Shalom Bollywood

A new documentary, “Shalom Bollywood,” which highlights the role of Indian Jewish actors in the success of early Bollywood films, is among the films to be screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Shown above is actress Rachel Sofaer, whose screen name was Arati Devi. (jfi.org photo)

When Indian cinema began over a 100 years ago, it was taboo for Hindu and Muslim women to perform in public. So, who were those stars lighting up the silver screen in that era?

A new documentary, “Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema,” reveals that Indian Jewish women took on those female lead roles, which they dominated for decades.

This unlikely story of the 2,000-year-old Indian Jewish community and its formative place in shaping the world’s largest film industry is now on the lineup of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to be held July 19-Aug. 5 at various locations across the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Shalom Bollywood,” directed by Australian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe, focuses on the lives of five great Jewish actors who performed under exotic pseudonyms like Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila and Nadira.

Products of the Baghdadi Jewish and India’s Bene Israel communities, the festival notes, these women rose from obscurity to become national celebrities.

Infused with music and dancing, the documentary uses archival footage, animation, and interviews with descendants of the actors.

Ben-Moshe is one of Australia’s leading documentary filmmakers. He won the country’s top documentary prize, the Walkley Award (2014), for his film, “Code of Silence,” which lifted the lid on sex abuse on the ultra-orthodox Jewish community, the festival writes.

The film will be screened July 21 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco; July 26 at the CineArts in Palo Alto; Aug. 4 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael; and Aug. 5 at the Piedmont Theatre in Oakland.

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