In the month of our Independence anniversary and, by further coincidence, on the weekend of her August 6 death anniversary, here’s celebrating Esther Victoria Abraham. Better known by her screen sobriquet of Pramila, the stunningly beautiful actress-producer was crowned Miss India in 1947 – aged 31 and pregnant with her fourth child – in days that rules were not yet set, this was a rating by popular vote.
Born to a Baghdadi Jew family in Calcutta, her trajectory from sports star to movie heroine to pioneer film producer is amazing. A hockey champion winning several trophies in her younger years, Esther worked as a kindergarten teacher before she was drawn to Hindi cinema and blazed the screen with flamboyant roles.
She started in Bombay with the Imperial Film Company. In 1936, when Bhikaran hit the theatres, her anglicised Hindi was not only accepted, but it became quite the rage. She was soon dubbed Pramila by director-producer Baburao Pendharkar. Among her popular films, Basant is still frequently watched on YouTube.
Designing, sketching and stitching her own costumes, Esther was the “in” face of fashion magazines from the ’30s and ‘40s, draping sarees with unusual twists, dramatically different from the traditional style of those times.
Those dismissing her as a stunt star mostly playing the Westernised vamp, sat up to notice her importance as one of the first women producers with 16 films credited to her banner, Silver Films Company.
Incidentally, Esther Abraham’s daughter – now Nandini Kamdar, formerly Naqi Jehan who acted in 1960s movies like Aakhri Khat with Rajesh Khanna – clinched the 1967 Miss India title at the pageant, twenty years after her mother had been declared free India’s first Miss India.