Of shoots and childhood

Sree Sen
Monday, 16 April 2018

Ten-year-old Ruhaanika Dhawan gives us a peek into the life of child actors as she speaks of juggling between shoots and studies, as confidently as any grown-up would, albeit with much innocence

The world is a stage, and for actors, this is true in a very literal way. They spend their entire lives preparing to look, act, talk, cry, fight before an audience glued to their seats and almost vicariously living a reel life through these actors. This emotional involvement is the very basis for a success story, and child actors are a sureshot formula for it.

Ruhaanika Dhawan of the silver screen started her career in 2012. Her confidence and familiarity of the ways of the world are a bit stunning and unlikely of a 10-year-old. This young woman has a poise that belies her tender age, but a perception of the world that is very much child-like.

A child’s enthusiasm
When we begin our chat in her make-up room, during a short lunch break, she’s quick to narrate her recent school trip to Panchgani.

“This is the first time my mother let me go by myself to a camp. I was a bit scared but then, when I joined my friends on the field trip, I was alright,” quips Ruhaanika, laughing and not at all squeamish while she delves into details. One can see the enthusiasm Ruhaanika has for the school’s approach in practical and experiential learning — setting up a library in a village, space camp, seeing local festivals, interacting with the sarpanch, making DIY rocket and launcher and so on. Then there were moments of the children helping each other complete tasks and teaming up. Schooling is obviously a very grounding factor in Ruhaanika’s life, keeping her rooted as well as encouraging her child-like curiosity and enthusiasm.

Just another child
A daring child with a strong personality, Ruhaanika blows off any reference of fear or childish tantrums. Dolly, her mother quips in: “I am scared of flying so it’s difficult for me to travel in a plane, but Ruhaanika will hold my hand and try to calm me down.”
“I love flying,” Ruhaanika quickly says. With nine nicknames, this child seems to have won the hearts of many, including that of her audiences. Her favourite subjects keep changing every year, so do her dreams. “My dream place is New York, because it’s big and beautiful and I want to go to an acting school or do a fashion designing course there,” says the little one who seemed like she couldn’t wait to grow up.

Her mother looks after the child actor’s schedules, education, social life and finances. “I like running games, chor-police and hiding. I love going to school but I don’t like to wake up early,” says Ruhaanika. Conversations with her are peppered with references to places like London, Frankfurt, Australia along with her keenness to experience snow but missing it every vacation.

Risk of bullying
For a 10-year-old, Ruhaanika’s conversations are clear, lacking the uncertain hemming of kids, and she takes her time to think before uttering a word. It’s probably a skill she developed on set, where everything is pretty much scripted and one must follow the director’s call. “The show and all involved with Ruhaanika have been very accommodating with the shoots, her schooling and holidays,” says Dolly as we step out for a quick chat. But there will always be controversies in the glamour world, and Ruhaanika is no exception.

Her mother takes a strong stand if she notices bullying or condescension from others, trying to safeguard her daughter. However, even children can be cruel at times, and there were occasions when her own classmates ridiculed her for being a telly actor, while the others’ parents were on the big screens. It is something that regular kids cannot fathom, but it happens to be a very real issue among children of actors and child actors themselves.

Losing innocence?
Protecting the innocence in these kids then becomes a tough ask for the guardians and parents. Dolly tries to provide some normalcy by keeping life real for the child. “Initially, certain scenes would affect Ruhaanika because she couldn’t differentiate between the reel and real worlds. After a scene of being scolded and threatened by an actor, Ruhaanika couldn’t sleep. So I would constantly tell her that acting is fake, and that nobody means harm in reality. As she found her footing, made friends on set, she also learnt to separate the two lives,” says Dolly.

Today, Ruhaanika is confident, easy-going, interactive and fearless, with a dash of spirit. She is comfortable under the spotlight and in the hot-seat.

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