Tuesday, April 30, 2013

100 years of Indian cinema: The non-Indians among the Indians!

APRIL 30, 2013:

India is celebrating 100 years of its cinema this year but before it became all the rage it is the world over today, back then, in its infancy it had already caused an impression in the minds of certain individuals in other parts of the world. With stars in their eyes, these individuals travelled to Bombay to try their luck in tinsel town, ending up making it big and in a certain person\'s case becoming a cult of sorts. Here, we profile these six firangs who are synonymous with Indian cinema and who will always be top of our mind even after another 100 years.


Dear Katrina Kaif, do see if you can watch the stunt movies of Fearless Nadia, that 1930s daredevil action star of Hindi cinema, because we are absolutely certain that if you do, you will be inspired to reverse your decision to use body doubles in your forthcoming films Dhoom 3 and Bang Bang and do them yourself. Maybe producer Aditya Chopra and director Siddharth Anand could gift you some DVDs of the films of this actress, like you a foreigner ruling Indian cinema, born in Perth, Australia in 1908.

Nadia, born Mary Evans, burst on to Indian celluloid in the mid-thirties around the time silent films were dying and talkies were all the new rage. This blue-eyed, firang, who could not utter a syllable of Hindi, was adept at doing cartwheels, jumping from heights, lifting male actors and throwing them on the ground and when required, wielding the whip to bring villains back to their senses. Is it any surprise that Fearless Nadia, her screen name, chartered a flourishing career for herself in Hindi cinema?

Strangely, though Nadia had a successful career till 1959, she was never looked upon as a serious actor by her contemporaries or the unforgiving press. Most critics of the time pooh-poohed her work as \"time-pass films\" that provided \"cheap thrills\" to a predominantly eager male audience. Today, when most producers reluctantly back a woman-oriented script, it is indeed commendable that Nadia managed to do what she did at that time. Her dishoom-dishoom acts satiated viewers and kept box office registers ringing for over two decades! Not many actresses can do that on their own steam even today.

Some titles of this female Zorro-like, mask-wearing fearless tigress include - Pahadi Kanya (1936), Miss Frontier Mail (1936), Hurricane Hansa (1937), Punjab Mail (1939), Diamond Queen (1940), Bambaiwali (1941), Hunterwali Ki Beti (1943), Toofan Queen (1946), Himmatwali (1947) among others. Phew!


When teenage Jewish girl Florence Ezekiel left Baghdad for Bombay, India, in late 1940s all she knew was that she wanted to make it in Hindi cinema. Nadira, the screen name given to Florence, hit the marquee in 1953 as then-reigning superstar Dilip Kumar\'s love interest in the film Aan.

And there ended her run as heroine. For, after Aan, she appeared in Shree 420 and did such a splendid job essaying the bitch (who can forget her femme fatale act in the song Mudh mudh ke na dekh?), audiences and filmmakers alike could see her as nothing but the quintessential vamp. Nadira ended up epitomising that character for the rest of her celluloid career, often becoming the inspiration for future such characters.

She went on to act in over 60 films as the iconic vamp of Hindi cinema of the 50s and \'60s. Fair-skinned with sharp European features Nadira acted in notable films such as Waris, Shree 420, Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi, Amar Akbar Anthony. Even Ajeeb dastan hai yeh from Dil Apna Hai Preet Parayi, picturised on Rajendra Kumar, Meena Kumari and Nadira remains memorable till today.

Eventually, as age took over and she graduated to play character roles, including mother to Sridevi in Julie for which she bagged the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award. She also did parts in Pooja Bhatt\'s Tamanna (1997) and Ismail Merchant\'s English film Cotton Mary (1999). The Mansoor Khan-directed Josh was the last Bollywood film Nadira undertook. She also acted in TV serials Thodasa Aasman and Margerita. But Nadira had long made it in Hindi cinema as she had desired to - not as a leading lady but as Bollywood\'s definitive vamp.

Franz Osten

When Devika Rani, married to producer-actor Himanshu Rai, created a scandal by running away with actor Najmul Hasan from their company Bombay Talkies, one silent witness to the sordid affair was a notable German employee of theirs, Franz Osten.

Born in Munich, Osten is known for directing some of Indian cinema\'s earliest blockbusters including Achchut Kanya and Jeevan Naiya. Before the advent of talkies, Osten had already made his mark in Hindi cinema, directing many in the silent era.

What is fascinating about this man is that he did not know a word of Hindi but was instrumental in creating the most memorable films in Indian cinema. Not just this, the subject matters were close to his heart as well. Long before Shah Rukh Khan became a rage in Germany, a German import in Indian cinema made over a dozen Hindi films from the 57 films he made in his filmmaking career. These included a number of Cecil B de Mille type blockbusters like A Throw of Dice, based on an episode from the Mahabharata, Prem Sanyas (The Light of Asia) of 1925 and Shiraz of 1928 as well as films that influenced Indian cinema, such as Josef von Sternberg’s classic 1930 film The Blue Angels starring Marlene Dietrich, which was remade by V. Shantaram as Pinjra in 1972. Osten\'s silent films project a tapestry richer than most silent films of the time.

