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2012/1/3 Cinema poster, '11 O'Clock', featuring 'Fearless Nadia', paper / acrylic, designed by Sona Art, printed by 'Uni-Arts' Litho Works, for Basant Pictures, Bombay (Mumbai), India, 1948. Click to enlarge.

Indian cinema poster '11 O'Clock'

This collection of four posters represent the production of 'Fearless Nadia' films by Homi Wadia at Basant Pictures from 1943-1959. The poster for '11 O'Clock, made in 1948 demonstrates Homi Wadia's successful strategy of formulaic low budget film production appealing to his audience through comedic high action stunts, with Fearless Nadia as the star. The poster design similarly used standard imagery that was easily recognisable by a diverse multilingual audience.

Australian born Mary Evans, more famously known as Fearless Nadia, while not the first Indian film heroine, nor even the first white woman to appear in Indian motion pictures, was the first to successfully challenge traditional female roles in Indian movies through her energetic stunt films. As a result she was the most well known and successful female film star in India through the 1930s-1940s and assisted in making Wadia Movietone the most successful Bombay film studio by the end of the 1930s. Her clarion call of 'Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy' is to this day instantly recognised by generations of Indian film goers.

Nadia's image is a complicated and multilayered construct combining elements of the Hollywood stunt queen Pearl White, (and by implication the whole stunt genre), the white memsaab, the legendary Indian warrior woman (virangana) and the modern urban sophisticated woman from Bombay (Bombaiwali). This persona allowed Nadia to wear both western style masculine clothing and Indian saris, be erotically charged and yet sexless, display her physical prowess and fighting skills and be a force for moral order, fighting the bad guys in a thinly veiled allusion to the nationalist movement. She was equally at ease in urban and rural environments and was empowered not crushed by the technological progress of a modern India. It was these elements which allowed her to be accepted as an Indian heroine by her audience.

This poster collection also represents an increasingly rare tradition of non digital poster design and production which has all but died out in India.

Rebecca Bower
December 2011

Benson, L, 'Hunterwali "The woman with the whip": The Fearless Nadia Story' in D, Patel, L Benson and C Cains, Cinema India: The art of Bollywood, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007
Devraj, R, and E Bouman, The Art of Bollywood, Taschen, Cologne, 2010
Dwyer, R, and D Patel, Cinema India: The Visual Culture of Hindi Film, Reacktion Books, London 2002
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Gulzar, G Nihalani, and S Chatterjee, (eds) Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema, Encyclopaedia Britannica India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2003
Ghandhy, B., and R Thomas, 'Three Indian Film Stars', in Gledhill, C., (ed), Stardom, Industry of Desire, Routledge, London, 1991, p107-31
Hansen, K, 'The Virangana in North Indian History: Myth and Popular Culture', in Economic and Political Weekly, vol 23, no 18 (April 30), 1988, p25-33
Majumda, N, 'Spectatorial Desires and the Hierarchies of Stardom', in Wanted Cultured Ladies Only! Female stardom and cinema in India 1930s-1950s, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 2009, p3-13 and 93-122
Rajadhyaksha, A, and P Willemen, Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema, Oxford University Press, 1999
Thomas, R, 'Not quite (Pearl) White: Fearless Nadia, Queen of the Stunts' in R Kaur and A J Sinha, (eds), Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema through a Transnational Lens, Sage Publications, India Pvt Ltd, 2005, p35-69
Wenner, D, Fearless Nadia: the true story of Bollywood's original stunt queen, Berlin 1999, English translation, New Delhi, 2005


Object No.


Object Statement

Cinema poster, '11 O'Clock', featuring 'Fearless Nadia', paper / acrylic, designed by Sona Art, printed by 'Uni-Arts' Litho Works, for Basant Pictures, Bombay (Mumbai), India, 1948

Physical Description

Cinema poster, '11 O'Clock', featuring 'Fearless Nadia', paper / acrylic, designed by Sona Art, printed by "Uni-Arts" Litho Works, for Basant Pictures, Bombay (Mumbai), India, 1948

Portrait-format colour lithograph poster in maroon and green. The field is divided into three main areas, depicting the major characters and scenes of the film. The field is dominated by the image of Fearless Nadia in western dress, standing in a stereotypical pose with arm upraised. She stands in front of a clock with the time stopped at eleven, a literal device for the audience. The left of the field features the image of a man in a suit and hat, her co-star John Cawas. The lower portion of the field is comprising a steaming train, with groups of fighting figures on the roof of the carriages.

