Indian women with their talent and beauty have managed to create a buzz in the western show business in recent times. With Deepika Padukone on the verge of making her Hollywood debut alongside Vin Diesel. And Priyanka Chopra managing to gather appreciation and fan following with her current TV show ‘Quantico,’ it seems Indian actresses have finally managed to gather international attention.
With globalization on the rise, one doesn’t realize Indian acceptance in the west was not an easy process. The process had started decades ago when the first Indian actress had to conceal her Indian identity to find acceptance.
Merle Oberon, born in Mumbai on February 19, 1911 began her film career in British films as ANNE BOLEYN in the year 1933, .
Throughout her adult life, Merle Oberon in order to conceal her Indian heritage maintained the fiction that she was born in TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA. In the year 1934, Merle Oberon ‘s film the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ where she backed a small, but a very prominent role had gained huge success, after which she travelled to the United States to make films for Samuel Goldwyn, a Jewish American polish filmmaker. In the year 1935, she was nominated for an ‘Academy Award for Best Actress’ for her performance in THE DARK ANGEL.
Although she had an extraordinary personality, one cannot stop wondering, Why this talented and beautiful actress hid her identity and roots from the world?
The answer to this is perhaps she knew that she lived in the world where her origin, her gender, her caste and creed were more important than the real her. She sadly lived in the world where rules and standards differ for a female. It is possible that Merle Oberon might have experienced or encountered racism abroad or she might have conceded this notion within her since childhood forcing her to conceal her identity to an extent where she simply didn’t want anyone to know, hear or talk about it at all.
Her fictional alibi was that her school records had been destroyed in a fire, so that no one could prove or question her identity. She maintained these fictions throughout her professional life. Concealing her identity was not the only task that she constantly kept dealing with. She had her sets of ups and downs in her personal life and career. Initially, she worked as a club hostess under the name Queenie O’Brien and played minor and trivial roles in various films. She couldn’t dance, sing, write or paint, but her photogenic excellence always worked in her favour.
Merle Oberon’s career could have ended when her face received severe facial injuries in an accident, but skilled lighting technicians helped her in hiding those injury marks which soon got her back in business. She later followed this with her most renowned performance in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. It was only in the year 1978, a year before her death that she opened up with information providing her Indian origin .
Merle Oberon’s name in the history pages of Indian cinema might have faded in oblivion, but her name is as important as the contemporaries like Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra because she opened the closed doors when all odds were against her.
While most people don’t know about her, she remains the first ever Indian actress to break into Hollywood.