Tag Archives: Jewish Actresses

Jews of the Week: Sulochana & Pramila

India’s Superstars

Sulochana and Pramila

Esther Victoria Abraham (1916-2006) was born in Calcutta, India to a wealthy Iraqi-Jewish family. Although she studied at the University of Cambridge to become a teacher, her passion was acting. Her first gig was dancing for a Persian theatre company. From there, she made the jump to Bollywood, and went on to star in 30 films under her stage name Pramila. Following India’s independence in 1947, she won the country’s first Miss India beauty pageant. Pramila was also one of India’s first female film producers, making 16 movies under her own Silver Productions company. Interestingly, her daughter won the Miss India contest in 1967, making them the only mother-daughter duo to win the pageant. Her son continues to be a popular Indian TV and film star today.

Pramila’s fellow Iraqi-Jewish actress was Ruby Myers (1907-1983), born in the city of Pune. Myers was working as a telephone operator with no interest in film when she was discovered by a director. She initially turned down his offers but ultimately relented when he kept pursuing her. Despite having no formal training in acting, Myers soon became India’s biggest and highest paid actress, going under the stage name Sulochana. Incredibly talented and versatile, in one 1927 film she played eight different roles! She was so popular that when Gandhi was struggling for India’s independence, he used an image of Sulochana in his campaign poster. She went on to start her own production company, too, called Rubi Pics. Becoming very wealthy, Sulochana drove the first Rolls Royce in India. In 1973, she won the country’s most prestigious cinema honour, the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, and in 1983 was featured on an Indian stamp.

Words of the Week

Be mild in speech, suppress your anger, and always strive to be on the best terms with your relatives and all people, even with the stranger in the street, so that you may be beloved Above and well-liked below and be acceptable to all of your fellows.
– Rabbi Abbaye (Talmud, Berakhot 17a)

Jew of the Week: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman plays Orthodox girl Rifka in ‘New York, I Love You’

Netalee Hershlag (b. 1981) was born in Jerusalem to a Jewish-American mother and Israeli father with a mix of Russian, Austrian, Romanian, and Polish heritage. The family moved to the US when she was three years old, and young Natalie went to a Jewish day school. She spent most of her teenage years in New York, where she studied dance and ballet. When she was 11, an agent spotted her at a pizza parlour. Shortly after, she was cast alongside Britney Spears in a small role on a Broadway play. The following year, she was cast as twelve-year old orphan Mathilda Lando in the popular film Leon: the Professional. It was then that Natalie decided to use her grandmother’s maiden name, “Portman”. Her incredible performance launched her into stardom. Nonetheless, she made sure to reject all the highly sexualized roles she was being offered, later saying that “there’s a surprising preponderance of that kind of role for young girls. Sort of being fantasy objects for men, and especially this idealized purity combined with the fertility of youth… so I definitely shied away from it.” Indeed, she initially rejected a role in 1999’s Anywhere but Here because of a sex scene, and only accepted it when the script was rewritten without it. For this role, she would win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Meanwhile, Portman wanted to get a proper education, even if it meant “ruining my career”. She skipped the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I (where she played beloved Queen Amidala, young mother of Luke and Leia Skywalker) to study for her high school exams, then enrolled in psychology studies at Harvard. Throughout her time there, she was a noted pro-Israel activist, and also served as Alan Dershowitz’s research assistant. Portman continued graduate studies at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and has co-authored two scientific papers. (Even in high school she was a scientist, coming up with, and writing a paper titled, “A Simple Method to Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar”.) Portman was later a guest lecturer at Columbia University, and once said, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” Thankfully, she is both, with many of her films receiving rave reviews. 2006’s V for Vendetta inspired a whole movement, while 2010’s eye-opening Black Swan won her an Oscar for Best Actress. For the former film she had to shave her head, while the latter required 5 to 8 hours of dance training every day for 6 months. All in all, Portman has acted in, directed, or produced 42 films thus far. Meanwhile, the vegan Portman is an animal rights activist, and has produced an acclaimed film on cruel factory farming. She produced another to depict the plight of gorillas. She has also worked to combat poverty, and served as an Ambassador of Hope for a microlending fund, and an ambassador for Free the Children. She is a member of OneVoice, which strives to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. For her tireless work, last month Portman was awarded the $1 million Genesis Prize (“the Jewish Nobel Prize”), which she said would be donated primarily to support women’s causes. Portman has two children, and though she now lives in LA, has said that “my heart’s in Jerusalem. That’s where I feel at home.”

Words of the Week

Fighting evil is a very noble activity when it must be done. But it is not our mission in life. Our job is to bring in more light.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe