She was India’s first international superstar in the 1930s and 1940s. Astonishingly beautiful, prodigiously talented, and a great-grand-niece of Rabindranath Tagore, Devika Rani earned rave reviews for her first film, Karma. Shortly afterwards, she married Himansu Rai, and together, they set up India’s first truly professional studio, Bombay Talkies. Over the next few years, the studio became the launch pad for some of India’s best-known talent, including Ashok Kumar, Leela Chitnis and Dilip Kumar.
After Himansu’s controversial death in 1940, Devika took over Bombay Talkies. She ran the studio with a steel hand, squashing all rebellion and constantly walking a tightrope when it came to the men around her. Then, one day, she met the handsome and reclusive Svetoslav Roerich, and, just like in a Hindi film, nothing was ever the same again.
Devika died as she had lived, in the midst of controversy, and an enigma to most. Here, for the first time, through her letters and documents, is pieced together the life that she kept away from the world. The romance and the abuse that characterised her marriage with Himansu, the struggle of being a woman at the helm of a hyper-male domain, the circuitous ways in which cinema found its feet in Bombay, and the soaring happiness and tragedy of a life lived on the edge, always.