Atul’s Song A Day- A choice collection of Hindi Film & Non-Film Songs

Kadam kadam badhe chalo

Posted on: April 11, 2014


This article is written by Arunkumar Deshmukh, a fellow enthusiast of Hindi movie music and a regular contributor to this blog. This article is meant to be posted in atulsongaday.me. If this article appears in sites like lyricstrans.com and ibollywoodsongs.com etc then it is piracy of the copyright content of atulsongaday.me and is a punishable offence under the existing laws.

THE VIBRANT 40s (Episode No. 2)
——————————–
In the first episode, we have described the period of 40s as the decade of experimentation and changes. Stunt films had started from the era of silent films itself, but sporadically. This genre prospered in the 40s as many films featuring deadly stunt scenes( actually done, not trick scenes) came on the screen. Among the actors who were famous for stunt films in the 40s were Master Vithal, Master Bhagwan, Fearless Nadia and few others. But no one became as successful and popular as Fearless Nadia in stunt film genre. Fearless Nadia who became famous from her First stunt film ” Hunterwali”-1935 itself, worked exclusively for Wadia Brothers, who discovered her. She worked for Wadia Movietone from 1933 to 1942 and for Basant Pictures from 43 to upto her retirement. She worked in 37 films in all. Her first film was ‘Lal e Yaman’-1933 and the last one was ‘ Khiladi’-1958.

Here is what Roy Wadia-grandson of J.B.H.Wadia ( Jamshed ji Boman ji Hormus ji Wadia) said about Fearless Wadia…

In the 1930s, just when the silent era was giving way to the talkies, there appeared on Hindi film screens a blue-eyed blonde who caused men to piss in their pants. Among the first of cinema’s audacious feminists, she challenged male dominance with such rousing lines as: “Don’t be under the assumption that you can lord over today’s women. If the nation is to be free, women have to be freed first.” This was in 1940, in a socialist-themed film titled Diamond Queen. The heroine was a 27-year-old upstart called Nadia.

Nadia leapt from windows, jumped off cliffs, swung from chandeliers, fought atop speeding trains, lived among wild lions and routinely lifted men and flung them like a wrestler. Above all, she acquired fame as a woman who cracked the whip. She did all this on her own, without any safety measures and health insurance. A messiah-like figure unfailingly coming to the rescue of the downtrodden and weak, Fearless Nadia was the female Robin Hood of her time.

Astride her pet horse, named Punjab Ka Beta for comic effect, the masked, whip-wielding Nadia was a sensation among filmgoers in the early era of Hindi cinema. A devout Catholic, born in Perth, Australia, Nadia or Mary Evans was voluptuous but athletic and “supple”, as she puts it. It is a matter of great debate how she found acceptance as a major Bollywood star in the conservative 1930s. It was a strange phenomenon, unparalleled in the history of Hindi cinema. Strange, because it involved a White woman breaking into a Brown male bastion. And strange also because it happened so early in the day, a time when the cinematic taste of British-ruled India was in infancy. Nadia was an experiment that somehow worked at a critical time in Indian cinema’s history.

Nadia was a creation of Wadia Movietone, a studio founded by Roy’s grandfather Jamshed Wadia that specialised in making stunt and mythological films. The studio made a fortune on the back of her swashbuckling stunts. It was quite by chance that she came into contact with the Wadias. Born of a Scottish father and Greek mother, she arrived in Mumbai, then Bombay, as a toddler. Her father, a soldier in the British army, was transferred to Bombay’s Elephanta Island in 1912. Shortly thereafter, the family occupied a small flat in Colaba. It is interesting to note that Nadia, who would endear herself to the masses as a stuntwoman, at first wanted to be a singer and dancer. World War I prompted the family’s move to Peshawar. It was here that Nadia developed a soft spot for animals that found expression in her movies. Even as a girl, she was different. While girls her age played with fluffy soft toys, she kept a pony who became her best friend. The family was uprooted yet again when Mary and her mother decided to return to Bombay for good, barely after a few years of stay in Peshawar.

