OK, so putting BBKK aside for a few moments, I did do something I never imagined I’d ever get the chance to do. At IFFI, I actually watched a Fearless Nadia film on the big screen. ‘Diamond Queen’. Though I have shamelessly used Fearless Nadia as my avatar, I have never really watched a film featuring her. And I’ve only heard of the documentary made on her by her grandson Riyad Vinci Wadia, and have not read her biography either.
But instinctively, it had seemed to me that Fearless Nadia is what I would have liked most to be, if at all one aspired to be like a heroine on the big screen.
In my excitement, I actually thought that the show would be houseful, there would be people fighting to get into the auditorium. Well, there were around 30 people to begin with, but by the end of the film, only a faithful 7 or 8 had stayed on. The compere before the show warned us that there may be trouble with the print as it was very, very old, and I kept anticipating a burn out, or a snap in the film, but luckily the film went on uninterrupted, albeit it was faded and patchy, and had a strong hiss. But all the problems be damned, what a privilege to watch a Fearless Nadia film on the big screen, straight from 1940.
I ought to have taken more care to make notes while watching the film, especially the credits, given my holey memory, but I mistakenly, smugly thought that I’d find all the information I needed either in the festival brochure or definitely on the internet, and it turns out that this is not the case. So excuse me, if I get some names wrong, and for all the credits I cannot give.
I won’t go much into the story, because there is only the thinnest, most familiar one. Dilair’s father and Mahendra Nath are partners in a gold mine in Sundernagar forest. Dilair’s mother does not like it in the forest, but young Dilair finds playing in the open spaces conducive to his health. Of course, Mahendra Nath betrays Dilair’s father and burns down the couple and their house, but Dilair survives. His father as his last wish, demands that Dilair take vengeance on Mahendra Nath. And Dilair becomes Dilair Daku (John Cowas) when he grows up.
Mahendra Nath has now become the landlord of Diamond Town near Sundernagar, and his henchmen, led by an evil looking Dugga with big mustaches and a Russian cap, hold sway over the town. The town has a small hotel, Diamond Hotel and a school run by Radha (Radha Rani) and her father. As part of a literacy campaign, Radha subjects the town dwellers to a very bad dance performance at the Diamond Hotel, which Dugga and his gang of local thugs disrupt. They also dare to accost Radha at which point, enters our heroine Madhurika (Fearless Nadia).
A slow tilt up from her boots to her loose pants to her shirt to the bindi on her fair face has everyone astounded, even her father. Her first line is, “Don’t think a woman is weak.” A fight ensues. Dilair Daku who was passing by, joins in the fun, and sparks fly between Madhurika and Dilair, much to the chagrin of her father.
The story continues in its predictable fashion, with Prince Ranjit Singh disguised as buffoon secretary, Kishan Kumar making a secret visit to Diamond Town to find out the real state of affairs, an angry father, a dead body, a false murder charge, some comic turns which largely involve 2 comedians with their girlfriends falling off tree branches, or kicking cars, and lots and lots of more fights, including one involving Madhurika and Dilair falling down a waterfall. There is a horse, Punjab ka Beta, whom Madhurika rescues from ill-treatment by Dugga and his men, who does things like locking up the bad men, and generally coming in handy when escape is required. The comedians own a derelict car, Rolls Royce ki Beti, who cannot always be relied to start but they share her generously with Madhurika. Rolls Royce ki Beti stalls at the tracks in front of a speeding train, and I almost expect Fearless Nadia to pick the car up and start running, but she doesn’t, and the car decides to run on its own.
Dilair Daku mainly stands around, waiting to jump into fights Madhurika initiates. And mostly, every scene she fights. There are a couple of scenes where she wears a sari, and looks like a grand old Parsi dame, and we can be sure that there are not going to be any fights in that scene.
Even before she arrives, the town people are curious about the way she will have turned out after studying in Bombay for 5 years. And their disbelief when they see her is proof enough that she has indeed changed a lot. The shock on their faces almost has you wondering if maybe her hair has turned blonde, and her eyes blue by her sojourn in Bombay. The fact that she is a Bombay wali is repeated several times, and the only explanation she gives for herself, is that she spent a lot of time at the gym there.
What makes Madhurika unique in terms of Hindi film heroines is that her power, her fearlessness and her desire to kick ass does not come from any motive of vengeance, personal grief or past history. But from a genuine belief that she can kick ass, and put wrong right. Her father is not too pleased with her kick-ass avatar though, and wishes he had never sent his daughter away. Specially when she cozies up to a daku, Dilair.
Madhurika however sweetly ignores her father, and goes ahead with her love affair. When she receives a love note, and her father makes to open it, she reprimands him gently, that in Bombay this would be considered against etiquette.
In one lovely scene at the waterfall, which is their usual meeting point, she tells her lover that all his sad story notwithstanding, it makes no sense for him to be a daku. He refuses to surrender. Before she can argue, her father arrives on the scene, and is outraged that she has continued to meet Dilair against his wishes. She is unflappable however. She tells Dilair in front of her father, that she’ll come and meet him tomorrow, and she expects him to surrender, as that is the best thing to do. No arguments, no tears, no emotional blackmail. Just good humor and common sense.
Soon you begin to believe that if she is around, nothing much can go wrong. I had always read that Fearless Nadia was loved for her stunts and her Amazonian strength. But I came away charmed by her gentleness, and how feminine she is in the way she takes her strength for granted. She loves being strong, she enjoys beating bad men up, cycling around town and has no coyness, or guilt or any notion of self-sacrifice or womanly duties.
I am really pleased now that I have chosen her as my avatar. Particularly as she is as ample as me.
And here’s a collage I made with the pictures I did find on the internet.