This article is written by my friend and film historian Arunkumar Deshmukh, who previously has shared here his knowledge on actors Parshuram and Bhudo Advani. I am very honored that he asked me to publish this here, and I am thrilled to find out more about the beautiful actress Indurani of 1930s and 40s fame, her family (including her sister, actress Sarojini, and niece Azra—always a favorite of mine), her career and her life. I know you will be too!
Sometime in August 2013, I was introduced to Shri Salim ji Shah, from the US. He wrote a lengthy email to me commenting on one of my articles. He appreciated them. He also mentioned that he was the son of Indurani, a heroine, singer and actress of the 1930s and 40s. From then onwards, we established regular contact. He used to comment on my articles (sent to him kindly by Shri Harish ji Raghuwanshi ji of Surat) on a regular basis.
He shared lot of information on the film industry people of the 1950s in Bombay.
As is my habit, I maintained a separate folder for his emails starting from the first mail onwards and thus I could amass a wealth of useful and interesting information on his mother, his aunt Sarojini (another heroine of the 30s and 40s) and the film industry community of the 50s.
Today’s article is based on information received from him from time to time over the last three years. Our exchange of emails culminated in his recent visit to my house on the 6th December 2015, during his visit to Mumbai last year. It was a great occasion for me. During his visit, I had also invited Shri Shishir Krishna Sharma ji, the famous and well known film historian, journalist, author and actor. Salim ji had come with his wife and we all had a very happy get together that day. We discussed many points in his mother’s life and I jotted down my notes of this valuable interview of Salim ji.
In this meeting Salim ji assured Sharma ji that he would try to arrange for an interview of yesteryear heroine Azra ji, who happens to be Salim ji’s cousin and was his Mumbai host for this visit. (I learnt later that Sharma ji got the long awaited interview of Azra ji, the first one after 40 years since her retirement from films! Thanks to Salim ji’s efforts.)
Ishrat Jehan Imamuddin aka Indurani was born in a middle class family of Delhi, on the 22nd of June, 1922. Her mother Munawar Jehan was one of the first female students of the then newly opened Hakim Ajmal Khan school of Jamia Millia University of Delhi. After graduating from the school as a Lady Doctor and Hakim, she had worked in the princely states of Zanzira and Tonk. Her father Shaikh Imamuddin was the owner of a fleet of 17 horse carriages (Victorias and tongas) and one of his contracts was for transporting female students to the Mission Girls Urdu School in Delhi. Therefore, Ishrat and her sisters Afroz and Roshan got a good education in that school. They were 7 children in all. Ishrat was the third child. Naseem Bano (whose real name was also Roshan)–the actress and the mother of Saira Bano–also studied in the same school for a short period.
Ishrat’s sister Roshan was adventurous and she corresponded with a film studio and sent her photo. They wrote back offering her a job of Rs.300 per month. When their father came to know this, he first admonished and bashed her. At that time, due to his gambling habit, he was in debts and financial difficulties, so he thought that his daughters could earn money for him as film stars.
When Ishrat was about 12-13 years old and was studying in Eighth Standard, her father brought her and her elder sister Roshan Jehan to Poona to find work in films. Talkie films had just started and film makers were on the look out for good looking boys and girls who could speak Urdu/Hindi fluently. The sisters got work in Dadasaheb Torne’s Saraswati Cinetone. They both were renamed as Indurani (Ishrat Jehan) and Sarojini (Roshan Jehan). In those days, most Muslim artistes took Hindu names for obvious reasons. While in Poona, the sisters were getting Rs 300/- per month as salary. Their father took three months’ advance payments and left for Delhi, leaving the sisters in the care of their Nani (maternal grandmother). In Poona, they became quite friendly with a co-actor Vasantrao Pehelwan (who later did villain’s roles in Master Bhagwan’s stunt films). They called him ‘uncle’ ji.
