J. B. H. Wadia

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J. B. H. Wadia
Born Jamshed Boman Homi Wadia
(1901-09-13)September 13, 1901
Died January 4, 1986(1986-01-04) (aged 84)
Occupation director
Years active 1928-1985
Spouse(s) Hilla Patel
Children Haidee, Vinci
Relatives Homi Wadia

Jamshed Boman Homi Wadia (13 September 1901 - 4 January 1986), commonly referred to as J. B. H. Wadia, was a prominent Bollywood movie director, screenwriter, producer and founder of Wadia Movietone Studio.[1] JBH was born in prominent Parsi family which hailed from Surat, Gujarat whose ancestral business was ship building. Their family name of Wadia stands for master shipbuilders. In a family of entrepreneurs JBH is credited with creation of movies involving populist stunt roles including those by Fearless Nadia and bringing concept of stunt actresses to Indian cinema.

Film career[edit]

JBH began his film making career with silent movies. Being an intellectual and avid writer he wrote scripts for his movies while his younger brother Homi Wadia who joined him in the business a few years later was usually tasked with directing them. JBH produced his first movie Vasant Leela in 1928, along with 11 other silent movies at the Kohinoor Studios in Dadar as well as under Deware Laboratories.[2] These movies were modest successes and were mostly remakes of populist Hollywood classics. In the year 1933 he founded Wadia Movietone company and made his first Talkie movie Lal-E-Yaman, inspired by the Orientalist fantasy world espoused by the Arabian Nights and related themes. This movie's success helped establish Wadia Movietone as a studio to contend with, in partnership with his brother Homi, their distributor Manchesa B Billimoria [3] and the Tata brothers Burjore and Nadirshaw.[1][4][5]

Under the Wadia Movietone Studio banner JBH introduced a variety of new concepts to Indian cinema starting with a stunt actress playing a leading role to a documentary newsreel,The Indian Gazette, to a feature-length documentary, Haripura Congress. As part of capturing cinematic recordings of early classical and semi-classical musicians and singers he made a series titled Wadia Movietone's Variety Programme, featuring legendary artistes such as Feroz Dastur, Bal Gandharva, Malika Pukhraj and Pandit Tirthankar. Wadia Movietone was also the first to create an Indian film without songs, Nav Jawan, the first Indian movie to be filmed in English (along with parallel Hindi and Bengali versions), The Court Dancer, the first Sindhi-language movie post-Partition, Ekta, and the very first Indian television series, Hotel Taj Mahal.[1]

Movies from Wadia Movietone Studio[edit]

Poster of Hunterwali (1935) featuring Fearless Nadia was Wadia's big hit.

Some of the notable movies made by Movietone studio were Swadesh, Black Rose, Fauladi Mukka, Return of toofan mail, Jai Bharat, Kahan hai manzil teri and movies starring Fearless Nadia namely Hunterwali, Miss Frontier mail, Hurricane Hansa, Lootaru Lalna, Diamond queen, Bambaiwali, Jungle Princess.

In the late 30's JBH got involved in the Indian freedom struggle, initially inspired by the Indian Congress Party and then by M.N. Roy, the former Communist who turned away from Communism after a falling-out with Stalin and started his own party, Radical Humanism. The friendship with M.N. Roy added to JBH's zeal for social and cultural change -- including the emancipation of women, the casting aside of superstition and harmful practices such as the caste system, and the need to educate each and every person if India was truly to be free and sustainable as an independent nation. His films, including the few stunt films he would make before abandoning that genre altogether, included these themes - such as Raj Nartaki, Vishwas, Balam, Madhosh, Mela, Ankh ki Sharam, Manthan and Amar Raj. The Fearless Nadia starrer Diamond Queen captures all these themes perfectly - blending bold calls for revolution and the eradication of corruption with breathtaking stunts performed by the amazing Mary Ann Evans (aka Fearless Nadia) and John Cavas. Indeed, it was JBH's ability to entertain while educating and empowering that is perhaps his strongest and greatest contribution to Indian cinema at a particularly pivotal and crucial time in Indian history.

Family and Personal life[edit]

JBH Wadia was born to a prominent Parsi family of shipbuilders whose vessels had served the East Indian Company, including the opium trade with China. JBH's own branch of the family had, however, fallen on hard times in the late 19th and early 20th century, and finances were tight. JBH himself was well educated with MA and LLB degrees, as well as proficiency in Persian, Gujurati and Urdu (languages he wrote poetry in as well). Although he tried to carve out a career in finance and law, his true passion was the cinema, which he encountered via the initial offerings of the Lumiere Brothers and other films that made their way to British India. When JBH turned to film-making, his family were initially not at all supportive - and were even more dismayed when his younger brother Homi decided to join him. However, with the success of their movies, the rest of the family eventually came around.

It was a very conservative family, with JBH perhaps the only genuine rebel among them. His discovery of Mary Ann Evans who he immortalized as Fearless Nadia, the stunt queen par excellence, led to Homi falling in love with Mary - much against the rest of the family's wishes. Indeed, although JBH encouraged them to defy the family, including their orthodox mother Dhunmai, Homi couldn't bring himself to marry Mary until his mother died. By the time they got married in 1961, they were too old to have their own children, although Homi and Mary eventually formally adopted Bobby Jones, who was either Mary's much younger brother (the story that was always pushed forward) or perhaps her real son from a prior relationship.

JBH was married to Hilla Patell, to whom he was distantly related. They had two children, a son Vinci and a daughter Haidee.[6]

Vinci Wadia married Nargis Khambata, who eventually became the first woman in Asia to start her own advertising agency, Interpublicity, or Interpub. Haidee married a German, Gerhard Meier, and moved to Boblingen, Germany.

Vinci and Nargis had two children - Roy (named after M.N. Roy), who became a journalist (CNN) and eventually joined the United Nations, and Riyad, who resurrected the Wadia Movietone banner and the Fearless Nadia legend during his brief life with an award-winning documentary on Nadia, titled "Fearless: The Hunterwali Story." Riyad also produced India's first gay-themed film, a short titled BOMgAY. Riyad died in 2003 at the age of 36.

JBH died in the year 1986 due to cancer, triggered by a fall endured when crossing the road near his home and being struck by a car.

References[edit]

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