The first image of Ramola that comes to mind is as the leader of a gang of girls cycling singing Sawan Ke Nazare Hain and who bang into a gang of lads out cycling and thus meeting the hero (SD Narang) in Khazanchi (1941). The film is an important one not just as being Ramola’s breakthrough film but also for its songs. By then composers of the 1930s, who had embellished films with their exquisite compositions set in classical ragas, were beginning to sound commonplace. Khazanchi’s refreshingly free wheeling music by Ghulam Haider incorporating Punjabi beats not only took the audiences by storm, but also made other music directors sit up and take notice. With this film, Haidar ensured that the Indian film song would never be the same again.
Ramola was born Rachel Cohen on July 5, 1917 in a Jewish family to a school-master father, Hayam Cohen. Her childhood was spent in Bombay before the family migrated to Calcutta where Ramola finished her schooling.
In Calcutta, Ramola began her acting career in films with the Bengali film Graher Fer (1937). Earlier, she had been rejected by Nitin Bose at New Theatres because of her height – she was barely 5 feet – but Graher Fer led to more roles including one in Kidar Sharma’s directorial debut Dil Hi To Hai (1939), where she convincingly played a modern college girl who destroys the dreams her father had for her. With Khazanchi (and Sawan Ke Nazare Hain), Ramola finally became a star.
Ramola established herself as a competent and versatile actress and had a fairly successful career through the 1940s. Even the hard to please Baburao Patel of Filmindia fame had to concede, “A versatile artiste, Ramola can swing from the vivacious to the tragic with great ease that compels admiration.” Some of her important films include Khamoshi (1942), Manchali (1943), Shukriya (1944), Albeli (1945), Hum Bhi Insan Hain (1948) and Jhooti Kasmen (1948). She acted in a number of films that were directed by HS Rawail and RC Talwar respectively while reuniting with Kidar Sharma for Kaliyan (1944). And as was the fashion with famous film stars of the day, she also endorsed Lux soap in the 1940s.
Special mention must be made of Ramola’s two films with Kishore Sahu, where she made a strong dramatic impact as an actress – Rhimjhim and Sawan Aaya Re, both coming in 1949. However, seeing that by now younger and fresher heroines like Madhubala, Nargis and Meena Kumari were beginning to make a mark in the Hindi film industry, she retired gracefully from the silver screen following Jawani Ki Aag (1951) and Stage opposite her Hum Bhi Insan Hain co-star, Dev Anand.
Ramola was married twice. Her second husband was a Captain in the British Air Force, who helped to train Indian pilots in the IAF post Indian Independence. Her son, Sam, from her first husband, migrated to Israel in the early 1950s. She had two daughters, Dena and Linda, from her second marriage. With her generous and big-hearted spirit, she also ‘adopted’ and looked after another 14 families, helping them move ahead in life.
Ramola passed away on December 10, 1988 at the age of 71.