As a young woman, Mary joined a troupe of the Russian dancer Madame Astrova. . Astrova’s troupe performed for British soldiers at military bases, for Indian royalty and for other crowds in dusty small towns and villages. She mastered the art of cartwheels and splits, which came in handy later during her film stunts. With circus experience under her belt, Nadia was ready for bigger things. It is believed that Mary changed her name to Nadia on astrological advice. An Armenian fortune teller had foretold her that a successful career lay ahead but she would have to choose a name starting with the letter ‘N’. Nadia was finally chosen because it was “exotic-sounding”.

Nadia’s fortunes did rise. The Lahore cinema owner Eruch Kanga spotted her in a performance and reported this to Jamshed and Homi Wadia, the Wadia Movietone brothers. An appointment was fixed and a nervous Nadia, togged up in a blue dress and sunflower-decked hat, took a tram from Wellington Mews in Colaba to the Wadias’ original studio in Parel.

The Wadia brothers, of an elite Parsi family, were shocked by how visibly Western she was. How can a White woman even think of becoming a heroine in Hindi films? When Jamshed told her that he had never heard of her before, she shot back: “Until now, I hadn’t heard of you either!” Impressed with her attitude, they decided to put her to test. Initially, she was given walk-on parts in studio productions that were in progress at the time. Later, she was hired at a weekly salary of Rs 60. Once in the Wadia fold, she was instructed to learn Hindi.

“She always had difficulty speaking Hindi and had a very strong accent, but for some reason, the audience did not object,” says Roy. The Wadias, who were raised on a diet of American Westerns and who idolised Tom Mix, Francis Ford and Eddie Polo, started preparing to launch Nadia in a big way. And Hunterwali, the dramatic story of a princess trying to rescue her kidnapped father and salvage his empire, was considered perfect material for her launch. Inspired by Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood, it was an unconventional, even radical, subject for Indian viewers. Jamshed Wadia wanted to model Nadia on American heroines like Pearl White, Grace Cunardand Helen Holmes. A progressive intellectual who entered film production despite his family’s objection, Jamshed Wadia was the brain behind her success.

“In the film’s publicity campaign, [he] hyped her as a stunt queen. For a long time, Wadia Movietone was known only for Hunterwali,” says Roy. The film opened at Super Cinema, in Bombay’s theatre hub of Lamington Road. Thrilled at seeing a White woman don a mask and crack a whip at her father’s tormenters, the male audience was left thirsting for more. Director Homi Wadia had landed a magic formula. And Nadia became Fearless Nadia, which, as Wenner mentions, was carefully ‘built into the publicity strategy.’ Through her career, her audience remained predominantly male, the working class to whom she provided entertainment, deliverance and catharsis in equal measure.

Hunterwali was only a prelude to a remarkable career. Emboldened by its success, in film after film, Nadia took up the cause of social injustice, education, women’s emancipation, corruption, land-grabbing and exploitation. With each film, her stunts became more daring and death-defying. “Homi made her do more and more outlandish stunts. She would be told to lift men up because of her strength and she would do it, without any fuss. She would just do a little sign of a cross on her heart like any devout Catholic and jump into the scene,” says Roy.

“I will try anything once,” she used to say.

On a number of occasions, Nadia risked her life in the line of duty. In Hunterwali, she had to swing from a chandelier. She did the rehearsal perfectly but fell flat on her face from a great height during the final scene. Once, she almost got swept away in the strong currents of Bhandardara Falls near Bombay.

Her films usually had recurring stock characters, doing the same sort of stuff that viewers expected of them. There was the pet horse, Punjab Ka Beta, and the old faithful Gunboat, a sprightly dog. Her jalopy bore the name (again, rather comically) Rolls Royce Ki Beti. The villain was almost always the wicked Sayani, who in Homi’s words, “acquired a following of his own, famous as he was for scratching his jaws with an evil look his eyes. His stock line, ‘Dekha jayega’ had become a catchphrase.” Typically, a Nadia film also starred John Cawas and Boman Shroff, two heavyweight bodybuilders who desperately sought acceptance as actors. There was also a ubiquitous father figure, a simpleton in dhoti, kurta and turban. How the blonde could pass off as an Indian villager’s daughter is beyond anyone’s comprehension.

