Saif Ali Khan’s Rangoon—The story of the fiery ‘Hunterwali’!
Bollywood’s obsession for history seems to have peaked again, especially after the grand success of ‘Bajirao Mastani’. Even the failure of Mohenjo Daro couldn’t stop Bollywood directors from going ahead and announcing their historical projects. Many movies are in the pipeline related to historical figures or incidents in Bollywood. After Bajirao Mastani director Sanjay Leela Bhansali announced ‘Padmawati’ with Ranbir Singh, Yash Raj Films went ahead and announced ‘Thugs of Hindostan’ with Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan.
Vishal Bhardwaj was not too far behind. After trying his hand out with some of Shakespeare’s plays, he decided it was time for a historical and announced his new venture ‘Rangoon’. Apparently the shooting of his film is mostly complete and is in the post production process. Though the ‘Haider’ director is keeping the plot of the story a secret, here are a few details that we can share with you.
The film Rangoon is more in the news for the fact that it will see Kareena Kapoor’s ex Shahid Kapoor and hubby Saif Ali Khan work together for the first time. Both are favourites of Vishal Bhardwaj. Who can forget Saif in the character of ‘Langda Tyagi’ in ‘Omkara’ and Shahid’s double role of ‘Guddu’ and ‘Charlie’ in Kaminey. Haider also managed to get Shahid a lot of appreciation. But though Bhardwaj has signed two of his favourite male actors for Rangoon, he has chosen the same female actor for both—Kangana Ranaut. While Saif plays the character of a director in Rangoon, Shahid plays a soldier in the film. As per sources, the film’s story is based during the period of the 2nd World War (1939-1945), and supposedly portrays the life and times of Mary Ann Evans—Bollywood’s first original stuntwoman, known better as Fearless Nadia. She is still remembered for her fiery role in the movie ‘Hunterwali’.
Nadia was born on 8 January 1908 in Perth, Western Australia to a Scotsman Herbertt Evans, a volunteer in the British Army, and Margret. She was christened Mary Ann Evans and moved to Bombay in 1913 at the age of five with her father. After her father’s untimely demise in 1915, the family moved to Peshawar, where Nadia learned horseback riding, hunting, fishing and shooting. Thirteen years later, Nadia returned to Mumbai with her mother and began to learn ballet from a Madam Astrova.
Nadia tried her hand at various jobs in Bombay. She travelled as a member of Astrova’s troupe which performed for British soldiers at military bases, for Indian royalty and for residents of small towns and villages. During this time Nadia mastered the art of cartwheels and splits and this came in handy later during her film stunts. An Armenian fortune teller once predicted that a successful career lay ahead of her but for that she would have to choose a name starting with the letter ‘N’. She chose the name Nadia because she said it was “exotic-sounding”.
Nadia trained herself to become a courageous gymnast. She toured India as a theatre artist and began working for Zarko Circus in 1930. Her daredevil stunts, ballet dancing and her charming beauty won her a lot of fans.
During that time somebody suggested her name to Bollywood director Jamshed JBH Wadia, who cast her in a cameo role in his film ‘Desh Deepal’. He was so happy to see her talent that he gave her a 2nd role that of Princess Perizad in his movie ‘Noor-E-Yamen’. Jamshed’s younger brother Homi became a fan of Nadia and started making movies with her in lead roles. Today’s Katrina Kaif could be a close comparison to the then Nadia who made it big without a Godfather. Nadia was of Australian origin and Homi played the Godfather role for her in Bollywood. The Wadia family is the same family that belongs to Jinnah’s daughter Deena Wadia; Preity Zinta’s ex Ness Wadia is also from same family.
Homi Wadia used all of Nadia’s qualities to the fullest. He wrote characters keeping her and her talents in mind. At that time Jamshed began work on a script titled ‘Hunderwali’ and this was the movie that made Nadia the first original stunt queen of Bollywood.
