“I knew there were Indian Jews,” said Danny Ben-Moshe, “but I had no idea there were such prominent Jewish onscreeen stars. I started digging and each find was the tip of the iceberg.” On Wednesday night, the Embassy of India in Washington hosted an event celebrating Ben-Moshe and his new documentary about the largely forgotten stories of Indian Jews and their screen roles during the golden years of Indian cinema.
The evening, co-sponsored by B’nai B’rith, featured black-and-white clips from “Shalom Bollywood – The Untold Story of Jews and Bollywood,” which was pieced together with patience and passion over a six-year period by Ben-Moshe — a professor at the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University in Australia — who spoke at the embassy event. While making the film, be traveled to India five times, interviewing dozens of people and looking for archives, “in museums, homes and markets.”
Ben-Moshe’s most surprising find: Some of Indian cinema’s most beloved actresses hail from India’s 2,000-year-old Indian Jewish community. For example, the Indian starlet known by one name, Sulochana, was actually Ruby Myers, a nice Jewish girl from India’s city of Pune. Myers starred in silent films in the 1920s and 30s like “Typist Girl,” and “Wildcat of Bombay.” In the latter film, she played a madcap roster of characters including a Hyderabadi gentleman, a street urchin, a banana seller, a gardener, a policeman and a European blonde. Another beloved household name, Pramila, was actually Esther Abraham. She starred in wildly successful movies including “Mother India,” one of the longest-running in Hindi movie history.