Esther Victoria Abraham: Mesmerizing Beauty, Breaking Taboos, Conquering the Glamorous World of Cinema

Esther Victoria Abraham: Mesmerizing Beauty, Breaking Taboos, Conquering The Glamorous World Of Cinema

The saga of Indian Cinema is one of the most fascinating voyages of glamour, style, fantasy, and fame. Nowadays, being an actress has its own power and dignity. A decade ago, we would have seen a different kind of scenario. The characters of the women were usually played by men since it was considered that no respectable woman would work on stage or have such an interest. 

Among all the communities in India, women of the Baghdadi Jewish Community were the ones who first acted in the world of celluloid. A time when women participation in performing arts was taboo, these women made their mark. Their contribution to Indian Cinema remains persistent.  One of the most beautiful actresses of that era was Esther Victoria Abraham, famous by the name of Pramila. 

The beginning of this Multi-talented Diva

Esther was born to Reuben Abraham a businessman from Kolkata and Matilda Issac from Karachi, on 30th Dec 1916.  She was very competitive in nature and wanted to be an all-rounder. From a young age, she had positive vibes for performing art. She excelled in studies, as well as in sports and arts too. She received an arts degree administered from Cambridge.

She admired her cousin Rose Ezra who had joined the Bombay film Industry. She too was captivated by the world of cinema. She understood that her dreams and her future are with theatre and cinema. A born rebel, she walked out of her conservative family to join a Parsi travelling theatre company in Mumbai as an entertainer. Her role was to keep the audiences quiet by her dance performance when the reel projector had to be changed. But she was not disheartened; she knew she had to play a much bigger role in her life.

Esther Becomes Pramila and Accomplishments of This Fearless Lady

Once Esther reached Mumbai, she was noticed for her beauty and her striking features. Her first movie that hit the theatres was Bhikaran where she played a westernized vamp. Her anglicized Hindi was not just accepted, but it went on to become a rage. She was given a new screen name ‘Pramila’ by director and producer Baburao Pendherkar after this movie. She had made a mark after the release of her first movie itself. In 30 of her films, she acted as a fearless stunt star including Ulti Ganga, Bijli, Basant and Jungle King.

She was a fashion icon. Her statuesque and style dominated most of the popular magazines of the ’30s and ’40s.  She designed, drew and sewed her own costumes.  Her style of wearing saris was with a modern twist, a contemporary style.  She represented a contrasting side of Indian traditional women. She was the vamp who played the piano and her roles were the antithesis to the lead roles usually played by the sari-clad heroines.

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Her lists of achievements are too many. She became the first one to win the Miss India title. She defined the studio system where power rested in the hands of rich producers. She took the risk and become the first female producer of Indian cinema. She produced many popular and successful films and she used them to raise funds for her movies. She produced 16 movies under her banner.

The Courageous, the fearless lady who always held her head high through all the ups and down

Her personal life journey was also a sort of turmoil. She was married twice. She had five kids from her two marriages. When her second husband Syed Hasan Ali Zaidi, better known as Kumar decided to leave India and move to Pakistan, she stayed back with her five kids. She broke all patriarchal rules and always made sure that her kids respected her and her Jewish identity. She was a proud woman who took success and failure with the same grace. She was the personification of power and strength. She had to face many financial and emotional upsets but she took care of her kids and her parents and siblings too.

Even after formally bidding adieu to the cinema world, her quest for acting was still the same as when she was a newcomer. Her last adventure was the role of the grandmother in the Marathi movie Thangg directed by Amol Palekar.

She passed away on 6th Aug 2006, five months short of her ninetieth birthday.

Image source: Culture Unplugged

C.S. Lakshmi remembered the legend with these words:  

“Pramila’s death signifies the end of an era of films that had women and the nation as their core concerns. It was an era that was trying to deal with the educated, independent woman who was considered ‘modern’ by placing her in opposition to a Bharat Nari they were trying to create. Pramila was almost always cast as the educated woman who still had to understand the true values of Bharat. She was the woman who played the piano and fluttered her eyes at the hero. Despite the negativity, such roles put her in, Pramila, with her wit and charm, always managed to outshine the heroine trying to portray the ‘true’ Indian woman.”

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