Mehrunissa aka Ashalata

25 Feb

You know, there was a time when most film stars would get themselves a screen name upon entering Hindi cinema, which producers probably felt would appeal to a wider audience. This somehow often lead to Muslim actors getting Hindu screen names. Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Raj Kumar, Meena Kumari were all screen names.

My beautiful grandmother, my Nani, was named Mehrunissa at birth, but changed her name to Ashalata when she signed 3 films with Shakti Movietone, all of which released in 1935 when she was still in her teens.

She went on to act in several films, one of them – Deepak – opposite Prithviraj Kapoor. She was also one of the few glamorous stars to model for the then coveted Lux ad.

She then met my grandfather, Anil Biswas, who was a famous film composer and they got married. It was an inter-religious marriage which, back in those days, was not exactly commonplace.
They later separated when my mother was 7. Again, a fairly uncommon practice for those times.

Post acting, Nani became a producer and distributor, a rarity for women at that time. But then she was always different. Not the kind to ever give up on life or feel she was too old for something. She learned to cook and swim at the age of 40. This at a time when at 50, you had supposedly entered old age and had to lead a retired life.

My mother always told me one thing about my Nani – that she never forgot to love herself.
I salute that spirit in her, and all such glorious, gutsy women who paved the way for women to lead their lives with freedom, just the way it should always have been.

Happy birthday Nani. I love you.

(The Post was originally shared on Instagram by Tuhinaavohra. Grand daughter of Music director Anil Biswas)

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Posted by on February 25, 2023 in Uncategorized


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