This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the unsung women heroes, whose contributions paved the way for future actress in the industry
Due to our society’s patriarchal structure, oftentimes we only get to study about the contributions made by men in the development of our culture and heritage. The same goes for cinema as well, where male filmmakers and male actors are lauded for their performances, while females are left to stay under the radar.
Although with changing times and emerging talent, things have of late improved and women have paved their way piercing through rigid patriarchal setup. Today, on International Women’s Day, we remember some of these iconic ladies and their contributions in revolutionising Indian cinema.
It is important for one woman to tell another woman’s story and that became possible when actress Fatma Begum ventured into film direction and made her directorial debut with Bulbul-e-Paristan in 1926. She also established her own production house, Fatma Films. In the times when women were not given the freedom to study or travel alone, she revolutionised Indian cinema through her filmography. She directed films like Heer Ranjha, Chandravali, Shakuntala and Milan Dinar, among others. She also acted in notable films like Veer Abhimanyu, Sati Sardarba, Prithvi Vallabh, Kala Naag and Gul-E-Bakavali.
It was an age-old custom that men would play female characters in drama and also in films, as women did not have the freedom of choice. But actress Durgabai Kamat made her acting debut in 1913 with Dadasaheb Phalke’s Mohini Bhasmasur.
Uma Devi Khatri
What comes to your mind when you think of a comedian in films? Based on stereotypes, you will picture a short-height brown man, goofing around and cracking jokes about himself. But actress Uma Devi Khatri ventured into comedy, and was popularly known as Tun Tun. She defied all social conventions onscreen and made use of her comic persona to her benefit. It is because of her daring attitude that paved the way for future actresses to try their hand at comedy. She also broke the age-old stereotypes that women should only act naive and add glamour to the big screen.
Kissing onscreen was a taboo when actress Devika Rani took a bold choice and featured in a kissing scene that lasted for four minutes in her debut film, Karma, in 1933. Her contributions to the world of performing arts earned her the title of ‘First Lady of Indian Cinema’. She was also the first actress to win the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
Mary Ann Evans
Mary Ann Evans, popularly known as Fearless Nadia, was an Australian-born actress and stunt woman who worked in Hindi films. She starred in the 1935 film Hunterwali, paving the way for future actresses to try stunts on screen. She won the audience’s affection with the incredible stunts she pulled off on her own in her movies. Nadia was the first stunt woman in India and was married to filmmaker Homi Wadia. Between 1935 and 1970, she appeared as the female protagonist in over 40 films, the majority of which were action-adventure movies.
Who is not aware of dancer-choreographer Saroj Khan’s supremacy in Bollywood? She trained under her husband Sohanlal, and went on to establish herself as one of the best choreographers in the country. She rose to prominence after working with Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit. She choreographed more than 2,000 songs in her lifetime, and led to the popularity of some of the iconic Bollywood dance numbers.