Hair, Makeup and Fashion Trends of Bollywood Actresses of 1930’s

By Supriya B

Hair and Makeup of Bollywood Actresses of 1930’s

If I said the 1930s were an exciting time, no one would believe me. Try thinking of a famous film from 1930s, chances are unless you are a film buff, you will draw a blank, but for now, trust me when I say the 1930s was an exciting time for Indian cinema, bollywood in particular.  In this post, I will look at some hair, makeup and fashion trends that date back to 1930s movies, or at least prominent actors of the time.

Let me give you a brief background to 1930s; it was well after World War I, so the exchange of foreign goods was a lot easier than anyone can imagine.  We were a British colony and it made economic sense to the British to sell products manufactured in Britain to us, at a higher price of course. Sound had come to India in 1931, Alam Ara was the first talkie (heard this in a lot of trivia questions). Our films were singing, talking, dancing and trying to help the freedom struggle reach all parts of India without getting into trouble with the censors. So fashion and beauty, though in keeping with western trends around 5-10 years older, was trying to be different and Indian. We were trying to find an image that was Indian yet not backward, traditional , mystical. The film industry had many answers, here are some of them, to the eternal dilemma of finding the perfect Indian woman. Zubeida starred in the first talkie and was quite the legend.

Hair Makeup and Fashion Trends of Bollywood Actresses of 1930's

It was in 1930s that Indian films received their first action heroine, a swashbuckling adventure-loving, buxom woman, who went by the name of Fearless Nadia. Born Mary Ann Evans, I believe she was an Australian.  She was a big star in Hindi films which required minimal dialogue and a maximum of stunts.  She wore shorts, pants, with her shirt tucked in and a mask covering her eyes. She was often seen in masculine clothes, or at least unisex variety if those kind of clothes existed then.



She rocked a deep red lip as she carried out all the action, be it horse riding or jumping from trains.  Surprisingly, for a woman of her time, where everyone wore a very deep almost black lips with elan, she continued to wear the occasional nude lip and barely-there eyes, she must have been quite the fashion risk taker. She was the quintessential flapper girl, willing to dress a little masculine, yet having the courage to wear a deep red lipstick.


Devika Rani who starred in films like Achyut Kanya, a film that spoke of untouchability, was the perfect example of the look that could be said “signature 1930s India” (though this is closer to the 1920s western look).

Devika Rani Image 1

She rocked a mean finger waves, pencil thin eyebrows, deep red lip. Notice how there is a grey haze around eyes, smudgy kohl on the lower lid. Its not the sharp or clean lines of 50s or the thick extended eyeliner of 70s. It is very difficult to put a finger on. It’s a smokey eye, but without any clear demarcation, think a watercolour sketch.  Devika Rani was a well-travelled and well-educated woman who was interested as much in what happens behind the camera as much as what happens in front of it. She had studied cinema in Germany, but came to Bombay in late 20s and early 30s when the Nazi wave had begun to take over Germany. She was different from other actresses of the time, in the sense that she would travel the world, understand global politics.

Here is an image of her with Pt. Nehru, probably some dignitary visit, or a cultural programme.

Devika Rani and Pt. Nehru

Durga Khote

Remember this woman, she played all her roles with elan, be it the grandmother in Bobby, or the simple woman fallen on bad times in Karz or a young warrior princess in Maya Machchindra (early V. Shantaram film).

Durga Khote

Durga Khote was said to be one of the first Brahmin women to act in hindi films.  Her career began in the mid to late 1920s and 1930s was for her a golden era. She infact attempted a nice mix of flapper girl with Indian woman.  Somehow she was the first choice to play the role of the queen in period hindi films.  At a very old age , she played Jodhabai in Mughal-E-Azam and in her autobiography, she reminisces about how heavy the clothes and jewellery were. It was said that she would suffer immense body aches and knee pain and often felt like she was losing her balance during the shoot of the film.

Evidently, she lasted a long time in the industry and Deven Khote of UTV productions fame is her grandson.

1920s -30s were characterized by porcelain skin, almost ivory white complexions and transclucent skin. To the world, it was a makeup trend and to India, it became a permanent fixation, but for us, the ivory-skinned heroines were the only heroines we knew. In a country like ours, where not many are born anything lighter than wheatish tones, this fascination was made possible by the presence of black and white films. If colour could not be seen, it could not be clear if the heroines were white or wheatish. From this idea, came the notion of pancakes for film cameras, a trend that is waning only recently.  It was like putting on a new skin. A good number of pimply-teenaged girls were turned into rose-complexioned divas with the help of pancake and cornflour. I have heard most actresses swore by their jar of cornflour.

It is said 1930s were Indianised replies to 1920s, think Greta Garbo, but they were still an interesting time when we were indianising looks that on the face of it look impossible to translate.

Greta Garbo

We risked it all, dark eyes, thin eyebrows, finger waves and red black lips. Yet each of these looks was just a different interpretation and I suggest you try some of these at home, not all at a go though, might look like a time capsule dropped you on the streets. Key looks to try would be finger waves, hazy dark eyes without any clear lines, and if you have sparse eyebrows, play them up with the pencil thin trend and a deep red lip.

By the way, for a truly retro look, don’t forget to wear your hair away from your face.

*All the images have been sourced using Google image search, and I thank all the enthusiastic archiving websites and google for making the searches possible.

About Supriya B:

I am a film lover (sure you can tell) and makeup is an old obsession turned into a recent indulgence. A sociology and media student by training, I work as a social researcher to make a living. When I am not working , I am reading, listening to music (both of these are an addiction) or blogging at

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19 thoughts on “Hair, Makeup and Fashion Trends of Bollywood Actresses of 1930’s

  1. i love your posts Supriya…! and you take us to the bollywood we have never heard of… I think i have said this on your blog too… love your makeup trend of the decade series 🙂

  2. Loved reading your article! On an aside, I love the crimped hair look, and I have a seen it translate beautifully in contemporary times too!

  3. Wonderful and enlightening write-up Supriya. :yes: :yes: Please keep more of such articles coming, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this :yes: :yes: :yes: :yes:

  4. :jaiho: :jaiho: :jaiho: :jaiho: my god passion for movies oozes out thru the post
    just fantastic supriya!
    saw ur blog now:)

  5. Supriya, wonderful post and so informative. i really loved the way you wrote it. so captivating. going to check out your blog now :drool:

  6. Very very interesting article, Supriya!!! An age that doesn’t get as much publicity as the 60s or 70s, it really came alive through your writing!! Keep it up :waytogo:

    1. @ rati and i love your numerous tutorials.. and try to take numerous tips on writing out tutes.. btw i was introduced to lotus herbals and colorbar on this very blog.. so kudos for the great work.. keep it going

  7. awesome post!!!!!!!!!!!! :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:

    no word!!!!
    :jaiho: :jaiho: :jaiho: :jaiho:

  8. I’ve always been fascinated with the ’30s. :shying: Thanks for sharing this info with us!! Really picks up my mood! :teddy:

  9. o my god so flattered… thank u so much.. i grew up watching movies, i loved every moment on screen… it was magic for me, and it still is.. glad i could bring films and a very significant decade for indian cinema alive…

  10. this was a very enlightening post indeed, thoroughly enjoyed reading it.could not have agreed more about the india`s fairness obsession which refuses to go till now portrayed with a fair bit of humour 😆 :waytogo: :waytogo: :waytogo:

  11. Loved reading ur article, Supriya ji! 🙂
    Apart from Durga Khote, I didnt know about any of the actresses.
    Thank u so much for this enlightening post! :thanks:

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