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PHOTO OF LASTING INTEREST: Fearless Nadia

The Pearl White of early Indian cinema

Suchismita Ukil  

Mary Ann Evans (1908--1996), better known by her stage name 'Fearless Nadia', was Bollywood's first stuntwoman, appearing as lead actor in films such as Hunterwali, Lutaru Lalna, Punjab Mail, Diamond Queen and Jungle Princess through the 1930s and 1940s, continuing into the 1950s.

Masked, caped and armed with a whip, often atop a horse, hand raised defiantly in the air, and the signature "Hey-y-y"; the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nadia---born to British and Greek parents---fought the bad guys and saved the day at a time when women in Indian cinema were passive objects of male desire.

Although she was quickly embraced by the masses, there was some speculation over her 'whiteness'---especially as she starred in films nationalistic in flavour: allegorically anti-British in a censored, pre-Independence India, that spoke of freeing the oppressed from the foreign oppressors. Film theorists believe her European origins may have played a part in legitimizing her position as the saviour, giving her the credibility and freedom that came with Western sophistication.

This is a scene from the 1938 adventure film Lutaru Lalna, where Nadia plays a princess by day and a Robin Hood-esque masked bandit by night, taking from the rich to help the poor. Nadia fearlessly subverted gender stereotypes as the avenging angel and the swashbuckling queen of early Indian cinema.

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