indian cinema heritage foundation

'Ye Zindagi Ke Mele' – Wadia Movietone

16 Apr, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Wadia Movietone. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

The year 1931 of Indian cinema brought in a revolution when the audience heard talking and singing moving images for the first time in Ardeshir Irani's Company Imperial Movietone's film Alamara. With the advent of the talkie era with Alamara (1931), many new companies came into existence and very soon, other than Mumbai, places like Pune, Kolhapur, Kolkata, and Lahore became the centers of film making. And soon enough companies like Pune's Prabhat Pictures, Kolhapur's Jayaprabha and Prafull Pictures, Kolkata's New Theatres and Madan Theatres, Lahore's Pancholi Arts and Mumbai's Ranjit Movietone and Bombay Talkies set a high standard of film making thus marking themselves apart from the other film companies of that era. But other than these companies who were mainly concentrated on storylines based on literature and social truths of that era, there was one company viz. Wadia Movietone was rapidly climbing the ladder of success by creating its own audience base through fantasy and stunt films. 
The foundation of Wadia Movietone was laid down by Jamshedji Bomanji Hormasji (J.B.H.) Wadia. Hailing from a Parsi family, J.B.H.Wadia belonged to the one master builder Luvji Wadia's bloodline who in the 17th century had come to Mumbai from Surat (Gujarat) to make the first Indian ship for the East India Company. In a rendezvous with J.B.H.Wadia's son Vinci Wadia, a few years back, he had said that after his father completed his M.A. in English Literature and ancient Avesta and Pahelvi languages, he worked in the Central Bank Of India for some time and thereafter he collaborated with the Deware Brothers and jumped into the field of film making.

During the years 1928 to 1933, J.B.H.Wadia made seven silent films - Son Of The Rich or Vasantleela (1928), Bondage or Pratigya Bandhan (1929), Thunderbolt or Diler Daku (1931), Toofan Mail (1932) and Lion Man or Sinh Garjana (1932), Whirlwind or  Vantolio (1933) and The Amazon or Dilruba Daku (both 1933). Of these, he made the last two films in collaboration with his younger brother Homi Wadia under the banner of Wadia Brothers. 
Hunterwali (1935)
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

In the year 1933 itself, J.B.H.Wadia and Homi Wadia laid the foundations of Wadia Movietone and started making talkie films henceforth.  As a homage to their ancestor Luvji Wadia, they chose to depict a picture of a ship as the logo for Wadia Movietone. This banner's first film Laal-e-Yaman (1933) was a fantasy film, and after its success, they made many films like  Baag-e-Misar (1934), Waman Avtar (1934), Veer Bharata (1934), Black Rose (1934), Desh Deepak (1935) and Noor-e-Yaman (1935). And then their film Hunterwali, made in the year 1935, broke all box office records and catapulted Wadia Movietone to immense heights of success. 
Vinci Wadia. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

For the very first time Nadia, who had been working at Wadia Movietone as an extra, was presented as the heroine of the stunt film Hunterwali (1935) which was directed by Homi Wadia. The impact of the imagery of the dangerous stunts done by Nadia was such that very soon an entirely new audience base for the enacted stunts or as such action films had been created. Seeing Nadia's astounding exploits onscreen, her fans baptized her as Fearless Nadia, a name that stayed with her throughout her life as she alters identity. 
Nadia in Hunterwali (1935)

Born on 8 January 1910 in Western Australia in the city of Perth, daughter of an English father Herbert Evans and Greek mother Margret Evans, Nadia's real name was Mary. She was just a year old when her father who was serving the army moved the whole family to Elephanta Islands army cantonment near Mumbai on a transfer. But Herbert and his two brothers, who were in the army as well, were killed during the First World War which was fought between 1914 to 1918. After her husband's death, Margret decided to stay in India and enrolled Mary into a convent school on Clare Road, Mumbai. But in the year 1920, Margret left Mumbai and took Mary with her to live with their relatives in the Quetta cantonment of north-western India. 
Nadia in Miss Frontier Mail (1936)

In 1928, Margret and Mary came back to Mumbai. Mary, who was now 18 years old, on her return to Mumbai, started working as a salesgirl in the army canteen.  Also, she started learning Ballet from Russian Ballet dancer Madam Astrova, the real reason behind learning ballet was her desire to shed some extra weight. But very soon Madam Astrova included Mary in her dance group and gave her a new name Nada. Mary wasn't particularly fond of her new name and hence changed it to Nadia. For almost two years she traveled around the country participating in ballet dance programs with Madam Astrovas dance group and then in the year 1930, in Delhi, she left the dance group to join the then famous Zarco Circus. But she didn't like the circus lifestyle and thus returned into the world of stage shows. 
Bambaiwali (1941) 
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

