Fatima Begum, first female film director of Indian cinema

Published on 15 Feb 2016 8:04 AM GMT
Fatima Begum, first female film director of Indian cinema
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Prabh Jhingran Prabh Jhingran

Lucknow: As newspaper headlines celebrate India’s first woman taxi driver, first locomotive driver, first woman gateman and many other such examples, the name of India’s first woman film director—Fatima Begum---lies buried in the pages of history.

Around a century back, when cinema was introduced in India it was taboo for the fairer sex to watch films. Yet, there were few like Fatima Begum who defied all odds to make a strong entry in the cinema industry.

Fatima Begum, who used to stage Urdu plays, started her directorial journey with the silent movie Veer Abhimanyu in1922. It was produced by Ardeshir Irani.

Interestingly, this was the time when legendary film maker Dada Saheb Phalke had to cast his young cook Salunke in the lead role of a female as he could not get any actress for the role in his landmark movie Raja Harishchandra.

In a short span of three years Fatima Begum directed seven movies like—Bulbul-ae-Paristan (1926), Goddess of Love (1927), Heer Ranjha (1928), Chandrawali(1928),Shakuntala (1929), Milan (1929), Kanaktara (1929) and Goddess of Luck (1929).

She also acted in some movies like Sita Sardawa (1924), Prithvi Vallabh (1924),Kala Naag (1924), Gul-ae Bakawali (1924) and Mumbai ni Mohani(1925).

Bulbul-ae-Paristan was the most famous film directed by her. It was a big budget, fantasy movie of its time in which foreign technology was used for special effects. The cost ran into several lakhs of rupees.

She started her own company in 1926 and named it Fatima Films. Two years later, in1928, she had to rename the company as Victoria Fatima Films.

Fatima Begum did not confine herself to film direction alone. She also wrote the scripts of several movies and acted as well. Besides the banner of Victoria Fatima Films, some of these films were also made under the banner of Kohinoor and Imperial Studios.

After acting in her last movie Duniya Kya Kahegi, Fatima Begum took a voluntary retirement from her 16-year-long film career in 1938. She died in 1983 at the age of 91.

Her place was taken over by another legendary actress Zubaida Sultana, who was considered as a star actress of the silent movies. She had the honour of acting in India’s first talking movie Alamara.

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