indian cinema heritage foundation

“Pehle To Ho Gai Namaste Namaste” – Mohana

28 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Mohana's sister Ophelia. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Goa’s Konkani speaking artistes have always had a close association with the Hindi cinema. From star Sudhabala (Ermeline Cardoze) of the silent era of cinema to star actresses Meenakshi Shirodkar, Jayashree Shantaram, Varsha Usgaonkar, actor Sachin, directors N. Chandra, Dinesh  Bhonsle, singers Lata, Asha, Hema Sardesai, Remo Fernandez, composers & arrangers N. Datta, Dattaram, Chic Chocolate, Anthony Gonsalves, film editors D.N. Pai, Bhanudas Divakar, Waman Bhonsle, Virendra Gharse and art directors Ratnakar Phadke, V.R. Karekar, Sushant Tari and many more such artistes & technicians have had roots that belong to Goa. Of these artistes, there was one more well-known actress & dancer Mohana, who entered Hindi films towards the end of the 1940 decade. In a short career of 10 years, Mohana was seen acting and dancing in almost 2 dozen films, and then she bid adieu to not only films but also to India.

 

Mohana. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

The yearning to learn more about Mohana came about when out of the blue I saw some very beautiful photographs of her online from a photo-shoot done for LIFE magazine. I ventured out to learn more about her but the exercise seemed futile as there was not much that I could learn about her and whatever information I did receive was not completely reliable. But this much was sure that Mohana was not with us anymore. It is a known fact among our readers that the interviews & write-ups published by Beete Hue Din are based on one-on-one interviews with the celebrity and/or their kin and since we couldn't even find any close acquaintances of Mohana, we had to drop this write-up. But then one day, suddenly without any effort, we came to know Mohana's sister's whereabouts.

The story goes that in November 2014, the International Film Festival of India – IFFI was organized in Goa. The event's art director, Sushant Tari wanted to pay a tribute to the long-forgotten artists from the early era of Indian cinema. On his request, I provided him with pictures and short write-ups of about 3 dozen prominent artists and technicians all from the silent era of cinema to the golden era of Hindi cinema. Also, the artists hailing from Goa were kept in a separate category and the responsibility for the same fell mainly on my close friend Dinesh Bhonsle, who is from Goa itself and also is the director of the awarded Marathi movie Marmbandh, Hindi film Calapore and upcoming Konkani film Enemy. During the course of this event, Dinesh met with Mohana’s sister Ophelia and then through him I met Ophelia as well. On the eve of 9th March 2015 when I met with Ophelia at her house, through our conversations, I received a lot of information about Mohana.
 
Mohana. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Mohana’s formative education was done in Porvorim and Mumbai. After a while, she was sent to a boarding school in Pune where she completed her school education and got a job as a telephone operator in a telephone company. Essentially the job became a route to films for Mohana. 
 
 
The eldest of 2 sisters and 3 brothers Mohana was born on 3rd February 1929 to a Christian family in Goa’s Socorro-Porvorim. Her given name was Mona Blasia Cabral. Mohana’s father Robert Cabral had a job in Sri Lanka but in the second half of the 1930s decade, he came back to Goa. At that time he got a job at Hindustan Construction Company as a cashier and so along with his wife Lina and the kids, he came to Mumbai. Mohana’s formative education was done in Porvorim and Mumbai. After a while, she was sent to a boarding school in Pune where she completed her school education and got a job as a telephone operator in a telephone company. Essentially the job became a route to films for Mohana. 
Ophelia recalls, “There was no direct telephone service in those days like what we have presently. The desired number would be connected by the telephone operator. As such Mohana would keep coming in contact with the prominent personalities of the time including film personalities."
Ophelia recalls, “There was no direct telephone service in those days like what we have presently. The desired number would be connected by the telephone operator. As such Mohana would keep coming in contact with the prominent personalities of the time including film personalities. Because of her job, Mohana had become good friends with actresses Begum Para, Nargis & producer/director Protima Dasgupta. She was given her break in the film Sawan Aya Re (1949) by producer-director-actor Kishore Sahu. The film saw her new identity emerging and her name Mona was changed to her screen name Mohana.” 
 
Sawan Aya Re. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Film Sawan Aya Re was made in 1949 which was, according to Ophelia, Mohana’s first film. But Mohana was first seen onscreen with actor Vishwa Mehra in 1948 in a song Raat ko ji chamke taare from R.K. banner’s first film Aag – although, her name is not there in the film credits. It seems that she signed for Aag after Sawan Aya Re but the film was released before her debut film. 

After Aag and Sawan Aya Re, for the next decade, Mohana did films like Char Din, Kamal, Patanga (all 1949), Ada, Nadan, Sagai, Sansar (all 1951), Chham Chhama Chham, Nazaria, Saqi, Saloni (all 1952), Shole (1953), Danka, Dost, Shart (1954), Insaniyat, Marine Drive, Sau Ka Note, Teerandaz (all 1955), Suvarna Sundari and Baghi Sipahi (1958) where she did comic and villainous roles and she also danced on many hit songs and then she got married and left not only the film industry but India as well. 
 