During one of her stage shows in Lahore in 1934, Nadia met Regal Theatre Group's manager Mr.Kanga. Impressed by Nadia's dance and Hindi vocals, Kanga advised her to work in films. On coming to Mumbai, Nadia met the Wadia brothers who on the recommendation of their friend Kanga gave Nadia some small parts to play in the films Desh Deepak (1935) and Noor-e-Yaman (1935). In her third film, Hunterwali (1935), Nadia became a heroine, whose enormous success not only made her a big star but also placed Wadia Movietone in the frontline of that era's film companies. 
From 1933 till the next 40 years, Wadia Movietone banner made many stunt films like Fauladi Mukka (1936), Jai Bharat (1936), Hurricane Hansa (1937), Toofani Tarzan (1937), Lutaru Lalna (1938), Toofan Express (1938), Flying Rani (1939), Jungle King (1939), Punjab Mail (1939), Hurricane Special (1939), Hind Ke Laal (1940), Diamond Queen (1940), Bambaiwali (1941), Jungle Princess (1942), Return of Toofan Mail (1942). Other than India's first song-less film Naujawan (1937), India's first English film Court Dancer (1941) and first Sindhi film Ekta (1942), the very famous film Mela (1948) starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis and music given by Naushad was made under the banner of Wadia Movietone along with many other landmark films like Telugu film Nar-Narayan (1937), Tamil films Vanaraja Karzan (1938) and Bharat Kesri (1939), Bangla film Rajnartaki (1941) and Gujrati film Valo Namori (1973). Other than Bengali, Rajnartaki (1941) was also made in Hindi. The film Court Dancer (1941) was film Rajnartaki's English version. 
Rajnartaki (1941) from Cinemaazi archive

According to Vinci, at the beginning of the 1940s decade, J.B.H.Wadia had started preferring films with a social storyline. But Homi Wadia wanted to maintain Wadia Movietone's image of making stunt and fantasy films. This ideological difference escalated to such a huge level that eventually Homi left Wadia Movietone and laid the foundations of his own banner Basant Pictures. But despite the differences, Basant Pictures' first film Mauj (1943) was a social film and Wadia Movietone's first film made under the banner after Homi Wadia's departure was Muqabla (1942), which keeping with the banners image was more or less a stunt film. 
Mela (1948).
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

From 1933 to 1942, J.B.H.Wadia and Homi Wadia, together, had made a total of 43 films under the banner of Wadia Movietone.  But after his split from Homi, J.B.H.Wadia gave the Wadia Movietone studio situated in Parel's Lalbaug area on rent to V. Shantaram who had recently left Pune's Prabhat Pictures and had come to Mumbai. V. Shantaram founded his own banner and studio called Rajkamal in its place. J.B.H.Wadia did keep making films under the banner of Wadia Movietone, however, his speed of churning out films had greatly tapered. 
Tasveer (1966)
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

From 1943 till the next 30 years a total of 24 films were made under the banner of Wadia Movietone. After making many successful films like Aankh Ki Sharm (1943), Vishwaas (1943), Piya Milan (1945), Sharbati Ankhein (1945), Rehnuma (1948), Baalam (1949), Magroor (1950), Madhosh (1951), Captain Kishore (1957), Duniya Jhukti Hai (1960),  in the year 1966 Wadia Movietone made its first color film Tasveer which starred Feroze Khan and Kalpana and its composer was C.Ramchandra.  Featuring Rekha and Premendra and composed by Chitragupt, 1971's Saaz Aur Sanam was the last Hindi film to be made under the banner of Wadia Movietone and then with 1973's  Gujarati film, Valo Namori Wadia Movietone became a part of history. 
Saaz Aur Sanam (1971).
Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Born on 19th September 1901, J.B.H.Wadia passed away on 4 January 1986. After his death, his grandson i.e. Vinci's son Riyad Wadia took up the mammoth task of acknowledging the glorious years of Wadia Movietone wherein he interviewed many people associated with his grandfather's company and also made a documentary on Fearless Nadia. But in 2003, merely 36 years old Riyad also passed away. And just like that the hopes of the resurrection of the banner Wadia Movietone which contributed 67 films to the history of Indian cinema were lost forever. 
[part of Shishir Krishna Sharma's Beete Hue Din blog series]

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