S.B. Nayampally – The Indian Lon Chaney

S. B. Nayampalli 1960s 001

S.B. Nayampally (or Nayampalli) was working at the firm of Killick, Nixon and Company when he was discovered by film director P.Y. Altekar at a gym where Nayampally regularly exercised. Altekar felt that Nayampally very much resembled the famous French boxer Georges Carpenter and would be perfect for the stunt films that had become popular at the time. At Altekar’s urging, Nayampally joined Imperial Studios and was quickly cast in his first film, Wedding Night (1929), opposite the popular actress Jilloo. When he arrived at Imperial to begin his first day of filming he was amused to find that the building which housed the studio, had formerly been used for the school he’d attended as a child.

Nayampalli and Zilloo in Wedding Night 1929 001

Nayampally and Jilloo in WEDDING NIGHT (1929)

Wedding Night was a stunt film of the Robin Hood type,” Nayampally explained in a 1964 interview. “It had a little more of a plot to it than many films of the same class. My next film, Hell’s Paradise (1929), I remember for three reasons. One, it was based on a real-life episode involving an Indian prince and a foreign girl, described as an adventuress. Two, Mama Warerekar, the noted writer, did the story. Three, the film had a kissing scene, probably the first ever in an Indian film.”

Nayampalli was cast in Imperial’s Noorjehan (1931), which was initially to be a silent picture, but because of the success of their film Alam Ara (1931), which was India’s first talkie, the studio decided to make Noorjehan partly with sound. Nayampally was not originally cast in Noorjehan, but a chance meeting with the film’s director, Ezra Mir, got him the role of Prince Salim in the film.

Phantom of the Hills Nayampalli and Sabita 001

Sabita Devi and Nayampalli in PHANTOM OF THE HILLS (1934)

Nayampally then played Karna in Imperial’s next sound film, the mythological Draupadi (1931), but the actor considered his best mythological role to be that of the wily Shakuni in Mahatma Vidur (1943), a part that was appreciated by critics and the public, alike.

S B Nayampalli in MAHATMA VIDUR 001

Nayampally as Shakuni in MAHATMA VIDUR (1943)

As sound films came in, silent actors were being discarded in favor of those with stage backgrounds, so Nayampalli joined the Grant Anderson Theatrical Company which specialized in Shakespearian plays. After gaining some experience he tried to rejoin films, but without much luck. His previous roles had been leads, so he decided if he wanted to work regularly, maybe he should take a different approach and he offered himself up for character parts.

Zarina 001

Nayampally played a deformed hunchback in ZARINA (1932)

His break came in the role of a hunchback in love with the heroine in Ezra Mir’s Zarina which starred Jal Merchant and Zubeida and was based on the Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The dentures he wore for the role were created specially by a dentist named Jimmy Gheista who had trained abroad with the man who had made similar dentures for Lon Chaney.

Nayampally had learned early on how to apply make-up for his roles and, in fact, he became so good at it he eventually came to specialize in horror make-up, which earned him the nickname “The Indian Lon Chaney.” Indeed, Chaney, Erich von Stroheim, Emil Jannings, and John Barrymore were the actors that Nayampally most tried to emulate. Boris Karloff was another of his role models.

Sair e paristan aka Shan e khuda with Nayampalli

Nayampally threatens Bibbo in SAIR-E-PARISTAN (1934)

Nayampally in THE MILL (1934) with Bibbo (left) and Ameena (right)

He was able to put his make-up expertise to good use for the film Sair-e-Paristan (1934), where he was a vampire-like devil, and in Zingaro (1935), in which he played a monster created by a mad scientist, and then as a the hairy “missing link” in Zambo (1937) and its sequel Zambo Ka Beta (1938). For Kalkoot (1935) he created a make-up to resemble the wrinkled effect that Karloff had used in The Mummy (1932).

Nayampally as the missing link in ZAMBO (1937) and as the mummy-like creature in KALKOOT (1935)

Nayampally continued working in films throughout the 1940s and 50s, particularly in mythologicals and costume pictures including Raj Nartaki (1941), Nagad Narayan (1943),  Vishwas (1943),  Taramati (1945), Urvashi (1946),  Jhansi-Ki-Rani (1953), Durgesh Nandini (1956), Basant Bahar (1956) and Shiv Parvati (1962). In 1964 he produced the short film Monkey and the Crocodile for The Children’s Film Society. His last credited film appearance was in 1970’s Priya. He passed away on May 7, 1994 in Mumbai.

Published by

Mike Barnum

I am a lifelong lover of films, with a taste for movies of all genres, new and old, as well as pop culture from around the world. I currently write for the U.S. based film magazines CLASSIC IMAGES and FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE and have also been published in FILMFAX, SCARLET STREET, and VIDEO WATCHDOG.

One thought on “S.B. Nayampally – The Indian Lon Chaney”

  1. Change is the only constant and Nayampally adapted to change so effortlessly. From silent movies to theatre and even make up expertise! Truly great! I had the good fortune to know him as my cousin married his son. What a handsome man he was! Simply didn’t kn w of any of this. Showing off surely wasn’t like him. I’m so impressed! Lucky to have met him


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