The title of the film is printed in English, Hindi and Urdu text, with the lead actors Fearless Nadia and John Cawas listed beneath in Hindi. Additional Hindi text lists a number of supporters, Homi Wadia as director and producer and the production company, Basant Pictures. The film distributor, M B Billimoria & Son is listed in English.

While the poster scenes are depicted using line art, there is an attempt to depict both Fearless Nadia and her co-star John Cawas with realism. Nadia is presented in her typical stance with arm upraised, her clothing and hairstyle also standardised western style. The presence of fight scene on board a train indicates to the audience the film will provide the standard formula of action and fight sequences which they would expect to see in a 'Fearless Nadia' film


Printed in black at bottom of poster, 'SONA ART Released through: M.B. Billimoria & Son / "UNIARTS" LITHO WORKS, BOMBAY.2'.
Film production company logo printed at bottom of poster.



765 mm


507 mm


7 mm



The poster for '11 O'Clock' was printed by "Uniarts" Litho Works, Bombay, for Homi Wadia's Basant Pictures, Bombay, India in 1948. The poster was probably designed by Sona Art. The poster is unsigned.

The film was distributed in Bombay by M B Billimoria & Son. Basant Pictures, like Wadia Movietone before it, had its own in house art department under the direction of D G Pradhan. Manchersha B Billimoria, a film distributor/exhibitor had been a financial backer of Wadia Movietone in its initial years. When Homi Wadia left Wadia Movietone and started Basant Pictures, Billimoria again provided financial backing.

There were two types of poster production in India, prior to the introduction of digital technology in 1992. The first, as demonstrated in this poster for '11 O'Clock' involved designing and hand painting prototypes which were often based upon photographs provided by the producer. The other design technique incorporated black and white production stills, which were cut and pasted together in a collage onto a painted background. Often the photographs themselves were over painted.

Bombay cinema's poster art tradition developed out of the flyers and programs of the silent film era but blossomed under the studio system of the 1930s where in house artists were employed to paint posters and banners. While some of these poster artists were graduates of the Bombay School of Art and similar schools from other regions in India, the profession largely featured self taught painters who worked under senior artists and then branched out independently. After the decline of the studios, this art was created by a network of painters, photographers and billboard workshops that catered exclusively to the film industry.

However, the B movie poster art scene was dominated by artists who specialised in low budget work. Like the predictability of the films, the poster imagery became repetitive as standard motifs and themes were constantly recycled. This repetitive formula is evident in the design for these four posters from the Basant Pictures period of Fearless Nadia's career. The visual language used in artwork to depict Fearless Nadia films was set while the films were made at Wadia Movietone (1935-1942). However these posters from Basant Pictures (1943-1959) further reduced the plot details and Nadia's star image to its essential elements and a standard formula recognisable by her target audience.

Indian film posters have over time developed a specific visual language, crucial in appealing to a mass market across linguistic, religious and regional boundaries. Much of the market for Hindi films included multilingual regional audiences who could not necessarily read written Hindi. The posters therefore relied on strong visual images, minimal text, bright colours, often unusual colour combinations and eye catching typography to stand out to potential audiences.

Poster artists paid particular attention to the star image or persona in the overall design of a poster. Given the high recognition of Indian film stars by the general population, the depiction of their image on a poster was a key component in raising expectation about the film being advertised. This was particularly relevant for film stars who played a particular character type in each of their films. Poster artists could depict these 'types' using standardised motifs that the audience recognised. Another key element in poster design was dictated by the audience's taste for films that offered melodrama, romance, comedy as well as action. By combining many film highlights in the poster the artists could appeal to a wider range of potential audiences.

