A Jewish telephone operator, Ruby Myers was the first superstar in silent Indian Cinema. During the 1930’s, Indian women were prohibited for modesty’s sake from working in films. The ones who acted were either Anglo Indians or Jewish Indians.
Ruby Myers had a screen name, Sulochana and she went on to work with the biggest names in the industry namely Guru Dutt and Shashi Kapoor. Her cousin Pramila went on to become the first Miss India.
Ruby was born in Pune, India and was working as a telephone operator. She was approached by Mohan Bhavnani of Kohinoor Films to work in films. At first, because of the roles not being as fulfilling for her, she refused the offer.
However, she soon found material she could dig her teeth in and thus began her journey into films.
Her most popular movies, Typist Girl (1926), Balidaan (1927) and Wildcat of Bombay (1927) were the ones she essayed eight roles including a gardener, a policeman, a Hyderabadi gentleman, a street urchin, a banana seller and a European blonde.
The documentarian Eric Molinksy said
“It was forbidden for Muslim and Hindu women to be onscreen or onstage. It was like prostitution. But there were a lot of Anglo Indians, children of diplomats, and also Jewish women who could sing and dance.”
India’s Jewish connection goes way back, more than 2,000 years. Jewish immigration came in three waves. Bene Israel, according to legend, were shipwrecked thereafter Jews fled Roman rule in ancient Israel. Jews settled in the area around Cochin, developing a unique religious culture.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jews from Arab too came to India for trading purposes. They were known as the Baghdadi Jews. Director Danny BenMoshe believes that as Baghdadi Jews from a trading community, Sulochana and the others had a cosmopolitan outlook that served them well in their careers.
“They came from households where women were empowered,” he explains. “Ultimately, it was their values and lifestyles that helped them become stars.
We wonder how many stars have been forgotten with time.