Daisy Irani – Memories
We were five children. I was the fourth. My father owned an Irani restaurant near Grant Road station and was doing very well. And I was just two-and-a-half years old when I did my first movie.
I don’t remember how I got my first break because I was very small. But they say that on the ground floor of our building lived this director called Bipin Gupta. He was on the lookout for a small boy to act in his movie. I was wearing my brother’s shirt and playing in the building compound and he mistook me for a boy. So they approached my mother to cast me in the movie. My dad was very strict. He was against my joining movies. But my mother was adamant, and so I had no choice but to join films. I signed my first film. Then others like Satyen Bose, B.R. Chopra and others came forward and I was hot property. My first release was Taksal.
After I’d played a boy in films, they never let me become a girl. But I enjoyed myself. I was never frightened by the camera or all the attention. My co-stars were fantastic. Dada Moni, Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy. Nirupa aunty used to always take care of me. I guess the attachment was because we could relate better, as we were both females. I always worked with big stars, so I had no complaints. Kids love attention and I took all the attention beautifully. It never went to my head.
I was told so many times never to look into the camera, never to touch my face when makeup had been applied. So one day, I went up to Dada Moni and told him, “Don’t look into the camera, and don’t touch your face when your makeup is on!” He started giggling. I made him feel as though it was his first day of shooting.
Slowly, I started becoming busy. I used to do three shifts. I remember in those days we used to travel in huge cars, and since I was so small, I used to stand up to see where we were heading. And because I used to be so tired I used to go to sleep standing up! So people started saying I was like Bhagwan Dada. Even he used to have this habit of standing up and dozing off to sleep.
I used to enjoy myself on the sets playing pranks and being my mischievous self. Everybody used to talk of me. Everyone would want to carry me on their shoulders. The only thing I missed was my studies, and a childhood with children of my own age. On the sets, I was always thrust onto adults.
Suddenly the fun part disappeared, and the tiring part started. If for a scene I was required to cry and I wouldn’t, they were not ready to sacrifice their movie just because I was not in a mood to cry. So they would pinch me, they would hit me, give me two or three slaps till I cried. In those days most of the movies were tear jerkers and I was required to cry in most of them. This became quite irritating.
I did Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke in which we had Jagdeep, Mohan Choti and it was great fun doing that movie. The movie got a National Award and we were invited to Delhi for the awards function. We went to meet Nehru chacha. He was very sweet and gave us presents. When we were leaving, my mother asked me to go and thank him for all the trouble he went through to make time for us. I went and made a mess of it. I went and said, ‘Sorry for the trouble’. He was stunned. He called my mother and asked her if I went to school. She said I didn’t because I was so busy doing movies.
Nehru chacha gave me a letter to get me admission. But in spite of that, no school was willing to take me on. I was nine years old by that time and I was too big for standard one. Finally, one school gave me admission, and I joined the fourth standard. And for three years I was in the same class!
The other day I met Mukul Anand. He told me that he was in my class in the fourth standard. I asked him which year and he was puzzled. Then I explained to him that since I was in the same class for three years, I wanted to know which year he was with me. He laughed! Actually I was like a permanent fixture in the class!
After being three years in the same class I discontinued my studies. Actually, even if I wanted to continue, I’m sure my teachers wouldn’t have allowed me. I was too mischievous. My brothers helped me a lot in learning English. They gave me comics to read and they would insist that I speak to them only in English. That’s why today I can speak it fluently.
Naya Daur days were fun. Since I was like a boy, I never had a separate room. Ajit saab and Yusuf saab would fight over whom I slept with. I would always chose Yusuf saab. But years later, after he had got married to Saira, he really embarrassed me. He was introducing me to Saira and said, ‘You know I used to sleep with this girl’. She was taken aback. I didn’t know where to look. But he just never realised his faux pas. When he finally did, he quickly said, ‘No, no, not like that! I meant when she was a kid!’
Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Lalita Pawar; I always worked with the cream of stars. I was very frightened of Lalita Pawar, because if she was in the movie, then she would be playing the souteli maa and would have to hit me. One day we were shooting in Prabhat Studio where there was a swimming pool. I loved to swim even though I didn’t know how. So I just jumped in the pool. Lalitaji was sitting beside the pool and reading her lines. She noticed that I was drowning and jumped in and rescued me. Once we got out however, she gave me a good thrashing!
Meena Kumari was a very sensitive person. When she was required to slap me in a shot, she would hesitate because she could see that I was frightened. Every time she lifted her hand I would move back. So after many retakes she held my hand and promised me that she would not hurt me. When the shot was taken she hit me. I was shocked and hurt. After the shot she hugged me and asked for my forgiveness. She thought I would never trust her again.
