Durgabai Kamat – The First-Ever Actress of Indian Cinema!
The contribution of women in every field and aspect of life is not a confidential thing anymore. We all know that both men and women are equally important for the development of society as a whole. But the fact that women have always been underestimated and criticized isn’t hidden either. Kudos to all those women who struggled a lot but have still risen up to become independent individuals. Durgabai Kamat too had gone through tons of problems, but she rose to the occasion and became India’s first Hindi film actress.
Born in 1879 with minimal education but a zeal to achieve and leave a mark in history was Durgabati Kamat for you. Her contribution to the Hindi Film industry paved a way for women to enter the field and make a name for themselves.
She was married at a young age to Anand Nanoskar, a history teacher at the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. She gave birth to their daughter Kamlabai. The marriage didn’t work out and so, in 1903, the couple parted ways. Durgabai decided to raise her daughter by herself after the divorce. There weren’t as much employment opportunities available for women at that time as it is now.
Being a single mother made it more difficult for her to survive the rigid ostracization and criticism of society. The only choice she had was to either work as a domestic servant or a prostitute. But her dignity and determination was the reason that she became a popular Marathi theatre artist soon. Becoming an actress was a taboo because our society did not see it as a “respectable” job for women at that time.
Kamat initially joined a travelling theater company. She roamed around with the company for years, performing at various places. Her daughter Kamlabai had to travel with her, and so the little girl was homeschooled so that Kamlabai could have an education despite living such a nomadic life.
Dadasaheb Phalke, the Father of Indian Cinema, was making his first film Raja Harishchandra and he was struggling to find a woman who could play the role of the female character. Due to family and societal pressure, none of the women agreed to work alongside males in a film. Dadasaheb then approached a male actor and convinced him to play Harishchandra’s wife Taramati.
“In those days, only men played female roles. As a result, I and my mother became their natural enemies. Some companies just won’t hire women as a rule” – Kamlabai (Durgabai’s daughter)
It was when Durgabai took up Dadasaheb’s offer to act in his second film, Bhasmasur Mohini (1914), that she made her debut in Indian cinema. Little did she know at that time that she was also making history and setting the record for becoming the first woman to have ever acted in Indian cinema. In fact, her daughter Kamlabai also became the First Child Actress after performing in the same film with her mother.
Fascinatingly, the fiercest opposition faced by Durgabai was from men. “In those days, only men played female roles. As a result, I and my mother became their natural enemies. “Some companies just won’t hire women as a rule,” said her daughter Kamlabai in an interview.
The taunts weren’t as strong as Kamat’s intentions and so she kept going. Sadly her name is forgotten in the public consciousness and so is her history!
Durgabai Kamat was a remarkable and phenomenal woman who didn’t let the patriarchal boundaries prevent her from doing what her heart wanted. She is a true inspiration for today’s women. What a rebellious and incredible feminist she was!