LAHORE - It is an undeniable fact that along with Muslim male actors the Muslim female actresses too made a lot of contribution in the glory and growth of Indian film industry. Compared to male actors their contribution was much more. This article is an attempt to highlight their roles about which many people do not know especially the new generation. Hindus were the capitalist class who did not want Muslim actors to get fame in the industry. Irony is that the same mindset prevails in today’s Bollywood as well. Hindu actors were brought in to counter them. For example Dillip Kumar success led Hindu producers and directors to bring Hindu actors. Raj Kamur and Manuj Kumar are two examples in this regard. Same was the case with Muslim singers like Muhammad Rafi, who had massive following in India. Hindu investors in Bollywood tried to launch Mukesh. But by the grace of Allah Almighty they failed in their designs. Extremist party Shiv Sena has mistreated the Muslims actors in India for such a long time. In this article effort, however, I would like to highlight the contribution of Muslim actresses who have passed away but have still huge fan following. Those Muslims actresses who are alive will be discussed in next article.

Naseem Banu

Naseem Banu was a first female superstar of Indian cinema. She was referred to as ‘Beauty Queen’ and Pari Chehra (fairy face) due to her super acting performances. She started acting career in the 1930s and continued to act till 1950s. Her first film was Khoon Ka Khoon (Hamlet 1935) with Sohrab Modi but she gained fame from film Modi’s Pukar (1939) in which she played the role of Empress Noor Jahan. Shamshad Begum her mother was a professional singer too but did not want her daughter to act in films.

Along with other films, she acted in films like “Khan Bahadur” (1937), Talaq (1938), Meetha Zahar and Vasanti (1938). After these films, she worked in Sheesh Mahal (1950) produced by Minerva show.

After leaving Sohrab Modi, Naseem moved to Filmistan studios where she performed in Chal Chal Re Naujawan with Ashok Kumar.

After marrying director Muhammad Ehsan, she produced some famous movies including Ujala (1942), Begum (1945), Mulaqat (1947), Chandni Raat (1949) and Ajeeb Ladki (1942). She did a couple of action films included Sinbad Jahazi (1952) and Baghi (1953) which were not much applauded by her fans.

Some of her best films are Pukar (1939), Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944), Anokhi Ada (1948), Sheesh Mahal (1950) and Shabistan (1951). It is pertinent to note that it was during the shooting of Shabistan (1951) that the famous actor Shyam died after he fell from a horse.

Suraiya

Her full name was Suraiya Jamaal Sheikh and she was only female actress in Bollywood cinema who proved herself on multifaceted grounds as a playback singer and as an actress in Bollywood. She was one of the most popular actresses and singers of the Indian sub-continent of her generation. The only other example of such profile is Malkaye Taranum Noor Jahan.

She was not formally trained in music but she went on to become the most successful super-star Bollywood singer and film actress. She used to sing in children’s programme for All India Radio, Bombay (now Mumbai) in late 1930s along with Raj Kapoor and Madan Mohan. The song Toh Mera Chand Mein Teri Chandani became a hit and included in evergreen songs of Bollywood film industry.

Suraiya performed in her debut film in Usne Kya Socha (1937), second film Taj Mahal (1941) was directed by Nanubhai Vakil in which he asked Suraiya to play the role of young Mumtaz Mahal.

Once music director Naushad Ali heard Suraiya’s voice, he chose her to sing as a 13-year-old for Mehtaab in Abdul Rashid Kardar’s film Sharda (1942). He became Suraiya’s mentor and she sang 51 songs for movies including Anmol Ghadi (1946), Dard (1947), Dillagi (1949) and Dastaan (1950).

Suraiya‘s first film was Ishara in 1943, playing second lead role in the film.

She got fame as a heroine for the film Tadbir (1945) at the recommendation of K. L. Saigal, who liked her voice during a rehearsal. She went on to costar with Saigal in Omar Khayyam (1946) and Parwana (1947). For music director Khwaja Khurshid Anwar she sang just thirteen songs during 1943 to 1949 period.

As an actress, Suraiya had an edge over her contemporaries Kamini Kaushal and Nargis because she could sing her own songs. Her movies included Pyar Ki Jeet (1948), Bari Bahen (1949), and Dillagi (1949). Her film reign witnessed hiccups, as some of her films were flopped in 1950s. She made a comeback in Waris and Mirza Ghalib (film) (1954). Rustom Sohrab (1963) was the last film of her career.

