Bollywood Icons: 100 years of Indian Cinema at the National Media Museum

By Cassie Galpin | 15 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Bollywood Icons: 100 years of Indian Cinema, National Media Museum, Bradford, until June 16 2013

A photo of a male and female actor on the front of a poster for an iconic Indian film
Toofani Tirandaz (1947)© Wadia Movietone / Roy Wadia, courtesy Irna Qureshi
Since India premiered its first feature film, Raja Haishchandra, in May 1913, the country has produced an extraordinary cinematic heritage particularly recognised for Bollywood films.

This exhibition showcases Indian cinema’s centenary through some of the biggest names in Bollywood, forming part of a wider recognition of the anniversary within the museum and throughout Bradford, the UNESCO City of Film.

An image of a woman holding a stick in front of a dog on a poster for an Indian film
Bambaiwali (1941)© Wadia Movietone / Roy Wadia, courtesy Irna Qureshi
A series of posters from some of the most important films explore the stars’ personas and their relationships. Often in Indian film the boundaries between actors’ on and off-screen lives are blurred by featuring real life lovers, married couples and generations of the same family. As a result, the audiences’ interest and fascination in their favourite actors is increased dramatically.

“Bollywood is all about dynasties,” says Irna Qureshi, the exhibition curator and Bollywood commentator.

“We make it our business to know exactly who is married to who.

“But this isn’t just gossip, you know. It’s vital information. This sort of information simply enhances the viewing pleasure.”

The theme of Iconic Women in Indian cinema is also highlighted, including Fearless Nadia, aka Mary Evans, an Australian born actress who starred in dozens of Indian films between the 1930s and 1960s.

A photo of a man carrying a woman on his back in an advert for an Indian film
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)© Yash Raj Films
Her most notable role was in Hunterwali (1935), one of the earliest female-led Indian films. She performed her own stunts and often those of her male co-stars, earning her the nickname Fearless.

“She was absolutely an icon,” says Qureshi.

“A blonde woman in 1930s India, sword fighting and jumping from moving trains in film after film.”

The exhibition will display 53 vintage and contemporary posters, including rare first prints from Bambaiwali (1941) and Coolie (1983), as well as breathtakingly vibrant hand painted prints featuring the Kapoors – the first family of Indian Cinema.

The National Media Museum will be hosting Happy Birthday, Indian Cinema! as part of the 19th Bradford International Film Festival, which will feature a selection of Indian films.

BBC Three will also be broadcasting Bollywood Live - a Bollywood-style re-telling of Bizet’s classic opera, Carmen, in the city centre in June.

  • Open 10am-6pm. Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @mediamuseum. The Bradford International Film Festival, in partnership with Virgin Media, runs from April 11-21 2013.
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