Jews of Early Bollywood
1. Azurie was an actress and dancer who was popular in the 1930s and 40s. She was the first dancer to gain popularity in Hindi films. She was born to an Indian mother and German father in Bangalore in 1907. It is believed that her debut film was Nadira (1934), and her last film released in India was Bahana (1942), before she migrated to Pakistan, where she starred in films such as Jhoomar (1959). She died in August 1998 in Pakistan.
2. Sulochana (Ruby Myers) was a silent film actress from the Baghdadi Jewish community of India. She was born in Pune in 1907. At the height of her career, she was the highest paid actress of her time. She worked as a telephone operator before entering the film industry. Some of her popular silent films were Typist Girl (1926), Wildcat of Bombay (1927), and Madhuri (1928). With the coming of sound, she had to take a year off to learn Hindustani (the language of the films) as she was not proficient. She made a comeback with the 1932 talkie version of Madhuri. Sulochana founded her own film production house, RubiPics in the mid-1930s. She received the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1973 for her lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. By the 1980s, she was a forgotten actress and died on October 10, 1983 in Mumbai.
3. Nadira (Florence Ezekiel Nadira) was born to a Baghdadi Jewish family on December 5, 1932. She rose to fame with the 1952 film Aan, in which she played a Rajput princess. Her most memorable fims are Shree 420 (1955), Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960), Pakeezah (1971), and Julie (1975). She was a well-paid actress and one of the first Indian actresses to own a Rolls Royce. She was active in her career up until 2001, when she played in the movie Zohra Mahal. For the last part of her life, she lived alone in Mumbai, as most of her family moved to Israel. She died on February 9, 2006.
4. Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham) was born in Calcutta to a Baghdadi Jewish family on December 30, 1916. She was the winner of the first Miss India contest in 1947. She peformed stunts in movies such as Ulti Ganga (1942) and Basant (1942). She became the first female film producer and released 16 films under Silver Productions. She also graduated from the University of Cambridge and became a teacher. She died on August 6, 2006 in Mumbai.
5. Pearl Padamsee was born in 1931 to a Jewish mother and Christian father, but she later converted to Christianity. She was the director of an English-language theatre in Mumbai, which was active from the 1950s to 90s, and she hosted after-school theatre workshops for children. She acted in films such as Khatta Meetha (1978), Junoon (1978), and Baaton Baaton Mein (1979). Her last film was in 1998, and she died on April 24, 2000.
6. Joseph David Penkar was a Bene Israel screenwriter, director, and composer. He wrote the script for the first talkie film in India, Alam Ara (1931). He subsequently joined the Imperial Film Company as a writer, and wrote the scripts for films such as Sati Sone (1932), Lal-e-Yaman (1933), and Desh Deepak (1935), all of which he composed the music for. He died in 1942. Little seems to be known about him.
7. David Abraham Cheulkar, popularly known as David, was a Bene Israel actor born in 1909. After graduating college in 1930, he struggled to find a job, and decided to join the film industry. He gained prominence with the 1942 film Naya Sansar and later acted in over 100 films, such as Boot Polish (1954), Gol Maal (1979), and Baaton Baaton Mein (1979). He won several awards, including the Padma Shri Award in 1969. He was closely associated with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), a leftist theatre company that served as the cultural wing of the Communist Party of India. He was active in his career up until his death, December 28, 1981.
8. Firoza Begum (Susan Solomon) was a Bene Israel actress. She acted in Hindi and Marathi films in the 1920s and 30s. Some of her popular films are Bewafa Qatil, Prem Veer, and Circus Girl. Little seems to be known about her. (I’m not certain that is her in the picture; it may be the Bangladeshi singer whose name was also Firoza Begum, but this picture was attached to Susan Solomon’s alias in multiple sources.)
9. Ramola Devi (Rachel Cohen) is most known for her role in Khazanchi (1941). She debuted in the 1937 film Calcutta After Midnight. She appeared in many films, such as Qaidi (1941), Khamoshi (1942), and Sawan Aya Re (1949). After the emergence of popular actresses such as Madhubala, Meena Kumari, and Nargis, her career was eclipsed. Her last films were Actor, Jawani Ki Aag and Stage, all released in 1951. Little seems to be known about her.