Devika Rani


Popular As: Devika Rani
Birth: 30th March 1908
Death: 9th March 1994
First Film: Karma
Last Film: Jwar Bhata
Work Span: 1933 - 1946

The icon of the 30's and 40's, Devika Rani was the first Dream Girl and the first First Lady of the Indian Screen. She was the grand niece of Rabindranath Tagore and truly a great beauty. Devika Rani was the daughter of Col.(Dr.) N. Choudhary and Leela Choudhary, and was born on 30th March, 1908 at Waltair.

In her teens Devika Rani went to England where she won a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Later she took to Textile Design and Decor and studied architecture. She began her career as Textile Designer with leading art studio in England. There she met Himansu Rai and agreed to design the sets of his first production Light of Asia (1925). It was during the shooting of 'A Throw of Dice' on Indian locations when, despite the disparity in their ages, they got married. After marriage they left for Germany where Rai made A Throw of Dice (1929) in collaboration with Germany's famous UFA Studio.

Rai made a bilingual Karma (1933) with Devika Rani in the lead and the two came to India. At UFA, she learned almost everything connected to film making, as well as the diverse and finer points of acting from the producer Max Reinhardt. Her diction, perfected at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Cheltenham College, England, stood her in good stead as star. Films like Achhut Kanya expressed her skills and set standards of performance and costume. Her attire as the village girl became the norm for all such roles! The public loved her, as did the Press. The Lady, a London paper, described her as 'one of the most beautiful creatures who have ever illuminated a screen ....Her film technique, acquired with UFA, is graceful and flowing.'

In India, Rai and Devika Rani established the famous Bombay Talkies Studio. By 1935, stream of Hindi productions began to emerge from Bombay Talkies Ltd. beginning with Jawani ki Hawa (1935), a murder mystery. Devika Rani played the lead in most of these early productions. Devika Rani formed a successful team with Ashok Kumar. The two of them starred in a series of films starting with Jeevan Naiya (1936) but it was Achut Kanya (1936), which capitulated Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar to big time fame. The love story between an untouchable girl and a Brahmin boy was both a critical and commercial success. She even sang her own songs in films with 'Main Ban ki Chidiya..' with Ashok Kumar from Achut Kanya remembered till today.

Following her husband Himansu Rai's death in 1940, the Board of Directors of Bombay Talkies Ltd., appointed her as Controller of Production, and she kept the banner flying high with such hits as Kangan, Bandhan, Jhoola, Punarmilan, Basant and Kismet. In 1945, she quit films to marry the noted Russian painter, Dr. Svetoslav Roerich, and retired to his sprawling estate at Bangalore where she lived till her death in 1994. She associated herself with a number of cultural organizations, and maintained her link with the film industry, serving on the Censor Board for several years. She was an active member of the Sangeet Natak Academy, the Lalit Kala Academy, the Central Govt. Audio Visual Education Board, Handicraft Board and the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad.

She was honored with the Padmashri in 1958, Soviet Land Nehru Award, the Jubilee Medal of the Bulgarian People's Republic and a special medal from Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1981 instituted by the Indian Academy of Motion Picture Art & Science in recognition of her contribution to Indian Motion Pictures. She was invited to inaugurate Filmotsav '80 at Bangalore. In 1969, Devika Rani became the first personality of the Indian cinema to be awarded with the prestigious Dada Sahab Phalke Award. In addition to these distinctions, Rani has been honoured with a place on the Boards of various national cultural organizations such as: Central Government Audio-Visual Education Board, Sangeet Natak Academe, Lalit Kala Academe, National Handicrafts Board and Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

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