SABIHA Khanum, one of Pakistan’s foremost leading actresses of the silver screen, passed away in the US on June 13. She enjoyed a unique status in the annals of Lollywood, since she started her career in films when people associated with the industry were struggling to provide it a sound base.

Very few of the established Muslim directors, actors, singers, story and lyric writers, and music composers had opted to migrate to Pakistan and most chose to stay back in Bombay as it was the capital of undivided India’s film industry.

Sabiha was the first among those who were groomed locally as film actresses after performing and exhibiting their talent in theatre and then soon got a break in films. The renowned film director Masood Pervaiz gave Sabiha a role in his film Beli in 1950.

Santosh Kumar, with whom she tied the knot later, also made his debut in this film and went on to become Pakistani cinema’s greatest and most popular leading man. This was followed in the same year by her performance in a film Do Aansoo directed by Anwar Kamal Pasha, who later directed many of Sabiha’s superhit movies.

Sabiha dominated as the leading lady of Pakistani films in the 1950s and ’60s. Ironically, that was the time when the local cinema was facing a tough competition from India’s well-established film industry. The credit for pulling the crowds to cinema houses where local films were exhibited, speaks volumes about the commendable talents and skills of artistes like Sabiha and those contributing towards other components of films.

There is a long list of Sabiha’s box office hit films, to name a few — Sassi (1954), Gumnam (1954), Mukhra (1958), Mausiqar (1962), Shikwa (1963), Kaneez (1965), Devar Bhabi (1967) and Ek Gunnah Aur Sahi (1975).

In 1956, Sabiha was the leading lady in four of the super-hit movies — Dulla Bhatti, Hameeda, Sarfarosh and Chhoti Begum.

Two of the movies released in 1957 — Waadah and Saat Laakh, are regarded as milestones in Pakistan’s film industry. These films co-starred both Sabiha and Santosh.

Sabiha was conferred the Pride of Performance award in 1986. She was also honoured with the title of First Lady of Pakistani cinema. Her grace and personality leave no doubt that she was indeed first lady.

Parvez Rahim

Karachi

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2020

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