There's no denying the fact that Bollywood has invaded the hearts and minds of Pakistanis in a big way during the last decade or so. What's unfortunate, though, is that this has happened at the expense of our own cinema. It wasn't always like this, however. For almost thirty five years -- from the '50s to the late '70s --- Lollywood matched the Indian film industry star for star, movie for movie.
Such was the aura and impact of our film icons that in 1968, a delegation from the then RCD (Regional Cooperation and Development) countries visited Lahore specially to meet the 'ravishing' ladies of Pakistani cinema. Soon after the three-hour meeting, the delegates announced in unequivocal terms that none of the South Asian countries boast a more impressive line-up of celluloid ladies. Superlatives failed them as they found amidst them screen legends such as Sabiha Khanum, Mussarrat Nazir, Nayyar Sultana, Zeba, Deeba, Shamim Ara, Neelo, Bahar, Husna and others. These Lollywood heroines, indeed, were larger than life icons. As time progressed, only Shabnam and Babra Sharif -- with their brilliant acting skills and style --- managed to join this select group of Lollywoods 'golden ladies'.
It is to the credit of these remarkable women that they went on to capture the imagination of many a generation with their stunning looks and exceptional talent, sans any special camera effects or flashy makeover techniques.
And quite amazingly, they were all women of substance too. Striving for diverse, performance-oriented roles, they often risked their image and fame to take up challenges unthinkable for today's generation of actresses.
For instance, Sabiha astounded film pudits when she opted to play a hazel-eyed vamp in Pak Daman, a movie which tackled the horrible issue of child labour, at the peak of her career. She was a fantastic actress who ruled Lollywood with unforgettable flicks like Wada, Saat Lakh, Seeta Mariam Margaret and Ek Gunah Aur Sahi.
Similarly, the gorgeous Mussarrat Nazir -- an icon of Urdu and Punjabi cinema in the sixties, played a patriot to the hilt in Riaz Shahid's epic Shaheed. In her rather short but glittering film career, Nazeer was an absolute show-stopper, a nymphet who had a distinct charisma that is hitherto unmatched in the annals of Lollywood.
Likewise, svelte film star Zeba, dubbed 'the queen of romance' dared to experiment with her image in thought-provoking movies like Himayat Ali Shayar's debut film Lori, Pervaiz Malik's psychological thriller Ehsaan and many others to win over millions of her fans.
Nayyar Sultana and Shamim Ara had a lot in common regarding their acting and demeanour. Both were the absolute rage in their times and were superb performers, particularly in films that centred around social themes. While Sultana rose to dizzying heights with Saheli and Ghungat, Shamim Ara's emotive performances in movies like Saiqa and Naila --- both based on Razia Butt's famous novels -- catapulted her into the top category of actresses in the subcontinental cinema. Later her directorial ventures also earned her tremendous fame during a distinguished career.
All of them were trendsetters in their own right and will forever shine in the cinegoers' memories. The mere mention of their names will continue to conjure up images of beauty, talent, grace, delicacy, romance and lilting music, a sharp contrast to the leading ladies of the new millennium whose loud, sexed-up, cosmetic appeal doesn't even last one full day.