10 Women Who Changed The Landscape Of Bollywood We Seem To Have Forgotten

All the qualified ladies, put your hands up!

From science and technology to art and literature, mankind has made a lot of progress. And women have been a huge part of that. Bollywood is no exception. From acting to directing and everything in between, there’s been no shortage of talented women both in front of and behind the camera.

But some of their contributions have been looked over. And it’s  time to rectify that.

#1 Durgabai Kamat


Kamat remains the very first cinema actress in India.

Back when Dadasaheb Phalke first made Raja Harishchandra, he had to use male actors. But the success of the film gave rise to more people aspiring to work in the industry. Which is how Durgabai was first cast in Mohini Bhamasur. 

#2 Fearless Nadia


The first stuntwoman of India, Nadia was uniquely talented and unafraid of more action-driven roles which eventually led to her long-lasting career.

Originally named Mary Ann Evans, she made her mark after headlining in the film Hunterwali. Nadia’s career went well into her 50’s and she was a defining female lead throughout the 30s and 40s.

#3 Saraswati Devi


Born to a Parsi family with a love for music, Saraswati Devi was trained in Hindustani classical music before joining Marris College to study music.

She and her sisters gave regular performances at the All India Radio station in Mumbai which is how she was discovered by the founder of Bombay Talkies. She first composed music for the film Jawani Ki Hawa. Originally named Khorshed Homji, she took on the identity of Saraswati Devi because the Parsi community protested to have their women removed from the film business.

#4 Usha Khanna


One of the most commercially successful music directors of her time, Khanna was a sensation throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Some of her best-known songs include “Chhodo kal ki baatein” as well as “Zindagi pyaar ka geet hain”. 

Her father was introduced to the industry when they first moved to Mumbai. She consequently sang a song for Sashadar Mukherjee, who was so impressed with her voice and compositional skills, he hired her to write two songs a day for a year, eventually making her the music director for the film Dil Deke Dekho.

She was also known to give upcoming singers a shot, these included names like Pankaj Udhas and Sonu Nigam.

#5 Honey Irani


A child actor at the beginning of her career, Honey Irani featured on around 72 films. Reportedly, following her divorce from Javed Akhtar, she began to embroider sarees for a living.

But her career began when she narrated a short story to Pam Chopra for a TV series, which soon went on to become the film Aaina. After her debut as a screenwriter, she went on to pen some of the most memorable productions like Lamhe, Kaho Na…Pyaar Hai, Albela and Darr.

#6 Jaddan Bai


The half-sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, Jaddanbai Hussain was the first female composer to make it in Bollywood. She did try her hand at singing but found it difficult because she didn’t really have any professional training. However, she soon enrolled under gurus and gained fame especially for her ghazals and was invited to various locations to perform.

She even became a play actor and began her own production company called Sangeet Films. And composed the music for the movies produced under that banner.

#7 Nadira


Of of the most memorable vamps at a time when many actresses would have turned such roles down, Nadira was best known for embracing off-beat roles such as in Aan or Shree 420. She transitioned seamlessly to more mature roles like in Julie or Josh and was one of the highest paid actresses of her time.

She also came to attention as one of the earliest actresses in India to own a Rolls Royce.

#8 Tun Tun


Typically thought of as the first female comedian to grace Indian screens, Uma Devi ran away from home and arrived in Bombay at the age of 23.

She is reported to have gone to composer Naushad Ali’s door and implored him to let her audition, after which she was hired as a playback singer. She peaked in the 1940s as a singer and was eventually phased out by singers like Lata Mangeshkar.

At this point, she picked up acting and starred in Dilip Kumar’s Babul, here Nargis gave her the name Tun Tun to suit her comic timing.

Her filmography includes classics like Aar Paar, Pyaasa and Namak Halal.

#9 Fatima Begum


Her career started as an Urdu stage actress which led her to be cast in Veer Abhimanyu in 1922. She founded Fatma Films in 1928 and made attempts at utilising special effects to achieve more surreal images in films.

She is known as the first recorded female director in India for her movie Bulbul-e-Paristan. She produced, directed and acted in multiple films and was the mother of the legendary actress Zubeida. Her daughter went on to become the first actress in an Indian talkie.

#10 Daisy Irani


The twins Daisy and the aforementioned Honey often played young boys on screen in their childhood. Their popularity was in fact so definitive that their names were used to sell film tickets and even re-written to feature scenes with the two of them in the film.

Daisy has also ventured to act in films as an adult, but not very actively.

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