Top 10 First Females Of Bollywood Who Shaped Indian Cinema

Top 10 First Females Of Bollywood Who Shaped Indian Cinema View All Articles

Posted On: 12 Oct 2021 | Last Updated: 26 Oct 2021

There was a time when women weren’t allowed to work in films while male actors were told to don the female getups to play the roles. Filmmakers hired nautch girls to play selective roles till a few women took up the courage to explore films to display their talent. Slowly and steadily women started to get meatier roles and working in films became a respectable profession. The contribution of women is regarded as much as men ushering a new era in Indian cinema. Some women went to the extent of becoming the ‘First’ in Bollywood by taking up different assignments in the filmmaking of which only a few are known to us. As a tribute to Bollywood’s dynamic women over the years, we bring to you the ‘first women’ who broke the stereotypes and shaped Indian cinema’s legacy.

1. Devika Rani - First Lady of Indian Cinema

Devika Rani Chaudhuri who is known as Devika Rani is regarded as the First Lady of Indian Cinema or should we say the First Lady of Bollywood who was responsible for spotting talents like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Leela Chitnis, Madhubala, Raj Kapoor, Mumtaz, and others.  In a successful acting career that spanned 10 years from the 1930s to 1940s, she had many ‘Firsts’ to her credit like ‘First superstar of Indian cinema’, ‘First actress to kiss on-screen’, ‘First actress to be honoured with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award’, and last but not the least the ‘First lady to have a degree in filmmaking.’

Devika Rani

2. Gauhar Jaan - First Female Playback Singer of Indian Cinema

Gauhar Jaan who was born Angelina Yeoward in 1873 is regarded as the First Female Playback Singer of Indian Cinema. She was the first female playback singer to record a song on 78 rpm record in India which was reportedly released by the Gramaphone Company of India in 1905. She was called ‘The Gramaphone Girl’ as well as ‘The First Recording Superstar of India’ with more than 600 songs to her credit including films songs. Often Shamshad Begum is credited for being the first woman playback singer of Bollywood who sang over 6000 songs in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, and Punjabi languages in her own distinctive style. But it was Gauhar Jaan who was credited for being the first female playback singer of Indian cinema.

Gauhar Jaan

3. Saraswati Devi - First Female Music Director of Indian Cinema

Born in 1912, Saraswati Devi whose real name was Khorshed Minocher-Homji, was the first female music director of Indian cinema or should we say first woman composer of Bollywood. Saraswati Devi who worked as a composer in Hindi cinema from 1935 to 1949 gave music for over 20 films. Her first film was Jawani Ki Hawa in 1935, which was followed by the super hit Main Ban Ki Chiriyra Banke Bun Bun Bolun Re in Ashok Kumar – Devika Rani starrer Achhut Kannya (1936). This was followed by Ek Chatur Naar Kar Ke Shringar from Jhoola and movies like Janmabhoomi, Kangan, Bandhan, Naya Sansar, and Naqli Heera in 1948. Though actress Nargis’ mother Jaddan Bai too is considered as the first female music director of Hindi films who started composing songs for films like Taalshe Haq, Madam Fashion and Jeevan Swapna, etc., at the same time as Saraswati Devi but it is the latter who is regarded as the first lady composer of Indian cinema.

Saraswati Devi

4. Fatma Begum - First Female Director, Producer & Screenwriter of Indian Cinema

Fatma Begum was an actress, writer, producer, and director who is credited for being the first female director of Indian cinema, the first female director of Indian cinema, and the first female producer of Bollywood. Born in 1892, India’s first female producer, director, and writer Fatma Begum released her directorial debut venture Bulbul-E-Paristan in 1926 under her own banner 'Fatma Films' which she not only wrote but also acted in it. Her production house, Fatma Films was later renamed as Victoria-Fatma films under which she directed films like Heer Ranjha, Chandravali, Shakuntala, Milan Dinar, etc. She acted in notable films like Veer Abhimanyu, Sati Sardarba, Prithvi Vallabh, Kala Naag, and Gul-E-Bakavali. She was the mother of actresses Zubeida, Sultana, and Shehzadi, who were popular during the silent era.