In Poona, Indurani first worked in a Marathi film called Savitri in a minor uncredited role of a younger sister. Unfortunately the Marathi film of Dadasaheb Torne flopped and his studio closed down. The sisters decided to shift to Bombay to seek work prospects. Vasantrao Pehelwan got them a flat on rent in Dadar’s Hindu Colony in Bombay.
While in Bombay, Indurani got work in films of Daryani Productions like Fida E Watan (1936), Pratima (1936), Bulldog (1937) and Insaaf (1937). While doing films Pratima and Insaaf, she fell in love with her handsome co-star Prem Adeeb. However, when it became clear that he could not muster enough courage to marry her in opposition to his family (he was a Hindu Kashmiri Pandit and she was a Muslim), she refused to continue relations. She was a very strong woman indeed.
Soon the word spread around that two sisters were available for work. The sisters did not know much of anything in Bombay and could not go anywhere. So producers came to them. First was V. Shantaram who offered Indurani a job at Rs.300 per month. She insisted that her sister and “Uncleji” should also get work. Shantaram agreed for Sarojini but refused Vasantrao Pehelwan, so the job did not materialize. “Uncleji” went away soon after that. One day Sohrab Modi and Keki Modi came looking for them. Sohrab Modi offered them contracts for Rs. 450 per month and invited them to the studio. When they reached Minerva Movietone, they saw Leela Chitnis smoking with a long holder. Young Indurani was impressed and also tried to copy her; but Sohrab Modi, who treated her like his daughter, told her that it did not suit her and she gave up.
One day Ramniklal Shah of Mohan Pictures and his friend Nanabhai Bhatt (father of Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt) came calling. By that time Nanabhai Bhatt had already got involved with his star Shirin Bano. Ramniklal offered them a salary of Rs. 500 per month. This was more than Minerva, so the offer was accepted but in the process Indurani lost her chance to work in a prestigious company like Minerva. Their old schoolmate Naseem Bano was at Minerva and came to prominence with the film Pukar (1939) made by Minerva. The sisters did not have anyone to advise them, so they lost their chances at Prabhat and Minerva. Thus from 1938 onwards, Ramniklal Shah took them under his wings.
At the age of 17 in 1939 Indurani married Ramniklal Shah, secretly. Her elder sister Sarojini also married Nanubhai Vakil, the lead director of Mohan Pictures (Azra is their daughter). Indurani had six children. One of them died at birth. The shock was too much for her and after 1943, her career started slowing down. By 1949, her last film was released.
In my opinion, Indurani was a “one of a kind” woman. In those days and for her age, she showed exemplary planning, foresight and had the right priorities for her future. Being from an educated family, she knew and understood the importance of education. She ensured that all her children got the best possible education to enable them to lead comfortable lives. Her children went to the prestigious missionary school in Santa Cruz, The Sacred Boys’ High School. Saira Bano’s brother Sultan, Shashadhar Mukherjee’s sons Rono, Joy, Debu and Shomu Mukherjee, as well as Milan Roy Choudhary (Geeta Dutt’s younger brother) also studied in the same school. All her children settled successfully in the United States.
She understood the three basics of life: food, shelter and clothing. She did work in double shifts and saved enough money to build her own bungalow in Santa Cruz (a western suburb of Bombay) in 1940–at the age of about 18 years! In a front page story, The Times of India called her the youngest house owner in Bombay in those days. The house was designed by the famous architect Noorani.
She also saved enough to spend her twilight years happily. She spent her last 35 years in the US, enjoying life with her entire family. This, when we have hundreds of stories of artistes who died in penury and neglect!
Salim ji has many stories, anecdotes and interesting tidbits from the Bombay film world of those days. Indurani’s brother Naseem Siddiqui was a producer and a director of films made by Mohan Pictures. His friend Hasan Sehrai was a dialogue writer and editor of a film magazine called “Kahkashan”. Lyricist Shevan Rizvi was also his friend. Naseem Siddiqi’s younger sister Shirin got married to Hasan Sehrai. Indurani’s sister Sarojini (Roshan Jehan) worked in films at the same time. She worked in about 17 films according to the Hindi Film Geet Kosh (HFGK) and sang a few songs. Sarojini and Indurani worked together in three films, namely Jadui Kangan (1940), Hatimtai Ki Beti (1940) and Tajmahal (1941).
