1908 Birth of Fearless Nadia
Few performers have had the cross-cultural impact of Fearless Nadia, born Mary Ann Evans in Perth Australia. She was the daughter of a British soldier who moved with her parents to India at an early age. When her father died in World War I the family moved to Peshawar on the Northwest Frontier where she learned to ride and shoot. These skills came in handy when she took up a career in the circus (her mother had been a belly dancer and may have inspired her show-business ambitions). On the advice of a fortune teller she changed her name to Nadia.
In the 1930s she attracted the attention of movie mogul JBH Wadia who thought that her height, blonde hair, and blue eyes would prove an attraction in action films. She made over 40 cinematic appearances with her bigggest hit as masked adventuress “Hunterwali”. Doing her own stunts, she sang and danced her way into the hearts of the Indian move-going public who were dazzled by her racy athletic performances. One critic noted: “A hero in a male-dominated universe, she was a star, a stuntwoman, a horse-rider, roof-climber and gravity-defier, all rolled into one. She brandished a whip at the drop of a hat. Wearing a mask, she sent men flying with a thwack. She ran atop trains and made lions her pet.”
At the age of 53 she married Homi, the brother of JBH Wadia, and thus became Nadia Wadia. The couple had long postponed their nuptials due to the opposition of his traditionally-minded mother.
Fearless Nadia died in 1996 but her career is now undergoing a posthumous reassessment and she is hailed as a proto-feminist and pioneer. Her film 1940 Diamond Queen” is said to have “mixed stunts, slapstick and important issues such as fighting corruption, advocating education and literacy and exhorting Indian women to rise up against chauvinism and patriarchy.”