I also remember that she had a very costly carpet in her house. One day, Tajdar, her step son, and I together poured sugar all over it, I don’t remember for what, probably for the ants to eat. In those days there were no vacuum cleaners, so the whole thing was a big mess. But she just couldn’t get angry with us.
During the shooting of Ek Hi Raasta there was this scene I had to do. It had to be shot at a particular time when a train passed by. Suddenly, I developed a taste for a certain fruit and I decided that if I didn’t get the fruit, I wouldn’t shoot. They were tearing their hair in frustration, but I was adamant. In the end I got my way. That was the only time I recall throwing a tantrum. Otherwise, till today, people come and praise me for being very professional. It was my sister Honey who was very troublesome. She would demand grapes, 12 rasgullas and all that…
Suddenly I grew up and the offers stopped coming. I reached this funny age when nobody likes you. The attitude of people started changing. No longer did people pamper me. Before, during Diwali, I used to be flooded with sweets and crackers. All this stopped. This was when I realised I was going down. I was in a way glad because I was very tired of going three shifts. I started doing stage shows. Then my mother made a movie called Bachpan and launched my elder sister opposite Salim Khan – Salman’s dad. The movie flopped and my mother was heavily in debt. We used to have seven cars and suddenly everything started getting sold. I could feel the pressure on the family. To top it all, my roles stopped coming. I was entering puberty. People could make out that I was a girl. They would tie a cloth on my chest so no one could make out the difference. It was all very silly and idiotic.
Mentally I was never set to become a heroine. But again my mother who was very keen pushed me into it. I started doing Gujarati and Punjabi movies. I started looking out for lead roles in Hindi films. Those who I worked with as a child artiste, were not willing to give me a break. Today, when I look back, I realise that it’s because I wouldn’t fit into these roles. But at that time it was all very frustrating. I became rebellious. I started smoking and back answering people. I became very rowdy. I remember when I was shooting at Ranjit Studio for Pehchan, some lightmen whom I knew from childhood came upto me and said, ‘Do whatever you want, but don’t smoke in front of us’. From that day I never smoked on that set. But because my career was not taking off, I was kind of angry at the whole system.
There were some producers who were not at all sensitive to my feelings. They would say, ‘beti beti’ and touch me all over. I then went to people I knew, and they would say I was too small, which frankly, I was. My mother wanted to make me a heroine when I was 14 years also. It was very silly on my mother’s part. A child cannot give her lover a look or play a woman at that age. My mother also had this very conservative attitude ‘You cannot look at any boys, you can’t talk to anyone.’. Yet at the same time, she wouldn’t mind me doing love scenes. In the acting classes I run today, I had a student whose mother was like that. I called her mother up and told her, ‘If you are so strict then don’t put her in this profession’. I told her that even I had been through such a phase. One must make up their mind about what they want from their children. Whether you want them to study or earn. It’s not like yeh bhi karo our woh bhi karo!
My mother was always after money! She had developed a lifestyle and she wanted to maintain it. To be known as the mother of a heroine was a big thing. And you know most of our heroines have this mama problems – uneducated mothers tagging along, for shootings, interfering in everything, eating the producer’s head for every small thing. Thank God for Zeenat Aman’s mother, who was so liberated that she changed the whole scenario.
My father on the other hand never took a penny from my earnings till the day he died! His restaurant was doing very well, and he always looked after my needs.
I was to do a dance sequence in a movie to be directed by K.K. Shukla. When we met, we fell in love and decided to get married. Around this time, I was offered a lead role in a movie called Tarzan Ki Beti or something like that. For me, at that time, it was a big movie. I had to choose between the film and my marriage. Luckily, I chose the latter. There was big crisis in my family. My mother was very upset, so our plan was to run away and get married. But my father intervened and said that if I wanted to get married, I should get married like a decent girl. We were Parsis and my husband was a Hindu, so we got married at the Arya Samaj.
I settled down as a housewife. I have three children. But sitting at home doing nothing, got me really bored. So I started moving around. I got to see some acting classes. That’s when I realised how bad these classes were, and that students actually learned nothing from them. They only paid exorbitant entry fees. So I decided to start my own class. I opened my class in 1990 and now it’s doing very well. My students like Farheen and Ayub have just got noticed. And I am sure that there are better things to come…
I have not seen all my movies, but of the ones I have, I liked Bandish and Ek Hi Raasta. All my old films were gutted in the fire that took place at the lab at Tardeo. But now I am trying to get as many prints as I can get my hands on. Sometimes when I meet my fans, they name movies that even I didn’t know about. I just nod my head and say yes. Today however, I am very content with my work. It keeps me busy and gives me a chance to guide these newcomers, which is all so satisfying. (As told to Vijay in 1992)