Bob Christo

Why can we never forget this late firang actor, who mostly played a howling sidekick or henchman to the villain in Bollywood? Because Australia-born Bob Cristo did a spectacular job of scaring the daylights out of audiences with his Goliath-like terror and brute appeal when he burst on to Hindi cinema in the early ’80s. In fact, in an interview, he confessed that none of the films, in which he played a good guy, worked!

Born in Sydney, Bob (as he was known given that in most of his films, his character was also named Bob!), happened to see a picture of late-Indian screen Goddess Parveen Babi and travelled to Bombay to meet her. He ended up acting with her in some five films and in eventually in over 200 Bollywood films, usually getting beaten up by the Indian hero and in a way making the Indian audience feel good about themselves and their matinee idols.

A qualified civil engineer from Autralia, Bob started his acting career with Sanjay Khan\'s Abdullah (1980). He went to act in many potboilers of the 80s and 90s, including some noteworthy films he like Qurbani, Kaalia, Nastik, Mard, Mr India and Gumraah.

Instantly recognized for his brawny look, Bob came to Bombay whilst awaiting a work permit to work in Muscat. In the early 2000s, he shifted to Bangalore where he worked as a Yoga instructor and stayed away from the Hindi movie industry ever since. But Bob can never be forgotten because he was too good being so bad.

Tom Alter

Tom Alter will always be remembered for playing some firang character in Bollywood who talks Hindi with a typical foreign accent, often mispronouncing words or \'firangi-cizing\' them.

It would surprise those who do not know (shame on you if you do not!) that in reality, Tom is fluent in Urdu and Hindi and has even essayed 16th Century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib on stage.

Born to American parents 62 years ago in Mussourie, Tom was leading a content life as a cricket coach in Haryana until he saw Rajesh Khanna romance Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana. That is when he packed his bags and headed to Pune to the Film and Televison Institute of India (FTII) to study acting.

Tom went on to make his mark and how, working noted filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khiladi), Richard Attenborough (Gandhi), Mahesh Bhatt (Aashiqui) and many, many others. Among those that come to mind instantly is his portrayal of a British officer in Kranti, his portrayal of Lord Mount batter in the 1993 biopic Sardar and in one of the longest-running Indian TV soap Junoon in which he played Indian character Keshav Kalse. Today he is not seen much in films but his work in theatre keeps him busy. He also writes on cricket for various publications from time to time. In keeping with the Indian fascination for white skin, the Indian government awarded him the Padma Shri in 2008.


The tag line on the cover of Jerry Pinto\'s unauthorised biography of Helen reads - \'The Life and Times of a Bollywood H-Bomb\'. A refugee from erstwhile Burma, Helen traces her roots to a Franco-Burmese ancestry. To quote a line from Pinto\'s book, ...She was perceived as a white woman. She entered a world dominated by North-Indian men who had very definite notions about how women should look and behave on screen and she managed to redefine those requirements.\'

Helen was introduced to Hindi films by actress Cuckoo and shot to fame when she appeared in the timeless number \'Mera naam Chin Chin Chu\' in the film Howrah Bridge. There was no one like Helen in Hindi cinema until then, someone who could embody sensuality and sex while keeping in mind narrow Indian sensibilities. She became a rage because she filled a slot no goody-two-shoes Indian actress wanted to a part of. Ironically, today, all Indian heroines are falling over themselves to do what Helen made iconic over 50 years ago - the item number. Indian audiences will never forget her mesmerizing belly dances and pelvic thrusts in songs like Oyee Maa Oyee Maa Yeh Kya Ho Gaya (Parasmani), Gham chhod ke manao rang relly (Gumnaam), Oh haseena zulfonwali (Teesri Manzil), Aa jaane jaan (Inteqaam), Piya tu ab toh aa ja (Carvaan) Mehbooba (Sholay), Mungda main gud ki dali (Inkaar), Yeh mera dil (Don) among others.

It is important to note that although she might not have had so-called conservative \'Indian sensibilities\' running in her blood, she actually never exposed or did anything overtly vulgar, most often than not wearing body stockings under seemingly skimpy costumes.

Helen went on to essay the vamp character and also play many supporting roles opposite actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Manoj Kumar, Shammi Kapoor among many others. She remained the fantasy of three generations of Indian men. In fact, such has been her impact that a German dancer made a documentary in search of Helen having been influenced by her dances. It can be safely said that the name \'Helen\' in Indian cinema is equivalent to a cult of sorts.
News From: http://www.7StarNews.com

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