In a career spanning 22 years, Suraiya sang 338 songs and acted in 65 movies which do not include the incomplete films like Jaanwar (with Dilip Kumar) and Paagal Khaana with Bharat Bhushan.

Suraiya was an ardent fan of the Dev Anand’s and her friendship with the legend actor was the talk of the town. The two of them were paired in seven films together: Vidya (1948), Jeet (1949), Shair (1949), Afsar (1950), Nili (1950), Do Sitare (1951) and Sanam (1951), all of which were successful at the box office. She fell in love with him during the shooting of the song Kinare Kinare Chale Jaayen Gae from the film Vidya.

Layer, Dev Anand proposed to Suraiya. The proposal was rejected by maternal grandmother, she opposed the relationship as they were Muslim and Dev Anand was a Hindu. Suraiya remained unmarried by her own choice for the rest of her life.

Nimmi

Nimmi her full name was Nawab Naigu, was an Indian screen actress who achieved stardom in the 1950s and early 1960s. She gained popularity for being overwhelmingly power to express her emotions in the movies which she regarded as Tragedy Queen. Nimmi is regarded as one of the most successful and influential Hindi movie actresses of all time. How can anyone act like Nimmi the role of a village girl in Raj Kapoor’s film Barsaat (1949) who have already cast the famous actress Nargis in the female lead role but he was on the lookout for a young girl to play the second lead. Nimmi played the role of an innocent mountain shepherdess in love with a heartless city man.  Barsaat made movie history and surely falls under the banner of great movies of Bollywood. Nimmi had a very prominent and well received role and was an instant hit with audiences. 

The Barsaat film’s popular title song Barsaat mein hum se mile tum as well as three other ever-green classics, Jeeya bekarar hai , hawa me udta jaaye mora lal dupatta malmal ka and Patli kamar hai were all shot on Nimmi. The huge success of Barsaat made Nimmi a star and nationwide sensation overnight.

After Barsaat Nimmi never looked back and the actress quickly won a loyal fan base with her intense and expressive performances

She worked with top heroes like Raj Kapoor (Banwara), and Dev Anand (Sazaa, Aandhiyan). To her great advantage Nimmi formed a very popular and dependable screen pair with Dilip Kumar, after the success of films like Deedar (1951) and Daag (1952). Aside from Nargis with whom she co-starred with in Barsaat and Deedar, Nimmi also appeared alongside many notable leading ladies including Madhubala (Amar), Suraiya (Shama), Geeta Bali (Usha Kiran), and Meena Kumari (Char Dil Char Rahen 1959). A little known fact is that Nimmi was also a singer and sang her own songs in the film Bedardi (1951) in which she also acted. However, she never continued singing, and recorded songs only for this film.

Madhubala

Madhubala’s real name was Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi. Some called her as ‘The Beauty with Tragedy’ and some labeled her ‘The Venus of Indian Cinema’.

She is often regarded as one of the most influential personalities of Indian cinema. She is also considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses to have worked in the industry.

Often regarded as the “Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood”, Madhubala received wide recognition for her performances in films like Mahal (1949), Amar (1954), Mr. & Mrs. ‘55 (1955), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Barsaat Ki Raat (1960).

Madhubala’s performance in Mughal-e-Azam established her as an iconic actress of Hindi Cinema. Her last film, Jwala, although shot in the 1950s, was released in 1971. Madhubala died in 1969 after a prolonged illness.

In the early 1950s, as Madhubala became one of the most sought-after actresses in India, she attracted interest from Hollywood.

Her romance with Dillip Kumar was talk of the town but when families of both refused to accept both as husband and wife, Dillip Kumar moved back from the proposal of marriage. Later Madhubala married Kishore Kumar, who converted to Islam and took up the name Karim Abdul, until her death in 1969.

She appeared in the American magazine Theatre Arts where, in its August 1952 issue, she was featured in an article with a full page photograph under the title: “The Biggest Star in the World - and she’s not in Beverly Hills”. The article described Madhubala’s immense popularity in India, and explored her wide appeal and large fan base. It also speculated on her potential international success. Academy Award winner American director Frank Capra, while visiting Bombay for International Film Festival of India, was keen to give her a break in Hollywood, but her father Ataullah Khan declined.