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
 
Mohana was married twice. Her first marriage took place in 1951 in a very dramatic fashion.
Mohana was married twice. Her first marriage took place in 1951 in a very dramatic fashion. She was rehearsing for a song for the film Sansar in a rehearsal room of Mumbai’s famous Ambassador Hotel. There was a young English man who was staying in a room directly opposite to the rehearsal room. That young man was very upset because of the constant racket made by the rehearsal. After 3-4 days when his tolerance levels reached their peak he, in a fit of anger, went straight to the rehearsal room. But the second he saw Mohana his anger vanished into thin air and he apologized and went back to his room. Mohana’s beauty had enchanted him. That young man was Edward Dawning, a pilot in the Indian Royal Air Force. He became friends with Mohana, both fell in love, and very soon they were married. Mohana and Edward had a son named Mark. But after merely 1 – 1½ years of marriage Edward died in an air crash at the Kolkata airport. 
 
Saqi. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Ophelia tells us, “In June 1952, Mohana ventured into Konkani theatre with C. Alvares under his banner Alvares Production with the play Kortub Avoichem and very soon she became a star actress of the Konkani stage."
Ophelia tells us, “In June 1952, Mohana ventured into Konkani theatre with C. Alvares under his banner Alvares Production with the play Kortub Avoichem and very soon she became a star actress of the Konkani stage. She was a steady heroine for the plays of Alvares Production. Mohana was a good singer as well. Konkani songs sung by her were regularly played on air on Akashwani Panjim and there were even records made on her songs.”

During the 1950s decade, Mohana’s second marriage took place with the general manager of Hindustan Lever Company, John DeFrates. The company had an objection to his union with an Indian woman and so John resigned from Hindustan Leavers and took a job with the United Nations. According to Ophelia, Mohana left the film industry for good after the 1955 film Insaniyat, however, according to her filmography she was seen in two more films Suvarna Sundari and Baghi Sipahi in 1958.
 
Insaniyat. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Ophelia says, “Mohana was very attached to India. She would visit every 1 - 2 years. She was always attached to Konkani plays.”

In the second half of the 1950’s decade, John DeFrates was posted in Beirut and Mohana went with him. Mohana had a daughter Clare with John. While in Beirut Mohana learned Arabic and acted in some Arabic plays for Beirut T.V. In 1957 Mohana was also seen in an episode of the famous T.V. show To Tell the Truth. Ophelia says, “Mohana was very attached to India. She would visit every 1 - 2 years. She was always attached to Konkani plays.”

After almost 25 years in Beirut, John DeFrates was posted to Vienna-Austria. In 1986, after retirement, John DeFratess with wife Mohana and their daughter settled in France where on 11th September 1990 Mohana passed away because of a heart attack. She was just 61years old at the time. 

Mohana’s husband John DeFrates passed away on 12th September 1998 in Montelimar, France. Mohana’s son Mark from her first husband lives in California, America and is a big jewelry entrepreneur. Her daughter Clare, from her second marriage, is married and lives in France.
 
Ophelia. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Famous as the Tragedy Queen, Ophelia was also a very good singer along with being a great actor. Just like Mohana, Ophelia’s Konkani songs were also regularly played on Akashwani.
 
9 years younger, Mohana's sister Ophelia D’Souza and her husband Bob Peter were very big stars of Konkani theatre. Bob was not only an actor but was also a singer, composer, and writer. He wrote many Konkani plays. Famous as the Tragedy Queen, Ophelia was also a very good singer along with being a great actor. Just like Mohana, Ophelia’s Konkani songs were also regularly played on Akashwani. Ophelia was active on the Konkani stage from 1954 to 1997. In 43 years, Ophelia acted in almost 300 plays, and then because of age and health issues, she said farewell to the stage. 
 
Mohana and Ophelia with their parents, younger brother, cousin sister, and Mohana's son Mark.Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din 


Ophelia's husband Bob Peter passed away in 2005. Now 77 years old, Ophelia D’Souza stays with her daughter and son-in-law in Mumbai’s Mahim (West). Because of old age and ill health, she didn’t remember many important facts associated with Mohana’s career. And so Meerut’s Shri Mool Narayan (M.N.) Sardana ji, who is a wealth of information on artists from the golden age of Hindi cinema, came to the rescue. He provided Beete Hue Din with a list of Mohana’s many films and of the songs that were filmed on her and for this, we are utterly grateful to him. We also got a lot of information from our conversations with Surat’s senior film historian Shri Harish Raghuwanshi ji and through the Hindi Film Geet Kosh which has been tediously compiled by Kanpur’s Shri Harmandir Singh Hamraz which helped this write-up tremendously. I now humbly present this write-up to my ardent readers. 



Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din Blog series
 

  • Share
987 views

About the Author

 

 

Other Articles by Shishir Krishna Sharma