This is the first article in a series that will explore the “Unauthorized Foreign Tarzan Films. Tarzan has appeared in dozens of authorized films in the United States, but he’s been featured in several films around the world – all unauthorized. Some reports say as many as 200 movies. Italy, Turkey, China, and of course, India. Since 1937, over two dozen films have been produced in India featuring Tarzan. Sometimes Tarzan isn’t that easy to recognize. It’s hard to accept a singing Tarzan, although Disney did their best. These films don’t include Jock Mahoney’s Tarzan Goes To India, a 1962 hit directed by John Guillermin, which included the Indian actors Feroz Khan and Simi Garewal. The first of the Hindi films was Toofani Tarzan, 1937. Other movies will be presented on a weekly basis, or not, as best as scheduling will allow and time will permit. When all the movies have been covered, I’ll provide a summary list of the films and Tarzans.
In 1937, One of Wadia Movietone’s star players, John Cawas became famous with his portrayal of Tarzan in Toofani Tarzan. The title translates into English as Stormy Tarzan. Cawas is credited as John Cavas. Cawas was called the Indian Eddie Polo, the action hero of the silent era. While Wadia is best known for path-breaking stunt films featuring Fearless Nadia, Toofani Tarzan went on to become the studio’s biggest grosser. Later, the studio produced ‘India’ versions of the legend of the jungle with Zimbo (1954), Zimbo Comes to Town (1960) and Zimbo Finds A Son (1966), directed by none other than Tarzan John Cawas himself.
The Wadia brothers belong to a Parsi family, and their ancestors came from the shipbuilding Wadia family, originally from Surat and their ancestors moved to Bombay in the 18th century. Wadia Movietone was co-established in 1933, by producer and screenwriter J. B. H. Wadia, his younger brother director Homi Wadia, film distributor Manchersha B. Billimoria, and brothers Burjor and Nadirsha Tata. However, the Tata brothers left the partnership within three years. The company then continued production of film, documentaries and newsreels from its studios near Lowjee Castle, Mumbai. The castle was the Wadia family mansion, originally owned by their great-grandfather Lovji Nusserwanjee Wadia, a noted shipbuilder, who founded the Wadia Group in 1736.
The company even had ship as its logo. The company made Hunterwali (1935) starring Fearless Nadia, Boman Shroff and John Cavas, which became a surprise hit and its first big success. Thereafter, they made several films based on the Arabian Nights. However, by the end the 1930s, the genre of stunt, fantasy and mythology films which dominated the early films, was beginning to fail and the company ran into heavy losses, after they invested into ambitious projects which flopped. The last film made by the company was Raj Nartaki (1941) under the direction of Madhu Bose.
John was a stuntman and actor in Hindi movies. Cawas made his debut in the Hindi film Hunterwali in 1935. The film was a career-defining movie for Fearless Nadia and Wadia Movietone. Born in 1910 in Jabalpur in a Parsi family, Cawas pursued a career of professional body building and won the 1930 All-India Bodybuilding Championship. Cawas got his first break as a swordsman in Hunterwali along with Nadia and Boman Shroff. This role along with similar roles in subsequent sequels of this movie helped Cawas establish himself as a professional stuntman and actor. His portrayal of Tarzan in Toofani Tarzan movie from Wadia Movietone was a career defining role for him.
Evidence is that Fearless Nadia was in this film. (See the second movie poster advertising this film. It includes her image.) My copy of the film contains no subtitles and the credits are not in English, but I believe that Fearless Nadia plays the female lead. Toofani Tarzan does not appear on any list of her filmography I can find. Nevertheless, on the strength of the poster, I’ve included her herein. She’s interesting in her own right and starred in other jungle movies. Mary Ann Evans, also known by her stage name Fearless Nadia was an Indian actress and stuntwoman of Australian origin who is most remembered as the masked, cloaked adventurer in Hunterwali, released in 1935.
She was the daughter of Scotsman Herbertt Evans, a volunteer in the British Army. They lived in Australia, before coming to India. Mary was one year old when Herbertt's regiment was assigned to Bombay. Mary came to Bombay in 1913 at the age of five with her father.
In 1915, her father was killed battling the Germans during World War I. The family moved to Peshawar. She learned horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and shooting during a stay in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). In 1928, she returned to Mumbai with her mother and a son, Robert Jones, father unidentified, and then studied ballet under a teacher using the name, Madam Astrova.
Astrova’s troupe performed for British soldiers at military bases, for Indian royalty, and for other crowd in small towns and villages. Mary was adept at cartwheels and splits, which came in handy later during her film stunts. An Armenian fortune teller had foretold that a successful career lay ahead but she would have to choose a name starting with the letter ‘N’. She chose the name Nadia.
She toured India as a theatre actress and joined the Zarko Circus in 1930. She was introduced to Hindi films by Jamshed Wadia, the founder of Wadia Movietone. At first, he was amused at Mary's insistence on trying out for the movies, but he gave her a cameo as a slave girl (in a hand-painted colour sequence that accentuated her blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes) in the film Desh Deepak, and then as Princess Parizaad in Noor-e-Yaman. Nadia proved a huge hit with the audience, whereupon, considering her skills at performing circus and other stunts, Jamshed, joined by his younger brother Homi, chose to develop her into a star. In 1967-68, when she was in her late 50s, she appeared in a James Bond spoof called Khiladi, or The Player.
She also made the movies, Jungle Princess, Jungle Queen, and Hero of the Forest.
Nadia married Homi Wadia in 1961 and thus became Nadia Wadia. It never hurts to marry into the family.
Boman Shroff was an actor, stuntman, director, writer, producer in Hindi cinema, in the silent era and the early talkies. He appeared in Toofani Tarzan. He was the obligatory male from civilization who, honorable or not, becomes Tarzan’s rival for the affection of the female lead.
Boman started working in Hindi movies prior to Talkies and was on monthly payroll of JBH Wadia and Homi Wadia's various movie production houses. In the mid-thirties Wadia brothers started making action movies and Boman came to prominence. His biggest hit, the 1935 Wadia Movietone production, Hunterwali starred Fearless Nadia. It was a career making movie for everyone involved, including Boman who played the male lead.
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