Mughal-e-Azam was released on 5 August 1960, and became the highest grossing film at that time, a record that went unbroken for 15 years until the release of the film Sholay in 1975. Madhubhala was nominated for a Film Fare Award for her performance in Mughal-e-Azam.

Her famous films included Bahut Din Huye, 1958 Kala Pani Raj Khosla as Asha, 1960 Mughal-e-Azam K Asif as Anarkali nominated Filmfare Award for Best Actress, 1961 Passport as Rita Bhagwandas, 1961 Jhumroo Shankar, 1961 Boy Friend, 1962 Half Ticket, 1964 Sharabi.

Such kind of fame and love from their fans were seen again for actress who was matchless in her acting skills.

Meena Kumari –The Tragedy Queen

Meena Kumari full name was Mahjabeen Bano, was an Indian film actress and poet. She is regarded as one of the most prominent actresses to have appeared on the screens of Hindi cinema. During a career spanning 30 years from her childhood to her death, she starred in more than ninety films, many of which have achieved classic and cult status today. She is regarded as one of the greatest Hindi movie actresses of all time.

Kumari gained a reputation for playing grief-stricken and tragic roles, and her performances have been praised and reminisced throughout the years. Like one of her best-known roles, Chhoti Bahu, in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), Kumari became addicted to alcohol. Her life and prosperous career were marred by heavy drinking, troubled relationships, an ensuing deteriorating health, and her death from liver cirrhosis in 1972. Kumari is often cited by media and literary sources as The Tragedy Queen, both for her frequent portrayal of sorrowful and dramatic roles in her films and her real-life story

When Mahjabeen was born, her father had aspired to be an actor at the Rooptara Studios. At the urging of his wife, he got Mahjabeen into movies despite her protestations of wanting to go to school. Young Mahjabeen is said to have said, “I do not want to work in movies; I want to go to school, and learn like other children.” As she embarked on her acting career at the age of 7, she was renamed Baby Meena. Her first film was Farzand-e-Watan (1939), directed for Prakash Studios by Vijay Bhatt. Her early adult acting, under the name Meena Kumari, was mainly in films such as Veer Ghatotkach (1949), Shri Ganesh Mahima (1950), and Aladdin Aur Jadui Chirag(1952).

Meena Kumari gained fame with her role as a heroine in Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra (1952). She also appeared in such films as Parineeta (1953), Azaad (1955), Ek Hi Raasta (1956), Miss Mary (1957), Sharada (1957), Kohinoor (1960), and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960).

One of her best-known roles was in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962), which was produced by Guru Dutt. Kumari played Chhoti Bahu, an alcoholic wife. The film was a major critical and commercial success, which was attributed by critics to Kumari’s performance, which is regarded as one of the best performances of Hindi Cinema.[8] In 1962, she made history by getting all the three nominations for Filmfare Best Actress Award, for her roles in Aarti, Main Chup Rahungi, and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, winning for the last.

For four more years, Kumari performed successfully in Dil Ek Mandir (1963), Kaajal (1965), and Phool Aur Patthar (1966), all of which earned her Film Fare nominations, with Kaajal garnering her a fourth and last win of the Best Actress award. However, after divorcing her husband in 1964, her addiction to alcohol became stronger, and she often dulled her senses with liquor. She also relied more and more on intimate relationships with younger men like Dharmendra. Her subsequent releases, including Chandan Ka Palna and Majhli Didi did not do well.

Kumari’s heavy drinking had badly damaged her liver, and in 1968 she fell seriously ill. She was taken to London and Switzerland for treatment. Back home, she started settling her debts and made peace with her estranged sister, Madhu, whom she had not spoken to for two years.

She developed an attachment to writer-lyricist Gulzar and acted in his directorial debut Mere Apne (1971). Kumari presented an acclaimed portrayal of an elderly woman who got caught between two street gangs of frustrated, unemployed youth and was killed, her death making the youth realise the futility of violence. She was ailing at the time, and worked through her bad health in the film. The shooting was completed in 40 days, and she died within a few months of its release. Pakeezah, starring Kumari and directed by her ex-husband Kamal Amrohi, took 14 years to reach the silver screen. First planned by Amrohi in 1958, the film went on the studio floors in 1964, but the shooting came to a standstill after their separation in March 1964, when it was more than halfway complete.

Note: Some of other famous Muslim actresses’ film and life journey would be highlighted in the article next week.