Rangoon's Julia, played by Kangana Ranaut, owes more to Dina Wadia than Fearless Nadia
For those of us who have seen Rangoon, it is not difficult to draw parallels between Jaanbaaz Julia, played by Kangana Ranaut, and yesteryear icon Fearless Nadia, on whom the fierce yet vulnerable character is loosely modeled. There are multiple common aspects such as a romantic relationship with a rich Parsi film producer, the swashbuckling action sequences and the unmistakable signature prop of the 'Hunterwali' — the formidable whip.
Despite these parallels, there are certain factors which do not allow the graphs of these two characters to converge. The first such dissimilarity is their place of origin. One of the initial scenes in Rangoon has Julia disclosing her real name which sounds like anything but the real name of Nadia (Mary Ann Evans). Unlike Julia, Nadia's place of origin was Australia.
In another similar dissimilarity, Julia mentions that she is an illegitimate child as she is unaware of the identity of her father. On the other hand, Nadia was well-versed with the whereabouts of her father who was a British army soldier, commissioned in India, killed by the Germans during the Second World War. This is probably the reason why Nadia would not sway from her loyalty towards the British, like Julia did in Rangoon.
Though Julia was initially biased towards the British, the bias probably came from her mentor Rusi Bilimoria's business relationship with the British. In another parallel, the Wadia family, which launched Nadia's career and which she married into, had a deep regard for the British. In fact, the Wadia family's loyalty towards the British goes back to 1736 when Lovji Nusserwanjee Wadia began the Wadia shipbuilding dynasty by obtaining a contract from the East India Company.
Had Nadia been more 'Fearless', she would have dared to go against the British or against her family for the larger good of the nation that turned her into a star overnight. However, she chose to stay true to her father's colonial mindset and confined her fearlessness to the screen.
Rangoon, in many ways, is a silent tribute to her sister-in-law, the much less celebrated Dina Wadia. Dina was married to Neville Wadia, the cousin of Homi Wadia. Homi is the Parsi producer on whose life Saif Ali Khan's character is loosely based and who went on to marry Nadia. No, he did not tightrope walk his way eventually to the British's enemy front to avenge his wife's death.
On the other hand, Dina Wadia did do so metaphorically when she chose to marry an Indian Parsi man against the steely will of her father, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She was born on 15 August 1919 as Dina Jinnah, the only child of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Though she was raised as a Muslim, she was subjected to a bitter relationship between her father and her Parsi mother in her formative years. Also, she felt constantly neglected because of her father's undivided, and rather uni-dimensional, attention towards the birth of the other sibling, Pakistan.
That is why when her father was struggling for a separate voice, and in fact a separate country for Muslims, she chose to align with an Indian Parsi household. When her father strongly opposed her decision to convert into a Parsi, she retorted in the most poetic way possible, "Father, there were millions of Muslim girls in India. Why did you not marry one of them?"
Her relationship with her father, after her marriage, reduced to a formal exchange of pleasantries. She addressed him as the Grey Wolf, a reference to his idol, the Turkish dictator Kemal Ataturk while he returned the favour by greeting her as Mrs Wadia, a title that gnawed him within yet kept him aware of his daughter's betrayal that fueled the fire inside him to root for his other offspring, Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Dina's marriage did not last as long as even her father's. She separated from Neville merely five years after her wedding. With two children to look after, she chose to raise them in India rather than making a convenient homecoming to Pakistan. As Jinnah struggled to give birth to Pakistan, Dina invested her time in nurturing her flesh and blood.
The birth of Pakistan on 14 August 1947, led to Jinnah becoming the Father of the Nation and the first Governor-General of the country. However, his other daughter did not join the celebration. She instead tuned into the radio that night in a broadcast from Hawa Mahal, New Delhi and reflected on her own Tryst with Destiny. And as destiny would have it, she visited Pakistan only to attend the funeral of her father in 1948.
From being the lesser known child of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dina became a bold Parsi woman who questioned identities: her identity as a prospective Pakistani, her mother's identity of a submissive Muslim wife and even her father's identity of an Islamic leader. She argued that her father was by origin, a Khoja Shia, and embraced Islam only because his grandfather's father, a Hindu of Lohana caste, converted to Islam.
Taking a cue from her mother's hereditary business in the textile industry, she also took keen interest in the management of Bombay Dyeing, the textile firm managed by her son Nusli Wadia. But as she gradually saw the mills giving way to malls and Bombay dying its natural death to pave the way for Mumbai, she made up her mind to move to the New York with her daughter.
Her frequent visits to India and a much talked about visit to Pakistan in 2004 are well-documented. Those who meet her address their concerns about her frail health but also make sure to laud her indomitable spirit. "She has so much of history within herself. Yet she never fails to look forward. She keeps asking me about my IPL team," said actor Preity Zinta, who co-owns the Indian Premier League of Kings XI Punjab with her then-boyfriend Ness Wadia, the grandson of Diana.
As she aptly points out, Dina harbours 97 years of history within herself. While she did not die a martyr's death during the Freedom struggle, she is an unsung hero as she dared to defy one of the most feudal and intimidating minds of modern history. For that alone, she needs to be dubbed as 'Fearless', several notches higher than her sister-in-law Nadia.
She may not wield a whip to crack the earth in order to get noticed. But the fact that Rangoon pays an unspoken tribute to her choices speaks volumes of her character. And so does the fact that she was born on 15 August, rather than on its ill-fated eve.