Saturday, March 19, 2005

Telling Nadia's Tale - Dorothee Wenner

"I find it ironic that for a country where films are woven into the very fabric of daily existence, there’s so little preservation of Indian Film history.”says Dorothee Wenner, a German film-maker and the author of ‘Fearless Nadia: The True Story of Bollywood’s Original Stunt Queen’.  

As a programmer on special assignment for Indian films at the Berlin Film Festival, Dorothee is a true Bollywood-phile, if ever there was such a word! She can rattle off trivia about Indian Films, and has also made a film about the Mercedes in Bollywood films! 

Dorothee was in Chennai this week, for the screening of Riyad Vinci Wadia’s documentary, Fearless - The Hunterwali Story’, that inspired her to write the book.  

“In 1995, I watched Riyad’s documentary on Nadia and it immediately captured my imagination. Coincidentally, a German publishing house also approached me at around that time, to write a book on a female rebel of my choice. So, I chose to work on Nadia’s story, and arrived in Bombay, still unsure of how this project would go off.”, says Dorothee.  

One invaluable source of information and assistance for Dorothee to set about researching and documenting the life of Nadia, was Riyad, who had made the documentary that had inspired her. Riyad was also the grand nephew of Nadia and the scion of Wadia Movietone, the film company that had launched and furthered Nadia’s career.  

“Riyad helped me with translations, as well as shared with me, the background work he had done for his own documentary. The Wadia family history itself, can easily fill up 12 huge trunks!”, says Dorothee. 

One incident that stands out in her mind, was the time they interviewed Pramila, an actress and contemporary to Devika Rani, as also, the first Miss. India in 1947. Dorothee reminisces, “Pramila had become so old and frail, that I wondered whether we should just abandon the interview. She also fainted twice in our presence due to excitement. However, she insisted we stay, and she did narrate many interesting things about that era.”  

So, what was it about Nadia, that inspired Dorothee? “Her indomitable spirit. For a blonde, blue-eyed, busty white girl to capture the collective imagination of Indians in the pre-Independence era, was no mean feat! Add to that the stunts she did! She was, along with the Wadias, a pioneer in the Stunt Film Genre in India. I pride myself for being a feminist, but Nadia represented a fearlessness with a dash of sparkling wit, that’s unmatched in any actress of any era.” 

Dorothee Wenner’s book ‘Fearless Nadia: The True Story of Bollywood’s Original Stunt Queen’ was originally published in German in 1999. It has since been translated by Rebecca Morrison and launched in India recently and is available at bookstores in the city.

(edited version published on March 19, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai. Pic courtesy Seven Shots, as published in Madras Plus)

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