Fatma Begum

5. Saroj Mohini Nayyar - First Female Lyricist of Indian Cinema

Saroj Mohini Nayyar, the wife of legendary music director O. P. Nayyar is considered Indian cinema’s first female lyricist. Saroj Mohini Nayyar started off penning songs when lyrics writing was often considered a male-dominated field while women were known to be kept indoors. But Saroj Mohini wrote the lyrics for the song Preetam Aan Milo which was initially rendered by singer and composer C.H. Atma for his private album and later featured in Guru Dutt – Madhubala starrer Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955) sung by Geeta Dutt. The same song was yet again used by Gulzar in his comedy-drama Angoor in 1982.

Saroj Mohini Nayyar

6. Durgabai Kamat - First Female Actress of Indian Cinema

Durgabai Kamat is regarded as the first actress of Indian cinema at a time when the father of Indian cinema Dada Saheb Phalke found it hard to convince women to act in his films. It was only in his second film Mohini Bhasmasur, where he got to cast Durgabai Kamat as the female lead. Thus, becoming India’s first female actor to act on the silver screen. Despite being called the first female actress of Bollywood, not many know that her daughter Kamlabai Gokhale became the first female child actress by acting in the same movie. Durgabai Kamat is the great-grandmother of Bollywood actors Vikram Gokhale and Mohan Gokhale.

Durgabai Kamat

7. Saraswatibai Phalke - First Female Editor of Indian Cinema

Saraswatibai Phalke who was born as Kaveribai Karandikar was the wife of Dadasaheb Phalke who was Indian cinema’s first-ever female film editor. She was often overshadowed by her filmmaker husband who managed most of the departments of filmmaking. To lessen his burden, she learned editing and went on to edit most of her husband’s films. Thus, becoming the first-ever woman film editor of Bollywood or should we say Indian cinema. As India’s first female film editor, Saraswatibai Phalke worked tirelessly on the sets editing some of  Dadasaheb Phalke's films like Hanuman Janma, Nala Damayanti, Bhakta Sudama, Parshuram, etc.

Saraswatibai Phalke

8. B. R. Vijaylaxmi - First Female Cinematographer of Indian Cinema

B.R. Vijaylaxmi or B.R. Vijayalakshmi may not quintessentially qualify to the list of ‘First Females of Bollywood’ but surely qualifies as not only India’s but also Asia’s first female cinematographer. Being India’s first woman cinematographer is no mean feat especially in a field that has been dominated by men who have handled the camera and light crews for many films. She was born to veteran filmmaker B.R. Panthulu and has donned the hat of director of photography for popular Tamil films like Vetri Padigal (1991), Thalattu (1993), Ravanan (1994), Paattu Padava (1995), etc.

B. R. Vijaylaxmi

9. Saroj Khan - First Female Choreographer of Indian Cinema

The award-winning Saroj Khan was reportedly Bollywood's first female choreographer who enthralled audiences with her sizzling dance moves that breathed life into hundreds of film songs. She started off by assisting choreographer Sohanlal at a very young age and went solo by choreographing songs for the Sadhana starrer Geetaa Mera Naam in 1974. With a career spanning over four decades, she choreographed over 3000 songs including films like Nagina, Taal, Lagaan, Mr. India, Tezaab, Sailaab, Khalnayak, Baazigar, Mohra, etc.

Saroj Khan

10. Tun Tun - First Female Comedienne of Indian Cinema

If at all there was a female comedienne in Bollywood who needn’t utter a single word on screen but made audiences burst into laughter in no time it had to be Tun Tun. Born as Uma Devi Khatri, Tun Tun broke all societal norms on-screen and used her obesity to her advantage to become the first female comedienne of Indian cinema who made people laugh at the drop of a hat. Since becoming the first female comedian of Hindi cinema she also took to playback singing besides acting in over 190 films alongside famous comedians like Johnny Walker, Bhagwan Dada, and Dhumal.

Tun Tun

11. Fearless Nadia - First Stunt Woman of Indian Cinema

Fearless Nadia was the first stuntwoman of Bollywood who was known for her breathtaking stunts on-screen since doing Hunter Wali in 1935. Nadia was often seen taking on the goons single-handedly against all odds on-screen and saving the destitute. What made her win the hearts of the audience was the amazing stunts that she performed on her own in film after film. Married to filmmaker Homi Wadia, Nadia played the female lead in over 40 films from 1935 to 1970 of which most were action-adventure films, and no wonder was called India’s first Stunt Woman.

Fearless Nadia