Bollywood's 'other women' get prominence

Born in Australia as Mary Evans and later renamed as ‘Fearless Nadia’ in India, the masked adventuress of Bollywood who played the protagonist in 1935 film Hunterwali, was rediscovered in Delhi’s Khirki Village where an exhibition is being held by Khoj International Artists Association, in an attempt to pay homage to  Bollywood’s other women.

“The Other Woman is a tribute to vamps, anti-heroines, seductresses and dancers of Bombay cinema, the women who have been nothing more than a foil to the innocent-as-lamb image of the leading lady by their courage,” says Pooja Sood,
director at Khoj.

Their boldness and their sexual freedom, according Sood, take centre-stage in
this exhibition.

Organisers of the exhibition believe that such events are extremely important to explore multiple and diverse narratives of women of the entertainment industry who claimed their sexual identities with pride and earned their living in spite of perceived social stigma.

Originally curated by Debashree Mukherjee, the exhibition comprises a selection of film memorabilia from Maya Mahal, a collection of posters and publicity stills which were in a slow process of decay before being rescued by Priya Paul, the chairperson of the Park Hotels.

“These were fragile paper objects and I realised that they would soon be destroyed. It seemed like an urgent project to me, and I started collecting as many such artefacts as I could,” Paul said.

She added, “I looked for images that had a strong graphic quality that juxtaposed tradition with modernity; that were amusing or curious in some way; and of course, those that had actors and films I could recognise.”

The exhibition will also showcase B-grade horror cinema from Pakistan and the feature films Desperately Seeking Helen, a feature film directed by Eisha Marjara, about a young Indian immigrant in the United States and her search for her childhood film-idol, the legendary Bombay cinema femme fatale Helen.

“The debate around representations of women in Hindi cinema and its surrounding cultural production has often exposed the unabashed sexual objectification that the female form has been subjected to. This strain of argument, while not altogether false, seems simplistic and buys into the much-contested narrative of the ‘woman
as victim’, the organisers told Metrolife.

The exhibition also brings forward a discourse surrounding the socio-cultural background of those who played the roles of vamps and seductresses. To name a few, Helen, the celebrated cabaret queen, was of Anglo-Burmese descent while Pramilla, was born in a Baghdadi Jewish family of Calcutta. Event organisers believe that casting of these women was not by coincidence but a deliberate positioning of women as the pure and
untrammelled core of Hindu society.

The exhibition will showcase posters, lobby cards and publicity stills from a long chronology of films, charting out the film publicity machinery over the years.
It is on at Khoj Studios, Khirki Village, till December 8, 11 am-7pm.

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