Around 100 years ago when the Indian film industry began in Bombay (Mumbai today), it was considered taboo for Hindu and Islamic women to perform in public, according to the documentary “Shalom Bollywood.”
How did Indian film producers and actors get their movies scripted and cast for the silver screen without women? Male actors played the female roles. And based on the old film footage included in “Shalom Bollywood,” the result wasn’t pretty.
This documentary, which details the importance of Jewish Indian women in filling movie roles, doesn’t use the typical droll narration but instead applies a fun and at times tongue-in-cheek style of delivering information.
From the early history of how Jewish women (“Anglo Indians”) numbered only in the thousands but came from what the narrator calls a more “progressive community,” the documentary introduces viewers to various Bollywood actresses, including the silent-era queen of the 1920s, Sulochana, “the one with the beautiful eyes” — aka Ruby Myers.
“Shalom Bollywood” also introduces Miss Rose (Rose Ezra), Pramila (Esther Abraham), Ramola (Rachel Cohen), Arati Devi (Rachael Sofaer) and Nadira.
Jewish contributions in Bollywood have been many. The first “talkie” in 1931 was written by a religious Jew, David Joseph Penkar. Jews had many firsts in Bollywood and are still active in all aspects of the film industry, not just in front of the camera as they were originally.
This documentary by Danny Ben-Moshe is a fabulous gem worth a trip to the theater. It’s worth a few eyebrow-raising laughs to learn a few nuggets to share at the watercooler or over coffee.
There are so many interesting nuggets of information not only about the Jewish role in Indian film, but also about Bollywood and its transition from the first film to what it has become today.
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 28, 3:25 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Feb. 3, 6:05 p.m., Tara; Feb. 6, 7 p.m., Springs