In the annals of history of the Indian movie industry, the name of Devika Rani would be truly written as that of a legend – not just for the fact she held several “firsts” in the industry but also because of the variety that one comes across reading her life history. Although the twists and turns in her life have nothing to do directly with any cinematic abilities of hers, but it definitely reads like one of the best written story lines in any movie masterpiece! Be that as it may, coming back to context of her film career, she was no ordinary entrant to films – she entered acting via the convoluted route of film production including its technical fine points and all the other background nuances, thanks to her first husband and long time associate in films,
She belonged to a widely respected and established Bengali family, and her lineage extended up to Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. Although she did receive formal training in dramatics while in England, her educational leanings did not betray any affinity towards a career in the performing arts, having concluded courses in architecture and textile engineering. Her life took a dramatic turn towards films with her association with London based film producer Himanshu Rai in 1928. He literally propelled her into films, and even married her the next year while they were still working on film productions in Europe. Her inevitable entry into film acting happened in 1933 through “
”, which although a subsequent failure in its Indian version, drew attention for her acting abilities.
Returning to India, the next year, things moved rapidly for the husband wife pair, with their establishment of the famous production house
. In the two decades spanning the 1930s and 40s she was propelled into the center stage of Indian films, and this marked her out for posterity as the “first lady” of Indian movies. Her successful career was typified by her association with
in as many as 10 films, in most of which they played roles of lovers from contrasting socio-economic backgrounds. Most of her films were women centric ones, some of which also dealt with social issues of the period. The more notable films were “Jeevan Naiya”, in 1936, which also signaled the beginning of Ashok Kumar's long career; followed by the tragedy film “Achhut Kanya” in 1936 and “Jeevan Prabhat” the next year, once again based on a socially irreconcilable love story. Her last film “
” in 1939 was once again with Ashok Kumar, where she portrayed the role of an orphan.
Following on the vicissitudes of her eventful life, she totally quit films following Himanshu Rai’s death in 1940, and started a totally new chapter for her remaining life. She settled down with her new husband, Svetoslav Roerich, a well known Russian painter of that time, and virtually led the life of a recluse, on which the curtains were brought down with her death in March 1994.