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Devika Rani – The First Lady of the Indian Screen and Co founder of Bombay Talkies

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Devika Rani  (March 30, 1908 – March 9, 1994) was the grandniece of the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. In early 1920s, she joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Royal Academy of Music in London to study drama & Music. During the study period Devika met with Himanshu Rai.  They got married in 1929.

 Devika Rani started acting in the films produced by her husband, Himanshu Rai. Together they starred in Karma (1933). She was way ahead of her times and shocked prudes with the first ever lip lock on Indian screen in ‘Karma’. ‘Karma’ became a grand hit and Devika Rani was recognized as Indian Cinema’s First (Female) Film Star and ‘The First Lady of the Indian Screen’.

In 1934 Himanshu Rai & Devika Rani founded the BOMBAY TALKIES LTD. in Bombay (Mumbai), the first Indian Film company to be registered as a Public Ltd. Company. Bombay Talkies studio launched the careers of several prominent Indian film industry luminaries including Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor,  Madhubala, Dilip Kumar, and Mehmood. Initially Raj Kapoor worked as an attendant / Clapper Boy on the sets of Bombay Talkies. After Himansu Rai’s death in 1940, control of Bombay Talkies passed on to Devika Rani. Despite her success as Bombay Talkies’ head producer, in 1950 a rift arose between her and the Studio’s Producer Sashadhar Mukherjee. Later most of the leading person like Sashadhar Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar, etc left Bombay Talkies and formed a new studio -FILMISTAN. Bombay Talkies did not have much success after that and closed down in 1954. To celebrate 100 years of Indian Cinema Viacom 18 Motion Pictures has produced a quartet of short films, directed by Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar. It is titled Bombay Talkies, the name of Mumbai’s most famous film studio.

 Devika Rani married the legendary Russian painter, Svetoslav Roerich in 1945 and later settled in Bangalore in their sprawling estate ‘Tataguni’ on Kanakpura Road. Devika Rani was the painter’s muse; through some of his paintings, one can see how he was enamoured with the lady. Their relationship lasted close to five decades until his death in 1993, and within a year in 1994 she bade farewell to this world. She was provided with full state honors at her funeral.

 The President of India awarded her with Padma Shri in 1958. She also was the first recipient of the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1969 for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema.