Jews of Bollywood

  • 19 Sep 2018

When Indian cinema began, it was taboo for Hindu and Islamic women to appear on-screen, so initially female roles were played by men! However, the Jewish community was more liberal and progressive and they were prepared to take these roles. 

These communities had very different values. Jewish women worked on other professions that at the time Hindu and Islamic women shunned, like being telephone operators. The Jews did not regard it as dirty and neither did the viewing public, who adored these stars.

The first female superstar was the Jewish actress Sulochana (aka Ruby Myers). Along with Sulochana, there’s Pramila (aka Esther Abrahams), the first Miss India, and Nadira, one of the all-time great vamps of India cinema, who regularly featured in the films of legendary director Raj Kapoor. These stars had a formative impact on the development of Indian cinema.

Sulochana who was improbably discovered while working as a telephone operator. Legend has it that a director was scouting out a venue for a film when he discovered her. He was blown away by her looks and her eyes. He gave her the stage name Sulochana which meant ‘the one with the beautiful eyes.’

Audiences were amazed by this versatile actress, who played eight roles in the 1927 film “Wildcat of Bombay” - from a gentleman from Hyderabad to a street urchin to a European blonde.

She was also reported to have driven India’s first Rolls-Royce, and to have out-earned the British viceroy. Mahatma Gandhi included her image while campaigning for Indian independence from the British Empire.

Sulochana was joined by Pramila, who was born Esther Victoria Abraham, began her long career in the 1930s. Sulochana and Pramila would go on to become producers as well. After the partition of India, Pramila went on to be the new country first Miss India.

Post-independence Jewish Indian star Nadira was born Florence (or Farhat) Ezekiel Nadira, and debuted as Princess Rajshree opposite Dilip Kumar in the 1952 film “Aan.” She went on to have a fulfilling career until her death in 2006.
Sadly, the films and footages for both Sulochana and Pramila are difficult to find, perhaps none. Nadira is the only with a comprehensive collection of film.

Many prominent industry figures in India past and present and few knew these people were Jewish. This is because of the stage names of the Jewish stars, people assumed they were Muslims. The Indian Jewish community was and is so tiny, people don’t even know what a Jew is. Is there any Jewish presence in Bollywood today? 

We doubt. 

Source image: youtube, Madras Courier, Vegabomb, Wordpress, The Teal Mango

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