Fearless Nadia is a musical performance and film about an unusual star of Indian cinema. Mary Evans, a white woman born in Western Australia, became a popular Hindi-language actor known for her alarming stunts, progressive views and vigorous fight scenes.
This OzAsia show presented a brief biographical film, followed by numerous highlights from her film Diamond Queen (1940), in which she plays a young, educated Indian woman who must team with a local bandit to defeat a cruel and rapacious overlord. There’s slapstick, romance and some excellent action set-pieces with a large cast and a moustache-twirling villain. There’s even a heroic horse.
The film snippets were accompanied by a small orchestra playing Western and Indian instruments. The musicians playing Western instruments wore their traditional garb of waistcoats and jazz hats. The Indian musicians performed sitting down, on raised platforms. All gave virtuoso performances, but it was the tabla players who garnered the most enthusiastic applause.
The combination of Diamond Queen and the Orkestra of the Underground was hard to resist. We in the audience cheered when Fearless Nadia punched out her first villains – her cinematic entrance is as an on-screen fist. We quailed when Mary Evans, who did all her own stunts, fell backwards into a waterfall. It was, perhaps, a little over-the-top when an electric violinist hung upside-down over the screen, suspended some metres above the stage while a scene reached a climax, but generally speaking, the music enhanced the film rather than distracted from it. After a long, luxurious, post-film outro, reminiscent of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, we gave the orchestra a standing ovation.
The show has closed in Adelaide but will be touring in India.