Express India (14 November 2010)
After having bagged a role in a film that premièred at Cannes, 10-year-old Harsh Mayar from Dakshinpuri is getting ready for a career in acting Inside his one-room house in Dakshinpuri, a slum cluster in south Delhi, Harsh Mayar dreams big. Of a grand stage lit with flashy lights.
Of a troupe of dancers pirouetting in garish costumes. Of singing a racy number, his body gliding to the upbeat tempo, amidst screams, cheers and claps. Of Bollywood. “I want to be an all-round entertainer — an actor, a dancer, a choreographer and a singer,” says the 12-year old, who studies in class VIII at Yogi Arvind Sarvodya Bal Vidyalaya school .
Mayar may be 10 years away from realizing his dream but the preparation has already begun. He recently played the protagonist in I Am Kalam, a film that premièred at Cannes in May, won the Best Feature Film Award at Lucas International Film Festival in Germany, screened at the London Film Festival last month and will be released in December. In I Am Kalam, Mayar plays a boy much like himself. A poor boy who works at a dhaba and is determined to go to school. He befriends a rich kid and tries to read books, his idol being APJ Abdul Kalam. Mayar also recently completed the shooting of three episodes of Koko Ki Story Bori, a series to be telecast on Pogo. In April, he made it till the fourth round of Dance India Dance. And he is now preparing for an audition for Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. Mayar’s parents never imagined their child on stage or in front of the camera, even though his mother Rita says she was surprised by how “happily and enthusiastically two-year-old Mayar would move and shake to Ek pal ka jeena (the 2000 song that established Hrithik Roshan as Bollywood’s most rubbery dancer).” Mayar’s father Ashok runs a tent business which, he says, earns him “very little money”, sometimes not even enough to earn two meals a day, thus forcing him to take financial help from his extended family and the NGO, Smile Foundation, which also produced I Am Kalam. “When you are only struggling to survive and provide your child a decent education, how can you think of honing his extraordinary skills?” he says.
When Mayar was six, his class teacher told his parents that the child is “very bright and if guided well, can go far”. When his uncle came down from London (where he is a cook at an eatery), he was impressed by Mayar’s mimicry of Bollywood actors. He offered to fund his training in acting.
In 2005, Mayar enrolled in an acting workshop (funded by his uncle) at the Sri Ram Centre, and did the role of a monkey in a play. Two years later, he attended another workshop and did a supporting role in a play. In 2008, he played a small part of a clerk in a play at Kamani auditorium. The same year, his uncle (a news cameraman) tipped him off about an audition for Vishal Bharadwaj’s film, Chillar Party. The casting team of the film was in Delhi. Mayar went, acted out a drunkard, and got selected. He was not selected at the final round in Mumbai though, and went into depression. “I cried for many nights,” he says. When many families think acting is a risky career and try to discourage their children from pursuing it, it is surprising that everyone in Mayar’s family supported his aspirations. This time, his aunt found a person who knew I Am Kalam’s director, Nila Madhab Panda. Mayar shot for 24 days in Bikaner for the film and was paid Rs 21,000 for it, which he gave to his parents. He flew with the crew of I Am Kalam to Amsterdam for Cinekid, the largest international film festival for children, last month. He still preserves the badge he was given there; it has a photo of him in a black coat and a bow-tie and his title mentioned — “filmstar”. Currently, Mayar is waiting for Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’s auditions. Meanwhile, he’s not having sugar or fried food. In Diwali, he had only one mithai.
He also jogs and hangs from a rod every day. And changes his hairdo every fortnight, each style matching that of a celebrity. “My last style was copied from Justin Beiber, my current one is what Shahid Kapur sported in Kaminey,” he says. He always folds the sleeves of his T-shirt and wears only tight-fit jeans. “I want to be a star. That’s why I am starting early,” he says.