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.
Mhara re Ghiridar Gopal, mhara re Ghiridar Gopal. Dusara na koiya! I have only Ghiridar Gopal (Lord Krishna). Not anybody else! Sadha sakaal lok joya, dusara na koiya. I’ve seen plenty of others, but none is like You. Bhaya chadya bundha chadya, chadya saga soya… My family and relatives have all abandoned me… Sadhu sang baith baith, lok laaj koyaa. Because now I sit among the sages, society neglects me. Bhagat dekhya raji hya, lagat dekhya roya. Seeing devotees pleased me, but seeing worldy people saddened me. Doodh math gruhth kadh leya, dar daya choya. I’ve churned the milk, saved the butter and discarded the rest. (I’ve taken only the pure and uncorrupted in this world, discarding what is not.) Rana vishro pyala bhejya. Piya magan hoya. Rana sent me a cup of poison. I drank it out of my devotion and still felt God. Meera ri lagan lagyaa, hod hoj hoya! Meera’s obsession is indeed Lord Krishna, so come what may!
Meera Bai was a beautiful Rajput princess born in the late 1400’s who became enthralled by her love for Lord Krishna. Meera was married but rejected any attachment to her worldly husband, insisting she was instead married to Lord Krishna. After her husband died, her family-in-law grew to hate Meera’s religious zeal and snubbing of duties as a princess and widow, and frequently attempted to kill her. After the last of Meera’s supportive family died, she was left alone with her abusive new family. She frequently escaped the palace in secret to join the villagers who shared her devotion for the Lord in song and dance. Her grief turned into a passionate spiritual devotion that inspired in her countless poems drenched with separation and longing. Lord Krishna was Meera’s only love, and in return the Lord intervened to thwart each of her family’s attempts to murder her. She soon escaped and began a long pilgrimage, dancing from one village to another, almost covering the whole of north India until finally arriving in Dwarka. Her wrathful family located her there and sent troops to capture her. She requested only one last night in a Krishna temple, where by morning she mysteriously disappeared. Most believe that there, Meera had merged with the Lord’s image, having been saved one last time.
She composed over 1,300 musical poems in which she describes the pain that sides with rejecting the expectations of society, and how the Lord remained her only sanctuary. She is known as The Queen Who Danced in the Streets.