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Merle Oberon and Her Connection to India


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Did anyone know that Merle Oberon was of English-Indian heritage? She was even born in India. During her life, she did all she could to hide this from the public. Her own mother supposedly posed as her maid. The 1980s miniseries, Queenie, was loosely based on her life. The miniseries was based on the novel of the same name by Michael Korda. Michael Korda was the nephew of Merle Oberon's husband, Sir Alexander Korda. I have talked to some Indians about Merle Oberon and many are not even aware of her. I thought this was interesting to mention since Bollywood is being spotlighted this month. With such a big film industry in India, it is sad that they are not aware that one of the country's daughters was a huge Hollywood star during its golden age.

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You're absolutely right about Merle Oberon. She did try to hide her Indian heritage, always posing as a grande dame with that accent of hers. Perhaps India IS aware of her, and that she was part Indian, and because she hid that fact, they aren't too pleased with her. But then again, she's not widely remembered today, and I'm sure there are plenty of Indian people who don't know of her. And the Bollywood cinema is so far removed from the films that she made in Hollywood, that the Indian audience probably wouldn't relate to a film like "Wuthering Heights," or "These Three." And I'm not saying everyone, but as a general population, they probably wouldn't have much interest in her films, just like most of the American population doesn't have much interest in Bollywood films. The cultures are too different.

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I would disagree that all indian people wouldn't be interested in a film like Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights has a lot in common with older hindi films. When my mom first saw it, she described it as a "hindi film in english".

 

The melodrama, the theme of two people in love where one ends up marrying someone else is extremely common in older hindi films (devdas, sangam). Love triangles, unrequited love and love stories ending in tragedy are hallmarks of older hindi films. Also the idea of the woman dying a premature death and coming back to haunt the leading man and basically leading him to his grave one way or the other has shown up so many times in old hindi films (for example Mela, Madhumati), I was really surprised to see the theme also in an american film.

 

The main difference would be that Wuthering Heights didn't have songs (it didn't, did it?). In fact, when my hindi teacher asked if I could recommend any good old american movies, I really wanted to lend her Wuthering Heights as she loves old hindi movies and so I knew she would really like it. You know, actually when I was watching Wuthering Heights not too long ago I kept thinking how much the main actress looked like the famous hindi film actress Meena Kumari. Was the character who dies in that really dramatic scene in the bedroom played by Merle Oberon? I don't think it is terribly widely known that a person of indian descent made such a mark in american films. Thanks for the information bedfordfallsgirl.

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hrmm..I may have misread moviejoe's comment. I agree with you that some indian people would not like Wuthering Heights. But I do think some would, particularly those who like old hindi films because they are so similar (but not everybody likes the oldies).

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Merle Oberon is the one in the death scene at the end of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. By the way, a biography was done on her called PRINCESS MERLE. It briefly touched on her Indian heritage from what I remeber reading about the book. I have also heard that Michael Korda also discussed it in a book he did on the Korda family. (Not the fictional account that was loosely based on her called QUEENIE.) A friend of mine who is familiar with the books stated that she often claimed Tasmania as her birthplace and that one time she was invited to some celebration there and was terrified that her true heritage from India would be discovered. She was supposedly really born in Bombay. My friend also told me that her daughter was not even aware of her mother's heritage for a long time. So, it seems that Merle Oberon was deathly terrified of being discovered. I suppose because her secret would have been career death for her during thst time of history. If anyone sees her in color films, her tan skin tone shows, but did not show up in black and white. I find Merle Oberon's history and struggles to be very fascinating. It is sad that she had to hide her wonderful heritage and be ashamed of her culture during a time when to be honest would have have destroyed her career and kept her from what she attained.

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