Divya Solgamawrote on Aug 11 2008 7:11PM
Fearless Nadia is one of the legends of Hindi cinema. She was born as Mary Ann Evans on January 8, 1908 in Perth, Western Australia to a British father ( Herbertt Evans ) and a Greek mother ( Margret ), they emigrated to Bombay with Nadia when she was very young (her father was a soldier in the British Army). She grew up near Peshawar where she learned to ride horses. After her father was killed in France during WWI, she and her mother moved back to Bombay. She studied ballet under Madam Astrova after returning to Bombay in the mid 1920s.
She trained in shorthand typing to get a good job, but at the same time she got very fat so she decided to reduce. In order to lose weight, she took up dancing at a school run by a Russian dance teacher named Madame Astrova. Madame Astrova saw talent in Mary because she was very supple and good despite being fat and took her on as a member of her dance/theatre troupe which travelled around India. Mary also changed her name to the more exotic “Nadia” on the advice of a fortune teller. Nadia left the troupe to work in a Russian circus, but didn’t care for circus life and returned to the stage, dancing and singing Hindi songs as part of her act. A theatre manager introduced her to JBH and Homi Wadia, who asked her what skills she could bring to films. She replied “I’ll try anything once!” To test her appeal with Indian audiences, JBH put her in his 1933 film Desh Deepak as a slave girl.
She had great screen presence and JBH cast her in his next film, 1935’s Noor-e-Yaman as Princess Parizad. He credited his Parsi upbringing with his dislike for the submissive characters Indian women invariably portrayed in films. He really wanted to make movies that touted the strength and emancipation of women, and he saw great possibilities in the athletic Nadia. Probably the fact that Nadia was white also helped Indian audiences accept her as a woman so different from the usual Hindi film heroines, and she seemed a perfect actress for his vision. So in 1935, JBH wrote a screenplay especially for Nadia: Hunterwali (the nickname stuck to her for life). She was an Amazonian figure, blond and blue-eyed: a mask-wearing, whip-cracking, sword-wielding, chandelier-swinging heroine who did all her own stunts. Audiences loved her (how could they not??)! Hunterwali was a huge hit. Throughout the 30’s, 40’s and even into the 50’s, she starred in numerous action-adventure films with names like Miss Frontier Mail, Diamond Queen and Jungle Princess. She usually portrayed a Robin Hood-like character, rescuing the poor and oppressed. She also tamed wild animals, and beat up men with ease. One of her most famous scenes had her fighting the bad guys on top of a speeding train! She was often showed working out in a gym, which apparently contributed to a fitness craze at the time as well. She played a small role in her last film which was Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970). She and Homi had fallen in love by the 1940’s but didn’t officially marry until 1961. Nadia was too old to have her own children. Instead, Homi adopted Nadia's son from her previous marriage.
Nadia spent her last years in retirement happily raising Thoroughbred horses, including an Indian Derby winner. She died at Cumballa Hill Hospital in Bombay in 1996 only a day after her 88th birthday. In recent years, both Shekhar Kapur and Vishal Bhardwaj have indicated interest in making a film about Fearless Nadia. There was talk of Cate Blanchett starring in Kapur’s film, and Uma Thurman or Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) in Bhardwaj’s.