Aussie Nadia, the star of India

Aussie Nadia, the star of India

Beat that: Composer Ben Walsh and orchestra with Fearless Nadia in Diamond Queen on screen. Photo: SuppliedFearless Nadia cracked whips, jumped trains and threw bad guys on the scrap heap. Australia’s first Bollywood icon, who spoke and sang in Hindi, was a long way from her beginnings as Mary Ann Evans, of Perth. Born just over a century ago, Evans was the daughter of a British soldier father and Greek mother. She relocated as a child to Bombay when her father was stationed there.Full movies coverage
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The precociously gifted girl eventually joined the circus but soon found one of the world’s biggest movie markets was hers to conquer. The Indian cinema-going public loved their blonde, blue-eyed Nadia and she even survived the transition from silent movies to talkies.

To celebrate a century of Indian cinema, Oz Fest and South Australia’s OzAsia Festival co-commissioned Australian composer Ben Walsh to write a new score for a Fearless Nadia film.

Walsh viewed several of her more than 50 titles – the best known, Hunterwali, in 1935, had her cracking the whip – and chose Diamond Queen, from 1940, to be played on a big screen while his eclectic orchestra of 14 Indian and Australian musicians play his score. He will conduct the orchestra while playing drums.

Diamond Queen has stunts, romance, political content, bad guys and action. ”I instantly heard music when I saw it,” Walsh says.

Alas, the original film sound was almost inaudible and the original music very minimal. Some of the chase scenes had no music at all. Some scenes were also too long for today’s short attention spans. But Walsh re-edited the film into a shorter, slicker version. The movie has been transferred from its nitrate original to digital.

His orchestra combines western and Indian classical music, which he describes as ”an improvised discipline with completely different rules and structures”. Walsh’s task was to knit the two, the western musicians reading scores and the Indian musicians left to interpret the music in their own notation and language. The musicians help dramatise the film. A viola player leaps into the air on a harness and spins furiously during his solo. Dancer Shruti Ghosh performs live and there will be a live vaudeville routine.

Evans died in Mumbai in 1996. ”It’s a real shame she’s not better known in Australia,” says Walsh, ”because she was not only a female icon as a stuntwoman. She was also a strong feminist icon in India.”

Fearless Nadia plays Riverside Theatre, Parramatta for Parramasala Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.