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Honey Irani, the Wonder Child – Birthday special

Celebrating Honey Irani’s birthday, we take a look at her film with Meena Kumari, Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan (1959).

Sukhpreet Kahlon

An exploration of the bond between mother and child, Devendra Goel’s film Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan (1959) stars Rajendra aka Jubilee Kumar, Meena Kumari, and the cherubic Honey Irani in the lead.

When his wife dies during childbirth, Dr Anand (Rajendra Kumar) is heartbroken but, in a bid to save the life of a patient Ratna (Meena Kumari), he decides to give his child up to the widow, when her own child dies at birth. The only person who knows about his selfless act is a nurse who is sworn to secrecy by him.

Dejected and with nothing to look forward to in life, Anand gets some moments of serenity when he visits his child Raju (Honey Irani) and Ratna, but his proximity to the family is viewed with suspicion by Ratna’s sister-in-law, who taunts her for the doctor’s increased presence in the house. Disgusted by the allegations, Ratna is forced to put some distance between her family and the good doctor.

Meanwhile, a nurse at the hospital, Maya (Minoo Mumtaz), takes a shine to the doctor and tricks him into marrying her. Maya likes the good life and has expensive tastes. Anand finds that he has little in common with her. In a twist of events, Anand’s estranged father dies and he is informed that he must have an heir to claim his father’s wealth. Sensing an irresistible opportunity, Maya tries every trick to get her hands on the wealth.

In addition to the lead pair, Minoo Mumtaz, sister of the famous comedian Mehmood, is well cast and plays her role with conviction. She gained fame as a dancer and was eventually cast in character roles. In this film, she has two songs picturized on her, of which 'Aaye Ho Dekh Lo Duniya Zara' is performed when she is celebrating her cat’s birthday! The film also stars Madan Puri in a gentle role, and comedian Sunder.

Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan largely portrays the silent suffering of Anand and Ratna who give up their happiness for the sake of something larger than themselves.  Anand puts up his child in the care of another while Ratna denies her latent attraction towards Anand for the sake of the honour of her in-laws. Having made the ultimate sacrifice, Anand would have continued to keep the secret of his child had it not been for his avaricious wife.

The film also raises the pertinent question about whom society considers a mother. Is motherhood only biological, or can it be ascribed to one who nourishes and takes care of a child with genuine affection? While the film has its heart in the right place, it takes a rather long-winding path to reach its destination and Anand’s turmoil and Ratna’s helplessness are a bit too extended.

With his limited acting range and expressions, Rajendra Kumar is convincing as the unsettled, brooding doctor who longs to see his child, but Meena Kumari’s nuanced portrayal of the tragic widow who does not dare to express her attraction for Anand stands out, making us empathize with her situation.

Though the film remains largely forgotten and is not counted amongst Meena Kumari's finest performances, it won her a nomination for the Filmfare Best Actress award. She lost to Nutan, who won the award for her role in Bimal Roy’s Sujata (1959).

Wonder Child Honey Irani

The narrative of Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan is centred on the child and Honey Irani’s performance is crucial in foregrounding the relationship between the child and the mother as well as in creating a bond between the father and the child. The film credits rightly announce Irani as being 'the wonder child Honey Irani' and she is most lovable with her impressive performance.

Meena Kumari, Honey Irani and Rajendra Kumar in a still from Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan
Meena Kumari, Honey Irani and Rajendra Kumar in a still from Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan

The evergreen songs by Lata Mangeshkar, 'Chal Mere Ghode Tik Tik Tik' and 'Tim Tim Karte Taare', remembered even today as rhymes for children, beautifully express the love between Raju and his mother. Incidentally, 'Tim Tim Karte Taare' was composed and written by Ravi, who also composed the popular lullaby 'Chanda Mama Door Ke' in Vachan (1955), a film produced by Devendra Goel. The songs also pave the way for a heart-breaking separation between mother and child that takes place later in the film as the sad version of 'Tim Tim Karte Taare' echoes Ratna’s grief.

Meena Kumari acted with Honey’s sister, Daisy Irani, in Bandish (1955), which also featured a child in a significant role. As the child’s role was integral to his film, Goel wanted Kumari to develop a familial bond with Honey as well and suggested that she stay with the actress for some time. During this time, Honey Irani became terribly attached to the actress, which comes through in her performance. In several interviews, Honey Irani has fondly remembered the time she spent with Meena Kumari as a child.

Aside from the serious tone of the film, there are several light moments and even an attempt at the now ubiquitous brand placement! Raju promotes the goodness of Amul Butter in one scene where Ratna is stranded at a shop with the child, taking shelter from heavy rain. They are informed that no taxi driver is ready to venture out in the downpour, to which Raju responds, “Usse Amul Butter lagao, woh phoran aa jayega. Yeh bahut kaam ka makhkhan hai [Grease him up with Amul Butter. It is a very useful butter to have around]!"