Lounge Loves | ‘Fearless Nadia’
Born Mary Ann Evans in Perth, Australia, in 1908; died Nadia Wadia in Mumbai, India, in 1996; variously known as Fearless Nadia, Hunterwali, Miss Frontier Mail, Diamond Queen, Circus Queen or Jungle Queen, depending on whose bottom she was kicking.
The blonde, blue-eyed stunt-film actor made her best-known films for Wadia Movietone in the 1930s and 1940s, usually playing a brave, adventurous, highly athletic and unusually mobile woman who scaled buildings, rode horses, ran on top of moving trains and whipped, punched, slapped and booted her adversaries into submission. The ongoing Oz Fest (till 5 February), which has been organized by the Australian government to showcase the country’s culture in India, will pay tribute to the actor through the musical production Fearless Nadia. Musician Ben Walsh and the 13-member Orkestra of the Underground, comprising musicians from India and Australia, including tabla player Aneesh Pradhan, will pay tribute to her films. The cine-concert will mainly celebrate one of her best-known releases, the 1940 actioner Diamond Queen, directed by Homi Wadia, whom Nadia later married.
The celebration of Nadia, based on a composition by Walsh, will be performed in Mumbai and Chennai in late November. The event turns the spotlight back on the early days of Indian cinema, during which stunt films inspired by Hollywood were highly popular. Wadia Movietone, set up by the brothers J.B.H. and Homi Wadia, used Nadia to Indianize the stunt-film genre. In British-ruled India, Nadia’s unmistakable foreignness helped her get away with unfeminine and irregular behaviour, and also allowed her to make statements in favour of independence from colonial rule.
Nadia’s remarkable stunts, which she performed herself with full gusto and a big grin, survive in the form of scratchy clips on YouTube and low-quality VCDs in the market. The Oz Fest event, which involves lots of drumming (Walsh is a percussionist), will be a fitting tribute to her boundless energy.
Fearless Nadia will be performed at Liberty Cinema in Mumbai on 22 November and Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall in Chennai on 25-26 November. Tickets will be available at Liberty Cinema. Free passes for the Chennai show may be collected from the venue in advance.