirting outrageously, I would tease and taunt men. I did not even understand what I was doing. I became badtameez (without manners). With time, my mother did get to know about the Madras incident but what could be done really?”
“When I was 15 or so”, she recalls,“mother made me wear a sari,padded me up with a new-fangled sponge, and left me alone with producer Mallikchand Kochar, who was planning a film called Mere Huzoor then, at his office located somewhere between Maratha Mandir cinema and the Tardeo circle. 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.”
When kid sister Honey entered the movies, Daisy tended to be protective about her and kept her away from harm’s way. “Both of us had a common obsession: to get married and leave home as soon as we could. I revered Dad, he was cute, and he loved us to pieces but he would always be busy at work– his family owned the B. Merwan Café at Grant Road. I loved my mother too, but I guess I hated her as well.”
Bemused, she doesn’t hem or haw about her teenage-year romances, either with an upcoming actor or with an eminent producer-director. The actor married another woman. The movie moghul was already married and a father of several children “who were actually my buddies.”
While Honey Irani married poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar when she was 18, the other sister married filmmaker Kamran Khan when she was 19. Daisy herself married scriptwriter and director K.K. Shukla when she was 21. “K.K…poor fellow, he’s no more as you know,” she chuckles. “Before he proposed to me, he used to play Cupid between my boyfriends and me. Our marriage lasted the course somehow although I once told him I knew of his extra-marital affair…He didn’t know where to look!”
Daisy who continued to act in supporting roles, her last being in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Happy New Year, says she has since found solace in Christianity and joined the New Life Fellowship Association. “I was always drawn to the iconography of angels protecting children,” she says.
“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.”
Does she have any second thoughts about whether her interview should go into print? “None at all,” she thumps a medley of cushions. “My three children, my sisters…everyone knows what happened. The truth never killed anyone. If I’ve spoken up after years and years and if the result sounds sensational in print, no problems. There could be a flurry of ‘phone calls. I just won’t answer them. Simple