Indian Cinema witnessed the arrival of ladies in films with Durgabai and Kamlabai Kamat working in lead roles in Dadasaheb Phalke‘s second film, Mohini Bhasmasur (1913). Later many ladies made names in Indian cinema like Sulochana who was termed as the First Lady Super Star of the Silent Era or Fatma Begum the First Female Filmmaker of Indian Cinema. Other ladies who made names were Zubeida –The First actress of India’s First Talkie film! However, the lady to don the distinction of being called The First Lady of Indian cinema was Devika Rani!!
Though Devika Rani made her debut in Indian cinema in 1933 with the film Karma yet she is being credited as the First Lady of Indian cinema because Devika Rani was the First Lady of Indian cinema who was not only a top actress but she was a film producer and the First Lady in India to run a film studio!!
Bold, brilliant and beautiful, Devika Rani did formal training in cinema from London before taking films as her career. It is reported she learned acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Music at Royal Academy of Music, both in London. She also learned architecture, textile and decor design, and even did an apprentice job under Elizabeth Arden. Later she met Himanshu Rai and joined his production house and did the film A Throw Of Dice (1929). During the film making Himanshu and Devika came close and the duo married. Later the couple went to Germany and acquired professional training in the art of film-making from famous UFA Studious in Berlin.
The couple came to Bombay and set-up Bombay Talkies, India’s most modern and state-of-the-art studio. They made many hit films like Achhut Kanya, Izzat, Jeevan Naiya, Janma Bhoomi, Hamari Baat, Vachan, Kangan, Bandhan, Jhoola, Kismet and many more!
However, after the untimely death of Himanshu Rai, Devika Rani had to act tough! Unlike the ordinary woman, she did not gave-up or followed the absurd rituals of Hindu Dharma, where a lady had to perform several customs on her husband’s death like becoming bald and quit society! Instead, Devika took over the reins of the management of Bombay Talkies and like a taskmaster; she took the best work from her staff.
Under her regime, she faced many hurdles like the British kicking out the German technicians from Bombay Talkies. Secondly, she faced the rebel from Bombay Talkies film directors Gyan Mukherjee and S Mukherji who got separated from Bombay Talkies and made their independent film studio Filmistan in 1942. Nevertheless, Devika Rani stood against all odds. But when she saw Bombay Talkies sinking she sold her shares and quite films.
Indian government saluted her wide contribution to Indian cinema and honored her with Padmashri in 1958 and gave her Dadasaheb Phalke Award. Interestingly she is the First recipient of Dadasaheb Phalke Award started in 1970 by India.
Devika Rani died on March 9, 1994 at ripe age of 85 years.