- Early Life
- Mary Ann Evans to Fearless Nadia
At the time of the Great Depression when the world was changing and was preparing for war, the fictional characters like Superman (1938), Batman (!939), etc. provided the people to enter the world of fictional characters which helped them to escape reality for a short time. In India, it was a time where a woman came on the screen for the first time, first as a princess and then fighting villains with her bare hands. She was known as India’s original stunt queen- Fearless Nadia. Let us discuss the life of Fearless Nadia.
Fearless Nadia – Early Life
Mary Ann Evans was born on 8th January 1908 in Perth, Australia to a Scottish father and Greek mother. Her father, Herbertt Evans, was a volunteer in the British army and mother, Margaret was a homemaker. Mary shifted to India at the age of five when Herbertt’s regiment was seconded to Bombay. After her father’s death during World War I in 1915, it prompted the family to shift to Peshawar.
From a young age, Mary wanted to be a singer and a dancer. She used to learn Scottish dance from her father and Greek songs from her mother. She used to participate in church choirs in school, learned to ride a pony when all her friends were busy playing with toys. She was different from her friends. She learned fishing, hunting, horse riding and did everything which was considered unusual for a girl to be interested in at that time.
In 1928, she returned back to Bombay after living in Peshawar for a few years. She studied ballet under Madam Astrova’s guidance, who was a Russian dancer and later included Mary with her on her travel troupe.
Other than dancing, Mary tried her hand at various other jobs. She worked as a secretary, trapeze artist at a circus, salesgirl in Army and Navy store in Mumbai. She was training to become a gymnast. Her graceful cartwheels, daredevil stunts and presence won her a lot of fans.
During her days with the troupe, Mary met an Armenian fortune teller who suggested that she should change her name to one beginning with the letter N. She liked the sound of the name Nadia, hence she chose that.
Fearless Nadia – Career
In her early days of career, she toured as a theatre artist and began working in Zarko Circus in 1930. She left her job at the circus and completely focused on dancing performing on Bollywood songs. She was noticed by Eruch Kanga, who was a cinema owner from Lahore. He suggested her name to J.B.H Wadia and Homi Wadia, the brothers who owned a famous production house called Wadia Movietone. They were impressed by Nadia’s looks and fearless attitude. She was asked to learn Hindi which would help her to start her career in Bollywood.
Nadia entered Bollywood with two films in which she had a small role, Desh Deepak and Noor-e-Yaman. She was cast as a slave girl in Desh Deepak and a princess in Noor-e-Yaman. She was a huge hit among the audience considering her skills at performing in circuses and stunts. The most important part of her career was in the year 1935 when Wadias decided to launch her in a lead heroine in the film Hunterwali. This film was meant for Nadia as she was able to showcase her athletic prowess and affinity for the stunt genre. She became famous and the audience loved her. This was the time when India was fighting for independence and being a European, she was on the right side, which was appealing to the audience.
Fearless Nadia starred in over 50 films over the next decade, performing her own stunts in each one of them. She has done all from befriending lions, jumping from cliffs to fighting to stop a train. Her signature was fighting wild animals, bandits, and bad boys. Most of her films were hit with her impressive acting and exotic costumes. Nadia was at her peak and became one of the highest paying actresses of that time.
Not only she was everybody’s Hunterwali, but she was also a feminist icon, challenging male dominance. It was during that time when women were slowly accepting the idea of acting as a profession.
Mary Ann Evans to Fearless Nadia
Mary married Homi Wadia in 1961. He gave her the name Fearless Nadia when she sportingly jumped off the roof of a studio set during a shoot. Even at 60, she made a comeback as a sassy secret agent in Homi Wadia’s film called Khiladi.
In the year 1993, Nadia’s great-grandnephew, Riyad Vinci Wadia, made a documentary of her life called Fearless: The Hunterwali Story. After watching the documentary Dorothee Weener, a German writer wrote a book about her titled Fearless Nadia – The true story of Bollywood’s original stunt queen’ which was later translated in English. The role played by Kangana Ranaut in the film Rangoon was inspired by Nadia.