Next evening we too saw her as she sat in front of the Well of Death, looking bored, chain smoking Scissors cigarettes. She wore a “birjis”* of shining blue satin, and her heavily painted face looked weirdly blue in the bright lights. But those who knew declared that Miss Nadia of Hunterwali fame was not a patch on Miss Zohra Derby, the Female Desperado. A ferocious looking man, also in blue satin “birjis” sat next to her, twirling his waxed moustaches. A motorbike roared at the back.
After some minutes Miss Zohra Derby and her ferocious companion entered the Well of Death on their motorbikes and went roaring round and round. The well shook and wavered and it was all very frightening. Qurratulain Hyder, Memories of an Indian Childhood, The Sound of Falling Leaves.
Satin, Shorts, Breeches, Boots, Masks, Guns, Knives, Whips, Duelling, Swashbuckling. There must have been something in the water because the 1930s in India appears to be the decade of badass ladies in India, to use contemporary slang. The undisputed stunt queen of the decade was Fearless Nadia (Australian by birth) but judging by the film titles and stills of the decade, more than one actress was taking on the bad guys single-handedly-and stylishly. The titles are instructive: Hunterwali, Hurricane Hansa, Challenge, Daku ki Ladki, Deccan Queen – you can see a few stills at this site, And as the extract from Hyder’s book shows, stage and pit shows featured female “desperados”:)
Pics today: Hurricane Hansa (also see: [X] [X]); Screen capture from Bhumika, in the movie Smita Patil is a 1930s actress who first stars in an action film; Jewish actress Pramila in Bijli; and Gohar Karnataki in Guru Ghantal.