Movies serve an integral part of entertainment today, and for a movie to be successful, how can we forget the female character who is no longer only a supporting role, but protagonist of many films as well? Female characters originally docile and beautiful, today appear in eclectic roles from aggressive and bold, to shy and astute, and witty and flirtatious as well. But were women always a part of the cinema? Unsurprisingly, they were not.
Just like everything else, women were asked to stay away from participating in cinema too. Especially women from aristocratic and educated families were refrained from enacting in movies. The entire act was seen as dishonorable. Hence, the early movies of Bollywood don’t really feature a woman.
Then who was the first female actress of India? Well, a man.
Yes, in early Bollywood it was Anna Salunke who got the credit of being the first female actress.
Just as Lumiere Brothers are known to have pioneered the first films; in India, we have two brothers named Hiralal Sen and Motilal Sen who made the first Indian film. Hiralal commenced a film company, and went about to make 40 films in his career.
But, the first full-length film in India was made by Dadasaheb Falke, also known as Father of Indian Cinema. He made the first full-length movie named as “Raja HarishChandra” in 1913. It was a silent movie. He did a lot of searching for the role of Heroine Taramati, even in brothels, but the notion that a woman can’t act was so stigmatized, that nobody agreed.
Prior to acting, Anna Salunke worked as a cook in a place Dadasaheb used to visit frequently. He used to earn 10 rupees a month as a cook, Dadasaheb offered him 15 rupees as he was impressed by Anna’s tender and beautiful figure. And,thus a new section in history was written.
Anna acted for a total of 18 years from 1913 to 1931, out of which he played a part of a female in 4 other films. In a particular movie named “ Lanka Dahan”, he played the role of both,a male and female- Sita and Ram. This was a big accomplishment for his career as well as the entire cinematic history.
Besides acting, he also worked as a cinematographer in more than thirty films.
While we are on the topic, the first official and legitimate female film actress was Durgabai Kamat.