|Salunke in 'Lanka Dhan' (1917)|
|Salunke in raja Harischandra.|
(And yes, that would be first bath on screen by an Indian actress)
It is interesting to note that till recently it was common for a man to do the role of woman in local nautankis, religious dramas. Another interesting feature of these dramas was that often a single person would have to play multiple roles, a trend quite common in (one can say still) popular in Indian films at one time.
In ‘Raja Harishchandra’ Salunke played the female role of Taramati as well as the male roles of Bhalchand and Dattaraj. It seems Salunke was quite apt at playing multiple roles, and Phalke quite content with a small crew of actors. In Phalke’s Lanka Dahan (The Burning of Lanka, 1917) Salunke played Sita as well as Ram, a feat that can’t be replicated in modern times without having the film falling under comic genre instead of mythological. But back then these mytho-drama films starring Salunke were setting box office and public imagination ablaze. However, when public appetite for mytho-dramas was full and after they developed a taste for socio-dramas that were now being made, and maybe because of arrival of real women on screen (Phalke's Mohini Bhasmasur from 1913 had mother-daughter duo Durgabai Gokhale and Kamlabai Gokhale), Salunke, in a story of first fall from stardom in India, slowly faded from public memory.
This was the story of androgynous beginning of the Indian Heroine - the rise of a man as a woman through a spell induced by devil’s magic eye.