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NADIA (1908-1996)

Nadia ‘Hunterwali’, also called Fearless Nadia, was India’s first female action-film actor. She was born Mary Ann Evans (the same name as George Eliot) in Perth, Western Australia, daughter of Scotsman Herbert Evans, a volunteer in the British Army, and Margaret, a Greek dancer and actor. She was a year old when her father’s regiment was posted to Mumbai, and four years later she too came to India with him. There followed a period of wandering with the family where she learned horseback riding during a stay in the Northwest Frontier Province. She learned ballet under Madam Astrova after returning to Mumbai in the mid 1920s. In 1930 she began working for Zarko Circus where Madam Astrova had also worked, and changed her name to Nadia on the advice of a fortune teller. She was strong and statuesque, had blond hair and blue eyes, and quickly became a draw. She made her film debut with the Arabic film Makhazane el ochak (1932), filmed in Egypt. That same year she returned to Mumbai and walked into Wadia Movietone, a studio run by J.B.H. Wadia known for doing action films, in search of a job. Reportedly, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her first Hindi film was the hit Lal-e-Yaman (1933). Her stunts wowed the public. The year 1935 saw the release of Desh Deepak and Hunterwali that earned her her nickname. She played a dominatrix-like figure with tight, revealing clothes, tall boots, and a ‘hunter’ or whip. Hunterwali was so successful that she was persuaded to star in a sequel, Hunterwali ki Beti, some years later. She also starred in Miss Frontier Mail (1936), Pahadi Kanya (1936), Hurricane Hansa (1937), Punjab Mail (1939), Diamond Queen (1940) and Muqabala (1942). She played a small role in her last film, Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970). Her name was linked with many men, and she was married briefly in the 1930s and had a son. Later she fell in love with J.B.H. Wadia’s younger brother Homi Wadia, but couldn’t marry till 1961 because of family opposition. Homi adopted Nadia’s son from her previous marriage. He directed her in many of her later films. They lived modestly in Colaba. In 1993, her grandnephew Riyad Vinci Wadia made a documentary of her life and films, called Fearless: The Hunterwali Story.
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