FORGET about GI Jane, Xena: Warrior Princess and Wonder Woman. Cinema’s first ass-kicking chick was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Australian who spoke Hindi as she tussled with lions and performed live fight scenes on top of moving trains.
In 1935 Mary Evans made her cinematic debut as Fearless Nadia in Hunterwali (the lady with the whip), going on to appear in more than 50 Bollywood films.
“She did all her own stunts without harnesses or crash mats. The name Fearless Nadia was very apt,” said Chris Murphy, who plays Evans in Fearless N, a play about the stuntwoman’s extraordinary life.
Director Carlos Gomes says Evans became a symbol for India’s independence and a feminist icon.
Evans was born in Perth in 1908 but spent her childhood in colonial India after her British Army father moved the family to Bombay. After he died in World War I, Evans went to live with relatives in the mountains near the Khyber Pass, where she learnt to hunt and shoot.
Little is known of Evans’s early life but she is rumoured to have given birth to an illegitimate son, who Noelle Janaczewska, the writer of Fearless N, believes might be living in Sydney.
Evans was performing in Indian vaudeville and circus when she was spotted by filmmakers J.B.H. and Homi Wadia, who turned her into a sword-fighting, whip-cracking heroine pursuing a progressive social agenda.
Evans and Homi fell in love but, after his mother forbid him from marrying outside their Parsee community, the couple conducted a secret affair for 20 years.
They eventually married in their early-50s after the death of Homi’s mother and became racehorse breeders in Mumbai. She died in 1996 aged 88.