What was interesting was that when the word Hunterwali was chosen as the name of the film several people raised questions on the Hindi-English mixed word— ‘Hunter’ is an English word and ‘wali’ is a Hindi word. But the movie became the biggest hit of Wadia Movitones. Nadia was now a familiar name in India, with Hunterwali being discussed by everyone.
Following Hunterwali’s success many such titled films were made— Chabuk Wali, Cycle Wali, Motorwali, etc.
In 1943 Homi made the sequel of Huterwali called ‘Hunterwali Ki Beti’, probably the first sequel of Bollywood. Nadia performed every stunt scene of the movie. In the role of a masked avenging angel, the film pictured Nadia as a swashbuckling princess in disguise. In this disguise, she straddled on her horse around the countryside chasing enemies, wearing hot pants. Both her stunts, on trains and horse carriages along with animals, and her blond appearance were well received by the audience. A popular scene in the film was the moment when Hunterwali announced in the third reel that ‘aajse main Hunterwali hoon’which resulted in a huge cheering from the crowd.
Hunterwali was the most popular character of its time and was listed as ‘Bollywood’s best loved character’ by a big media house in 2013. Nadia became the first lady of Bollywood who used a mask for the first time on screen like Krissh. Nadia emerged as the feminist icon of Hindi cinema, portrayed as the one who would break the glass ceiling and overturn the patriarchal order. Despite her accented Hindi, Nadia achieved great stardom in the wake of the film, becoming the highest paid actress in the Indian film industry for the next two decades. Hunterwali’s adulation was exploited to promote various products with the name “Hunterwali” prefixed to the brand name, such as whips, belts, playing cards, chappals, bags, bangles, match boxes, shoes, shirts, etc. Wadia later regretted that he did not patent the word ‘Hunterwali’, which could have brought him a fortune in royalties.
A 62-minute retrospective documentary titled ‘Fearless: The Hunterwali Story’ was made by Nadia’s grandnephew Riyad Vinci Wadia in 1993 on the actress’ life.
Some of Nadia’s movies titles were ‘Pahadi Kanya’, ‘Circus Queen’, ‘Circus ki Sundari’, ‘Fighting Queen’, ‘Carniwal Queen’, ‘Tigress’, ‘Toofani Teerandaj’, ‘Miss Frontier Mail’, ‘Himmat Wali’, ‘Fling Prince’, ‘Toofan Queen’, ‘Diamond Queen’, ‘Jungle Princess’, ‘Bombay Wali’, ‘The Princess and Hunter’. Going by this number it would be difficult to single out any other Bollywood actress who has so many films in her kitty, which were written keeping her image in mind. How many ‘Queen’ in Nadia’s movie titles, and now the present ‘queen Kangna’ is excited to essay Nadia’s role and that’s why Vishal decided to make the movie on the fiery actresses’ life.
But why is Shahid playing the role of a soldier in this movie? Very few people know the answer to this question. But if the insiders are to be believed, Shahid is playing the first love of Nadia.
In 1942 Rangoon was under Japanese rule and the British Army waged a war to capture it. In this battle Indian soldiers were fighting from both sides—Subhash Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauz was fighting with the Japanese and many Indians were fighting as British Army soldiers. As the story goes, Shahid died in this battle.
But the fact that seems to be still unknown yet is why did Nadia and Homi marry in 1962, almost 30 years later after they made their first movie? It is said that Nadia married Homi after her mother died. It is not clear what they waited so long. For this piece of information we may need to dig the history books a little deeper.
Another interesting trivia from the movie Rangoon is that of Kangna turning down the lead role in the bumper hit ‘Sultan’ opposite Salman Khan.
It is being speculated that this could be Kangna Ranaut’s biggest role ever in her career. The much-awaited movie is slated for release on 24th February. Shahid celebrates his birthday a day after the release, February 25. Another interesting bit of info is that one of the producers of the movie, Sajid Nadiawala also has the surname Nadia in his name and was the husband of a very famous actress Divya Bharti.