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The Queens of Bollywood

When Jewish women were the leading ladies of Indian cinema

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Sulochana (Ruby Myers) and Zillo in Saubhagya Sundari(Courtesy Neepa Majumdar)

Rose Ezra. Ruby Myers. Farhat Ezekiel Nadira. From the earliest years of Bollywood, these and other Jewish actresses garnered starring roles. And while they may have looked somewhat exotic to moviegoers, they came from Baghdadi Jewish families who had been living in India for decades. Reporter Eric Molinsky speaks to film scholars, as well as friends and relatives of these once-beloved but now mostly forgotten stars of Indian cinema, to find out how they became the “go-to girls” for leading female roles in the 1920s, ’30s, and beyond.

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Phillip Ernest says:

Very very interesting exposition of a cultural fact that I have long wondered about, many thanks.

m f alam says:

and then there were muslim women who ruled although they kept hindu names to blend in.
madhubal ( mumtaz jahan )
begum para
swaran lata
noor jahan and yes nargis

Samuel Benjamin says:


– Sammy Benjamin.

Partha Sur says:

Baghdadi Jews settled in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), India (then only a trading post)around 1580 ! – a full 100 years before the British East India company was established there in 1690 by Job Charnock. So the Baghdadi Jews (and some Armenian Jews and Christians) were the original inhabitants of Calcutta – not Hindu Bengalis.

Cerita says:

I am so very happy to see this, finally someone has spoken about the great Jewish actresses of Indian cinema. I grew up watching Nadira and can never forget the wonderful roles she played. Indian Jewish women were prominent figures in all aspects of Indian life.

As mentioned above so were Muslim women, the great Muslim actresses of Indian cinema were amazing, especially at a time when a woman in Indian cinema was looked down on and considered immoral and against her faith.

Great women that inspire me everyday!

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Maria Freudenthal von Kleina,M.A. says:

I sing for You beloved,famous world-,classical-,film musical-,operetta-,yiddish melodies.
With the best wishes,
Maria Freudenthal von kleina,M.A.

Maria Freudenthal von Kleina,M.A. says:

I love Bollywood and Hollywood so much!!!
Maria Freudenthal von Kleina,M.A.

Maria Freudenthal von Kleina,M.A. says:

Maria FreudenthAl von Kleina,M.A.

Neel says:

I am a Hindu but I have good hearted and kind Jewish lover since 8 yrs.I love him.

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J K Dhaundiyal says:

Madame Nadira was a fascinating personality and the impact that her presence made on any film in which she starred was immense, and of a hugely high-voltage kind. Her debut, opposite the legendary Mr Dilip Kumar, in Mehboob Khan’s Aan in the early 1950s was nothing short of explosive. And, in all her movies since then, her performances were always impeccably polished and essayed in a superbly riveting style that was uniquely her own.

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Tapan Kumar Mukherjee says:

Ramola who was a Jewish actress should be included in the list of heroines in Hindi cinema under this category. She was a successful actress of the 40s and early 50s of the last century. Dev Anand was her hero in the Hindi film ‘Hum Bhi Insaan Hain'(1948) and ‘Stage'(1951). For details in this regard reference may be made to an article ‘A Tall Order’ by AC Tuli published in the Statesman (Marquee) dated 25th February 2012.


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The Queens of Bollywood

When Jewish women were the leading ladies of Indian cinema

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