indian cinema heritage foundation

Seeta Devi

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One of Indian cinema’s earliest female stars, Seeta Devi was born as Renee Smith in 1912. Her tryst with cinema began when she made her debut as the exotic Gopa in Himanshu Rai’s Prem Sanyas (1926). The film was well-received in Europe but had a lukewarm response in India. She adopted the pseudonym Seeta Devi on screen. 

Devi also acted in Shiraz (1929), a historical Mughal romance. The film boasted of elaborate Mughal architecture and costumes to showcase the grandeur of Mughal royalty. Another popular film she played the lead role in was Prapancha Pash/A Throw of Dice (1930) which borrowed the premise of gambling from Mahabharata according to Suresh Chabria. All three films were collaborations between Franz Osten and Himanshu Rai. 

Seeta Devi also worked with Priyanath Ganguly in Krishnakanter Will (1926), Durgesh Nandini (1927), Kapal Kundala (1929) and Kal Parinaya (1930). Durgesh Nandini, Bhranti by Jyotish Bannerjee (1928) and Kal Parinaya were some of her films produced by Madan Theatres. She also acted in Niranjan Pal’s Naseeb Ni Balihari (1930) and Naval Gandhi’s Shikari (1932). 

According to B D Garga, she was allegedly married to Sheikh Akram Shah, alias George Nedou, the proprietor of Nedou’s Hotel, Lahore. She was also believed to have converted to Islam for the same reason. However, all doubts were cleared when Seeta Devi denied all such rumours of marriage and conversion in court. The court session was attended by a big group of spectators. She clarified that although he had proposed to her, she was a devout Catholic and was focused on her career. 

Film scholar Virchand Dharamsey holds the view that the pseudonym Seeta Devi was donned by Renee Smith as well as her sister Percy Smith, however, there is no proof to support this theory as of now.