All these elements can be read in the posters for 'Fearless Nadia' films. These visual cues raise audience expectations about plot developments and the role of the Fearless Nadia character in the film. In the poster for '11 O'Clock' she is depicted centrally in the field in masculine western dress and there is little attempt to disguise her non Indian heritage. Her trademark stance, with arm raised defiantly in the air was associated with her trademark call 'Hey-y-y-y-y', instantly recognised by Nadia fans. The fight scenes and speeding steam train in this poster suggest to the audience the film will contain plenty of action and many of Nadia's trademark stunts. While her co-star John Cawas is depicted on the poster, the relative size and position of his face suggests he is not the main star of the film. The clock depicted behind Nadia is a stock device intended to suggest the literal passage of time.

Unlike Hollywood, the costs of Bollywood publicity were traditionally shared by the film's producer and the distributors, who released films in various territories. Distributors classified areas within their territories as A, B, C centres, A being major cities, B and C being smaller towns, working class or poorer parts of towns and cities where stunt and exploitation films were mainly shown. Bombay producers paid for film posters, while distributors paid for billboards, banners and cinema decorations in their territories. The distributors would hire artists in their area to produce local versions of Bombay produced publicity images. Many distributors in the B and C territories preferred to print cheap local copies of a 'Bombay poster' at their own expense instead of purchasing the more expensive original version from a film's producer. Posters from the same Bombay produced film could therefore exist in numerous regional versions and in degrees of quality. The same poster could be as complex as a full colour lithograph or a lesser version rendered as simple line art with a limited colour palette.



The four 'Fearless Nadia' posters in this collection, 'Hunterwali ki Beti' (1943), 'Stunt Queen' (1947), '11 O'Clock' (1948) and 'Circus Queen' (1959) advertise films made by Homi Wadia's Basant Pictures and encompass Nadia's career at that studio. 'Hunterwali ki Beti' was the first film made by Basant Pictures and relaunched Nadia's career, while 'Circus Queen' was the last film Nadia made as 'Fearless Nadia' before she retired.

These posters were purchased from a poster dealer in Delhi for inclusion in the exhibition 'Cinema India: The art of Bollywood', displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Powerhouse Museum in 2007. This touring exhibition originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London but the section devoted to 'Fearless Nadia' was developed by the National Gallery of Victoria specifically for Australian audiences.

Fearless Nadia (1908-1996) was born Mary Evans in Perth, Western Australia, but the family moved to Delhi in 1913 when her British father's regiment was sent to India. Her father died on the Western Front in 1915 but Mary and her mother remained in India, moving from Bombay to the garrison town of Peshawar. Here Mary learned dancing, horse riding and other outdoor pursuits which became key to her later movie career. She returned to Bombay in 1927 finding work as a dancer and singer. She worked in Zacko's Russian circus, and toured the Asian subcontinent with Madame Astrova's ballet group. During this time, at the suggestion of an Armenian fortune teller she adopted the stage name Nadia. She continued touring northern India, returning to Bombay in 1935 where she was introduced to the brothers Jamshed (J.B.H.) and Homi Wadia at Wadia Movietone.

J.B.H and Homi Wadia were among the earliest of Bombay filmmakers to embrace sound, having previously been successful during the 1920s as independents with a series of populist silent films written by J.B.H. In 1933, within two years of the first talkie released in India, the brothers established Wadia Movietone (1933-1942), with financial backing and film distribution from fellow Parsee, B.H. Billimoria.

By the mid 1930s Wadia Movietone was one of the more successful Bombay studios; producing Hindi language, mainly comedic stunt and action films, reworking popular Hollywood films for their Indian audience. The brothers, like many Indians of their generation, had grown up on a diet of Hollywood westerns, comedies, serials and stunt films and J.B.H. unabashedly admitted the influence of Hollywood on his filmmaking, particularly the films of Douglas Fairbanks Snr. He admired the old serial heroines such as Helen Holmes, Ruth Holland, and particularly Pearl White in the 'Perils of Pauline' (1914) and saw the potential of creating a female action character for Indian audiences.

