• Tannishtha Chatterjee’s new role is Rukhmabai, India’s first lady doctor. But who was she?

    You have very often seen Australian fast bowler Brett Lee knocking his opponents out of the pitch, but this time you’re going to see him in his debut movie, ‘UnIndian’. And the lady he’ll be romancing is Tannishtha Chatterjee, known for her Bollywood and international films.

    The starring pair has taken this film centre stage already. But equally important (if not more) is its story. Director Anupam Sharma’s ‘UnIndian’ will explore issues such as cultural beliefs, tradition and prejudice by following the story of Rukhmabai, India’s first female doctor, who questioned the tradition of child marriage.

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    Before you catch Tannishtha playing Rukhmabai, here are some facts you should know:

    • Rukhmabai was married to Dadaji Bhikaji in 1876 when she was 11. Yes, she was a child bride, like the majority of Indian girls those days.
    • Rukhmabai’s mother, also a victim of child marriage, had Rukhmabai married under social pressure. However, Rukhmabai refused to leave her parents’ home and continued to go to school till Dadaji filed a case for the ‘restitution of conjugal rights’ in 1884, demanding that she live with him. When she refused, she was sentenced to prison for denying her husband’s conjugal rights – it was the most scandalous court case in Bombay.
    • Bal Gangadhar Tilak was in favour of the girl moving in with her husband. But Rukhmabai fearlessly defended herself by appealing to English law. However, the lengthy court battle remained unsolved until Rukhmabai was saved by the intervention of Queen Victoria who issued a proclamation dissolving her marriage and commuting the sentence.
    • Dr Edith Pechey-Phipson at the Cama Women’s Hospital raised a fund to help pay for Rukhmabai’s medical education in London. Rukhmabai travelled to London and became a qualified doctor in 1894. She returned to India to head a hospital in Pune.

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    • As the chief medical officer of hospitals in Surat and Rajkot, Rukhmabai continued to fight against the harmful effects of purdah and life in the zenana with the power of her pen.
    • She never married again. The feisty lady died in 1955, aged 91.

    Given the history in this film, Tannishtha Chatterjee has reportedly gone through several makeovers to bring in nuances of her character as she ages from 20 to 90. “Since it’s a period film, I had to undergo a special course to get the pronunciations correct,” Tannishtha told the Times of India. “I was born in Pune, but I lived in Japan, Australia, England, Kenya and then Delhi. So I had to work on my Marathi and Gujarati too.”

    Feature image credit:  indianexpress.com

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