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Why Kangana Ranaut is Vishal Bhardwaj's Fearless Nadia in Rangoon

In Vishal Bhardwaj's Rangoon, the actress plays Jaanbaz Julia, a character reportedly based on the 40s action star, Fearless Nadia. 

Shriram Iyengar

Ever since Vishal Bhardwaj's Rangoon released, the praises have been pouring in. Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan star in this period war drama that combines films, war and love in the trailer. Ranaut is seen as an action heroine in the 40s film industry.

It is no secret that Ranaut's portrayal has been directly influenced by the persona of Fearless Nadia. The whip wielding, horse riding, mask wearing Ranaut is one of the direct tributes to Nadia, who was known as India's first action heroine. Incidentally, Bhardwaj had toyed with the idea of a biopic on the Australian-born Nadia before he abandoned it for Rangoon. Incidentally, as prep for the role, the Omkara director had asked the actress and the cast to watch some of Nadia's films.

Born Mary Evans in Australia, Nadia remains one of the most iconic film personalities from early Indian cinema post World War I. At a time when women were still reluctant to enter the film world, Nadia broke shackles by playing fearless women willing to take on villains and societal taboos. Her identity as an exotic western woman added to the appeal, but in no way dimmed her personality. A talented singer and dancer, she was also trained in horse riding. Making her debut in the Wadia Movietone film, Desh Deepak (1935), she went on to star in films like Miss Frontier Mail (1936), Diamond Queen (1940), Lady Robinhood (1946) and Jungle Queen (1956) among others. Moreover, she performed several action sequences by herself, which earned her the moniker 'Hunterwali'. 

Nadia's rise in Indian cinema was a direct contribution of the producer JBH Wadia of Wadia Movietones. Taken by the undaunted personality of the Australian, the producer decided to cast her in roles that catered to the cult of the super-heroine. From taking on dacoits to rescuing princes and fighting off evil henchmen, Nadia could do it all. 

It is not surprising that Bhardwaj has centred on Ranaut to play this role. Like Nadia, Ranaut is also an outsider to the industry. Her success has also been defined to her unconventional looks and radical choice of roles. As an actress, she is a challenging presence for male and female actors sharing the screen with her. And like the Hunterwali, she is gradually growing into the role of a feminist ideal in Hindi cinema today. Despite winning two National Awards and being praised for her performances, Ranaut has not reached the status of her peers like Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra. Her blatant distaste for the status quo and her nonchalant attitude towards groupism prevalent in the industry has resulted in several conflicts. In addition, her past struggles and defiance make her the ideal choice to play a woman who pioneered the path of female actors. 

With Saif Ali Khan playing the roguish, filthy rich producer in the 40s film industry based on JBH Wadia, it is quite clear of where Bhardwaj's Jaanbaz Julia takes her blueprint from. Whether the film succeeds or not, it will certainly bring to light one of the more entertaining and adventurous times in Indian cinema.