Upon meeting Nadia, the brothers were impressed with her physicality, but doubted whether her fairness, western name and poor command of Hindi would appeal to Indian audiences. J.B.H. Wadia gave her small roles in two films, accentuating her blonde buxomness, singing and dancing abilities. These met with audience approval encouraging him to launch Nadia with a starring role in 'Hunterwali' (The woman with the whip), directed by his brother Homi and based upon the Douglas Fairbanks film 'Robin Hood'.

From the outset J.B.H. Wadia played on Nadia's physicality and intrepidness in performing her own stunts, billing her as 'Fearless Nadia' and as 'India's Pearl White'. In the film, a thinly veiled nationalist tale, Nadia plays an Indian princess who disguised as a whip wielding warrior seeks revenge upon the enemies who kidnapped her father and assumed rule of the kingdom. 'Hunterwali' was a resounding success and the highest grossing film of 1935 making Fearless Nadia a household name. Wadia Movietone capitalised on this success, releasing a series of 'Fearless Nadia' films directed by Homi Wadia. By the end of the 1930s, largely on the back of these films, Wadia Movietone was the most profitable studio in Bombay and Nadia the most recognisable female star in India.

J.B.H's scripts for Fearless Nadia films reflected his involvement in the Independence Movement as a member of the Congress Party and later as a founding member of the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) led by the left-wing M.N. Roy. British censorship law prevented any overt reference to Indian nationalism in films, and J.B.H. Wadia, like other contemporary filmmakers, circumvented this rule in his scripts through implicit references to politically sensitive issues and using nationalist symbols that would be understood by the audience. Opposed to the traditionally submissive role of women in Indian society he also imbued the Fearless Nadia character with strong feminist principles.

While not an obvious choice to play an Indian heroine, in her films Nadia always played an Indian woman, albeit one who rode horses, drove cars in chases, fought men on the top of moving trains, used whips, guns and other weapons and often wore non Indian attire. There was little attempt to hide her buxom physique, pale complexion and blonde hair, although the impact was lessened somewhat by the medium of black and white film and the disguises she wore. Until very late in her career Nadia performed her own stunts, adding to her audience appeal. Her link to the Indian nationalist cause was established in 'Hunterwali' her first film which was subtitled 'the brave Indian girl who sacrificed royal luxuries to the cause of her people and her country', but continued throughout her film career. With successive films she is increasingly referred to as Bombaiwali (the woman from Bombay), implying a sophisticated modern woman.

The stunt film genre was at its peak in the 1930s, largely due to the popularity of the 'Fearless Nadia' films. But by the 1940s a growing urban middle class audience's preference for social films and disdain for stunt, mythological and historical films saw a decline in their appeal in big cities, the A class distribution territories. However, stunt films maintained their popularity in regional and poorer urban areas, the B and C territories. These formulaic films were churned out cheaply with the emphasis on spectacular stunts. This was certainly the case for the Fearless Nadia films, although they still managed to recover their costs, largely due to their success in northern Indian and overseas territories.

Creative differences between the two brothers led Homi to leave Wadia Movietone in 1942 taking Nadia's and her costar John Cawas' contracts with him. He started his own production company, Basant Pictures the same year with the intention of specialising in cheaply made stunt and action films to appeal to the B and C class territories. While his first film was a flop, he revived the Fearless Nadia series with 'Hunterwali Ki Beti', the sequel to 'Hunterwali' (1935). It was a huge hit in 1943 and relaunched the career of the aging Fearless Nadia. Homi Wadia, an astute businessman, in leaving Wadia Movietone and starting Basant Pictures had taken a calculated risk with 'Hunterwali ki Beti', relying on the audience's continuing love for the whip cracking Nadia. He recognised the successful formula of a Nadia film required certain plot elements: a conflict and its resolution, slapstick dramatic stunts, action sequences, romantic interludes and song inserts. He continued to replicate this formula in Nadia films such as '11 O'Clock' for the next seventeen years until her retirement in 1959.


Credit Line

Gift of Laurie Benson, 2012

Acquisition Date

5 January 2012

Cite this Object


Indian cinema poster '11 O'Clock' 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 2 March 2021, <https://ma.as/407380>


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