Fearless Nadia was an actress and stuntwoman, known to be one of the biggest stars in the 1930s-40s in Indian cinema. She featured in films like Hunterwali, Diamond Queen, Sher Dil, Toofan Queen and Fighting Queen. After her demise though, her name was lost in oblivion till her great-grandnephew made a documentary on her in 1993.
As author Dorothee Wenner, who wrote Fearless Nadia – The True Story Of Bollywood’s Original Stunt Queen, put it, “It began with a punch in the face, delivered by a plump blonde in a scanty tiger-skin bodysuit to her mustachioed adversary. The cinema audience was enthralled by the tempestuous lady, and Fearless – The Hunterwali Story became the hot favourite at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival.”
With a career spanning around three decades and over 30 films, Fearless Nadia was the first Hindi film heroine to a headline a movie. Despite being a white woman in films made for the masses of India, Nadia struck a chord with her audience as a female ‘Robin Hood’ who danced, did her own stunts and fought all the bad people single-handedly.
The phenomenon of Nadia (real name Mary Evans Wadia) is being discussed all over again as Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon releases in two weeks. Anyone who has seen Kangana Ranaut’s look in the song “Bloody Hell” can notice the similarities between her character Miss Julia and Nadia.
In Rangoon, Miss Julia rides a horse, cracks a whip and can be seen in an attire similar to Nadia’s. In the promos, we also see the poster of a film Miss Julia stars in. It’s called Toofan Ki Beti and again, this fictitious poster is nearly identical to Nadia’s Hunterwali. While Vishal has denied this rumour, there have been various reports that the director made Kangana Ranaut and Saif Ali Khan watch footage of Nadia’s films.
Although a historically important figure in Hindi films, today’s audiences know little about this wild, zestful woman. Here are some interesting facts about Fearless Nadia, documented in her biography.
1. Mary Evans was born to a Scotsman Herbertt Evans, who had joined the British army and a Greek belly dancer Marget who had settled in Australia. The Evans family moved to Bombay as Herbertt’s regiment was seconded there. Young Mary enjoyed singing and was encouraged to watch cinema by her mother.
2. After her father’s death, Mary and her mother moved to a family friend’s place near Peshawar (now in Pakistan). The only way to travel in the countryside was on horse and this is when Mary learnt her now legendary horse riding skills. Four years later, she and her mother returned to Bombay.
3. In Bombay, after a brief stint as a salesgirl, she joined Russian dancer Madame Astrova’s troupe. This troupe often performed for British soldiers at their military base, for Indian royals and in cities and villages. With these performances, Mary mastered the art of stunts and cartwheels which soon became her signature moves.
4. She changed her name from Mary to Nadia at the advice of a fortune teller. Later, she was noticed by Eruch Kanga, a movie theatre owner in Lahore and was introduced to Jamshed and Homi Wadia, producers and founders of Wadia Movietone productions. After seeing the blonde, white and large European woman in his office, Jamshed first though that Eruch was playing a prank on him. Nadia spoke of her theatre experience, but Jamshed said that he had never heard of her. To which she replied “Until now, I hadn’t heard of you either!” Jamshed then laughed and decided to hire her.
5. The Wadia brothers cast her in a cameo appearance as a slave girl in their film Desh Deepak and as a princess in Noor-E-Yaman. Seeing the audience’s reaction, the brothers decided to develop Nadia into a star and the idea of a whip cracking action heroine was born.
6. Her first film as a lead, Hunterwali, was a huge success. Nadia’s movies always had a cause – emancipation of women, social injustice or corruption. With each blockbuster, her stunts got more dangerous. She performed them without safety measures or even health insurance.
7. In her movies, Nadia’s pet horse was named Punjab Ka Beta, her dog was called Gunboat, and her car was known as Rolls-Royce Ki Beti.
8. She led a happy and successful life, barring a rough patch when she was battling alcoholism. In her 50s, she married Homi Wadia after the death of the latter’s mother, who didn’t approve of Homi marrying a non-Parsi.
9. An article on Newsx.com reveals that Shahid Kapoor’s character in Rangoon is reportedly based on the first love of Nadia’s life. As per her biography, Nadia did fall for a good-looking officer when she was a teenager.
10. She also had a son in 1926 named Robert Jones. While the name of the father was never disclosed, Robert (who was nicknamed Bobby) was introduced as her cousin or her brother. It was only after her husband Homi officially adopted Bobby did they acknowledge their relationship. Saif Ali Khan’s character seems to be loosely based on Homi.