Indurani acted in 21 (including 1 Marathi) films according to HFGK and as researched by both Salim ji and Harish ji. Her Filmography is given at the end; please note that she was credited variously as Indu, Indurani and also as Indubala. There was another Indubala also, but she worked in films made in Calcutta and by Calcutta producers. Those films are excluded from this list, based on Salim ji’s information.
Indurani worked with several well known heroes of her times, like Prem Adeeb, Jayant, Jeevan, Yaqub, Mubarak, Sushil Kumar, Yusuf Efendi, Nazir, Navin Yagnik, Yashwant Dave etc. She had good directors for her films, like G.R. Sethi, Ram Daryani, Dwarka Khosla, J.P. Advani, K. Amarnath, Mohan Sinha, and Nanubhai Vakil. She had training in classical music while she worked in Daryani productions and with this background, she sang two songs each in three films. She sang four songs under the baton of Anil Biswas and two under Madholal Master.
Both Ramniklal Shah and Indurani were very generous and helpful in nature. When child artist Meena Kumari was in financial distress and her father approached Ramnikbhai, without thinking he gave Rs. 5000 and never asked for its return. Meena Kumari never forgot this kind gesture and always respected Ramnikbhai.
Singer-actress Nirmala Devi was Indurani’s friend and her husband (actor Govinda’s father) Arun Ahuja was her “Rakhi Brother”. When the Ahuja family lost everything, it was Indurani who paid for their monthly expenses for two months. Later the Ahujas sold their house in Juhu and shifted to Virar, but they paid back all the money to Indurani. Exactly opposite was was the case of director-producer-actor Nazir and his wife, actress Swarnalata (a Siyal Jat Sikh from Rawalpindi). They visited Indurani in their Rolls Royce, borrowed some money from her and then, within few days, quietly migrated to Pakistan, without repaying the amount.
In the early 1960s, Salim ji and other siblings one by one left for America for studies, and then all settled in the US. Ramnikbhai Shah died in 1973. Later Indurani also shifted to the US and stayed with her sons by turns. She spent her time happily with twelve grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Indurani died in the US on February 18, 2012 at the ripe age of 90 years, after a fruitful and contented life. Her grave is in the Ventura County, California town of Camarillo.
Her Death Anniversary falls on the 18th of February and we present our tribute to Indurani through this short biography. I especially thank Harish Raghuwanshi ji for his active help, posters and photographs of Indurani, and Salim Shah ji for his help in preparing this biography of Indurani ji, through his interview and emails.
- Savitri (1936) (A Marathi film made by Saraswati Cinetone of Dadasaheb Torne, Poona)
- Fida E Watan (1936)
- Pratima (1936) (with 2 songs)
- Bulldog (1937) (with 2 songs)
- Insaaf (1937)
- Meri Bhool (1937)
- Mr. X (1938)
- Veerbala (1938)
- Sunehra Baal (1938)
- Bhedi Kumar (1939)
- Chashmawali (1939)
- Midnight Mail (1939)
- Swastik (1939)
- Hatimtai Ki Beti (1940)
- Jadui Kangan (1940)
- Thief of Tatar (1940)
- Alladin Laila (1941)
- Bulbul E Baghdad (1941)
- Tajmahal (1941) (with 2 songs)
- Zevar (1942)
- Alladin Ki Beti (1949)
My sincere thanks to:
Shri Salim ji Shah, USA
Shri Harish Raghuvanshi ji, Surat
Shri Shishir Krishna Sharma ji, Mumbai
Hindi Film Geet Kosh
Some Filmindia magazine scans courtesy of the Internet Archive and MOMA