link-question-1.jpg b. 1908

d. 9 March 1994

Designer, Producer, Actor

Devika Rani (also known as Devika Rani Chowdhry Roerich) is perhaps the only Indian designer/actor who actually worked on a British silent film, whilst living in London in the 1920s. The film was A Throw of Dice, an Indo-British-German co-production shot in Rajasthan (India) in 1929. It was produced by Himansu Rai a visionary film maker whose first film, the Indo-German co-production The Light of Asia (1926) had been named by The Times (London) as being among the best 10 films of that year. Himansu met Devika in London where she was studying design. He fell in love with her. And why not? She was beautiful and interested in cinema –and so Himansu persuaded her to work with him as a designer/ set decorator on A Throw of Dice. However, this was uncredited work, though the cast and crew were aware of her contribution. After this film (called a ‘rare and fascinating gem’ by the Guardian when it was recently screened in 2007) Devika and Himansu trained at UFA in Germany—where she was particularly keen to learn all aspects of cinema—from make-up to acting.

Himansu and Devika made a formidable team and they launched their first talkie—Karma (1933). Again it was an Indo-British co-production shot, for the first time ever, in two languages –Hindi and English. Devika and Himansu acted in it and Devika swept the British critics away –who were amazed at her beauty and her perfect British accent! Unfortunately, the film did not do as well in India as the story was essentially created for a foreign audience.

However, Devika the actor had arrived. No other Indian actor ever since has got the same kind of reviews in London. The duo were married by then and went to India to establish the first ever professionally run Indian studio (based on the German studios they had observed) Bombay Talkies. Devika became the face of Bombay Talkies, while Himansu ran the studio—which had separate departments for sound, light, script etc. The studio maintained a global dimension: there were British and German technicians working at the studio, primarily as cameraman and sound recordists. From her very first film Jawani Ki Hawa (1935) for Bombay Talkies to her last film, Hamari Baat (1943), Devika remained a screen diva. But it was not an easy time as she attracted a great deal of acrimony from other members of Bombay Talkies who were not able to get accustomed to a female boss, especially after the death of Himansu in 1940.

There were other problems as well: she had run away with her first co-star, a very good looking lad from Lucknow, Najamul Hasan, after her very first film. It left many Bombay Talkies loyalists very annoyed and unable to forgive her, even though she was persuaded to come back to live with Himansu till his rather suspicious death,

She struggled to keep the studio going –but in 1944 married the aristocratic White Russian Svetoslav Roerich (whose father was the well-known and politically well connected philosopher-painter, Nicholas Roerich). Devika abandoned cinema forever, living between the northern hills and Bangalore in the South with her new husband.

She died on 9 March, 1994, in Bangalore, leaving behind a very rich estate: a spectacular art collection, as well as acres of land, over which a legal tussle still goes on with multiple claimants, even though Devika died childless. She received high honours from the Indian Government, including the Padma Shri (1958) and the Dadasaheb Phalke award (1970).

Researcher Kishwar Desai

3 Responses to “Devika Rani Homepage”

  1. Posted on behalf of Kishwar Desai:

    “I am writing a book on Devika Rani and Himansu Rai and would be grateful for all information, as I have noticed several myths which have been circulated about her—such as her studying at RADA and RMA—all incorrect!

    She was supposed to have been born at Waltair (in India) in 1908—but some maintain she was actually born in 1898. She came to London to study but I am still looking for actual evidence of the school she attended. However, the fact that she was here and met Himansu has been well documented in a related autobiography of Niranjan Pal who lived in London at the time and worked with Himansu and Devika.

    All information on Devika, especially on her London life is very welcome”

    – Kishwar Desai



  3. Kusum Joshi Says:

    Please contact SACF at:
    for Niranjan Pal’s book

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