Remembering Mary Evans Wadia a.k.a. Fearless Nadia on her 109th birth anniversary.

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Mary Ann Evans a.k.a. Mary Evans Wadia a.k.a. Fearless Nadia (8 January 1908–9 January 1996) was an actress and stuntwoman, who is most remembered as the masked, cloaked adventurer in Hunterwali (Woman with a whip) released in 1935, which was one of the earliest female-lead Indian films.

She toured India as a theater artist and began working for Zarko Circus in 1930. She was introduced to Hindi films by Jamshed “J.B.H.” Wadia who was the founder of Wadia Movietone, the behemoth of stunts and action in 1930s Bombay. At first, J.B.H. was bemused at Mary’s insistence on trying out for the movies, but he took a gamble by giving her a cameo as a slave girl (in a hand-painted colour sequence that accentuated her blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes) in the film Desh Deepak, and then as Princess Parizaad in Noor-e-Yaman. Nadia proved a huge hit with the audience, whereupon, considering her skills at performing circus and other stunts, J.B.H. — by then joined by his younger brother Homi — chose to develop her into a star. In 1967–68, when she was in her late 50s, she appeared in a James Bond spoof called Khiladi (The Players).

In 1993, Nadia’s great grandnephew, Riyad Vinci Wadia, made a documentary of her life and films, called Fearless: The Hunterwali Story. After watching the documentary at the 1993 Berlin International Film Festival, Dorothee Wenner, a German freelance writer, and film curator, wrote Fearless Nadia — The true story of Bollywood’s original stunt queen, which was subsequently translated into English in 2005.

Celebrating Cinema

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