Nevertheless, there are attempts to fix this recurring implausibility. In Diamond Queen, for instance, she returns to her town after spending years in Bombay. When her stunned father asks her about her modern attire and urban outlook, she attributes it to working out rigorously in “Bombay’s gymnasiums”.

Yet, what never changed and was believable was her sterling sincerity and integrity. If on one hand she played an avenging Harijan inHurricane Hansa, on the other she spread the message of communal harmony in Lutaru Lalna, whereas in Punjab Mail, she fought the class system.

The cognoscenti scoffed at stunt films because, as Roy puts it,“There wasn’t a so-called serious label on them. They were fun, simply time pass and even the actors who worked in them did not see themselves as social reformers. For them, it was merely a job that they had to perform.”

Filmmaker Shyam Benegal has earlier hailed the genre of stunt films as historically significant.

“She wasn’t Nargis or Meena Kumari,” admits Roy. “But very respectfully, I would like to point out that Nadia was a precursor of Mother India. What Nargis portrayed was through a lot of suffering, sacrifice, tears and agony. Nadia fought for the right to be an equal of men, and to not let society dictate what a woman should do and what she shouldn’t. She was a champion of truth and justice.”

A link has been drawn between Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man characters who rebelled against the system post-Emergency with Nadia’s angst.He’s not afraid to the take the law into his own hands and actually kills people to get justice. He often himself dies in the end. Nadia, on the other hand, didn’t take it that far. She fought but she never killed anyone because she would always let the system take its course in the end. She herself didn’t deliver the final blow.

In private life, she was as charming as she was aggressive on screen. Mahesh Bhatt, whose father Nanabhai Bhatt directed her in Muqabala(1942), a cult film in which the formula of twin sisters separated-at-birth was first explored, dubs her a reincarnation of Durga, a Hindu goddess.

She led a happy life save a rough patch when she took to drinking. She was in love with Homi, her director, and wanted to marry him. But his mother, a staunch Parsi, disapproved of the match. “She was hurt by the family’s disapproval. She wasn’t a Parsi and had to go through a lot of heartache,” says Roy. In 1959, she quit acting, only to return in the 1960s in what was to be her last bow. She finally married Homi after his mother’s death when she was in her early fifties.

In the last years of her life, she used to be spotted walking her dogs in the bylanes of Colaba. She usually wore shorts on these walks, scandalising onlookers. ‘Nadia and her mother were well known in the neighbourhood as an eccentric pair,’ writes Roy.

In these politically turbulent times, Roy feels the country needs real-life Nadias. If there was a Nadia today, she would certainly be fighting politicians, corruption, illegal mining, property developers and other relevant issues.

Just like Nadia, taking inspiration from her,there were many Indian actors too who made stunt films. The only difference was their films lacked sophistication, so were patronised by the ‘C’ grade audience, whereas the films of Nadia maintained their B+ grade always, if not A class. An interesting Tit Bit about Nadia’s film is that the famous Music Director of the 60s and a long time assistant of legendary S.D.Burman–Jaidev had acted in Nadia’s “Hunterwali”-35 and “Miss Frontier mail”-36 as CHUNNOO, her sidekick. He acted in some other Wadia films also.

obviously, Nadia’s hair raising stunts being the main attraction in her films. Music never played an important part. In her most films, Master Mohammed was the music director. A. Kareem, Aziz Khan and surprisingly Chitragupta also were the Music Directors to work in these films. Her films contained patriotic, Love, Cabaret, Dance, Parody songs and even Bhajans . There were qawwaalis too. In ‘Hunterwali ki beti’-43, Khan Mastana has sung a famous Ghalib Gazal-“Dil e nadan tujhe huwa kya hai”.

The Wadia brothers separated in 1942 and Nadia moved out to Homi Wadia’s Basant Pictures along with some of her cast members. She had to leave behind her pets- Punjab ka Beta-Horse,Gunboat-Dog and Rolls Royce ki beti-her jalopy. In Basant Pictures she got Rajput the Horse,Moti the Dog and Austin ki Bachhi the Jalopy as a replacement.They were equally good.

I used to love stunt films in general and Nadia’s films in particular. I must have seen several of her films,which came for second or third runs in old dilapidated theatres in the farthest corners of Hyderabad. But I saw them.

