Devika Rani was arguably the first female superstar of Indian cinema, and her Bombay Talkies the country’s first professional film production house. Her intriguing journey and enigmatic personal life, however, weren’t explored beyond sketchy anecdotes and hearsay until Kishwar Desai’s The Longest Kiss: The Life and Times of Devika Rani came. Pieced together from a wide range of archival material, the book is the account of a truly remarkable life.
In this conversation with Anand Vardhan, Kishwar talks about her approach to gathering and corroborating facts during 15 years of tracing various aspects of Devika’s life in public, artistic and personal spheres. She reflects on Devika’s struggles and pursuit of ambition in a male-dominated industry, abusive marriage, and control of Bombay Talkies.
She also discusses male and female ideals in the Hindi cinema of that era, the change and continuity in sexual attitudes and expressions of physicality, and the place of letter writing and its language in the sentimental register of that period.
Moving away from the book, Kishwar discusses the Partition Museum and Mahatma Gandhi statue at Parliament Square in London, projects with which she has been closely associated.