She was a celebrated action hero, a stuntwoman, the star of more than 50 Indian movies… and she was from Perth. Mary Evans might not be a household name in the country of her birth, but Sydney composer Ben Walsh’s latest project sees Evans’s alter ego Fearless Nadia back on the big screen some 70 years after pre-Bollywood audiences fell in love with her.
The show combines scenes from Nadia’s 1940 adventure film Diamond Queen with an energetic score performed by Walsh, his Orkestra of the Underground and guest Indian musicians. “I feature instruments outside the standard classical realm,” Walsh says. “Electronic oddities, new instruments never heard before, world and jazz instruments sit alongside each other; readers of notation and improvised forms work side by side.”
Walsh and the Orkestra won acclaim for their score to a theatrical imagining of Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival. With his friend and tabla player Bobby Singh, he flew to Mumbai to meet Nadia’s great-nephew Ray Wadia, and is pleased to have Singh’s teacher Aneesh Pradhan join the Orkestra for the performance.
Not only did Walsh compose some 40 pieces for the score but he also worked with two visual artists to edit the film, selecting the scenes he felt would work best with music. “A traditional film of that period was over two hours long: a real challenge to the average YouTube attention span of today’s world,” he says. “We keep the feel authentic with an interval. It’s a big night out and the audience gets in the spirit of things.”