The cast of the film was Nadia,John Cavas,Sardar mansoor,Rajkumari,Sayani,Gulab,Boman Shroff,Dalpat and khan Mastana himself to sing Ghalib’s gazal on screen. There were 9 songs,out of which there were 2 Arabian language songs-must be for creation of the period. The MD was a small time composer of 2 films,Chhannalal Naik.

The story of the film was…

In the kingdom of queen Madhuri everything was peaceful.She was very strict with evil doers and used a Hunter to punish them.So she was known as Hunterwali Rani. This peace was broken when her cousin Pratap not only invaded the kingdom,but also imprisoned Madhuri. Her small daughter Kishori was saved by the loyal sardar Ishwar Singh who escapes with the child,eluding the forces of pratap. After 15 years,it is Kishori who dons Hunterwali’s uniform and supports the poor and punishes the cruel. She is trained by Ishwarsing,whose son Vijay falls in love with her. Pratap sends forces to capture her. They catch Vijay and tie him to the Railway track,from where a riding Hunterwali ki beti alias Kishori rescues him.

Th get Kishori, Pratap announces the hanging of Queen Madhuri in his Black Fort. Kishori, Vijay and their accomplices enter the fort,rescue the queen and capture Pratap and his aide Ajit. The Queen is reinstated on the throne, Kishori and Vijay get united and Pratap and Ajit get Life imprisonment sentence.

One more point before we conclude. One of my friends, Mr.Mahesh Sharma (brother of Pratap Sharma-commentator of News reels and documentaries, and Madhup Sharma,Lyricist) who stayed in Colaba, Bombay, informed me one day in 1983, that Fearless Nadia was staying near his house and that everyday she comes out with her dogs. I decided to meet her. I stayed with Mahesh for the night and next day early morning we waited for her. Sure, she came with her Dogs to the Park nearby. I went to her and spoke to her for about 15 minutes. She was very kind and soft. We never thought of taking her photographs, but I will never ever forget these golden moments in my life…talking to a legendary star…the Fearless Nadia herself !

The 42-43 was also a turbulent period for the industry. Many upheavals took place. More about them in our future episodes. Now,let us enjoy this Marching song from the film ” Hunterwali ki Beti”-1943. It is sung by Rajkumari, Sardar Mansoor and chorus…..

Video

Song-Kadam kadam badhe chalo (Hunterwaali Ki Beti)(1943) Singers-Rajkumari, Sardar Mansoor, Shyam Sundar, Lyrics-A Kareem, MD-Chhannalal Naik

Lyrics

kadam kadam badhe chalo
dam badam chale chalo
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
kadam kadam badhe chalo
dam badam chale chalo
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon

aata ? hai
aafaton mein jaan hai
qaid se use chhudaana apna farz jaano
kaid se use chhudaana apna farz jaano
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
kadam kadam badhe chalo
dam badam chale chalo
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
hey

zulm ka mita do naam
lo bahaaduri se kaam
intekaam intekaam
yahi dil mein thhaano
intekaam intekaam yahi dil mein thhaano
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
kadam kadam badhe chalo
dam badam chale chalo
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
hey

deep uthhaao hanste jaao
dil pe mail bhi na laao
ae mere bahaaduron
gham ko gham na jaano
ae mere bahaaduron
gham ko gham na jano
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
kadam kadam badhe chalo
dam badam chale chalo
jung shuru jawaanon
jung shuru jawaanon
hey

3 Responses to "Kadam kadam badhe chalo"

I appreciate your narration as well as the way you present them. Just proceed ahead with your enchanting story and keep the readers spellbound.

Like

Arunji,
I was off the circuit for some time due to compelling circumstances. I went through two of your episodes on Vibrant 40’s. I enjoyed your narration very much. Thanks for yet another fabulous article.

Like

Wow……what a lovingly written piece of history…… I would like to believe that your love for stunt films & fearless Nadia must be the reason for this flow. One of the best write ups of yours I have read…..remind me of C Ramchandra series came which was written in same ardour if not more.
Thanks a lot Arun ji!

Warm Regards,

Umesh

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