The 1950s, '60s and, to some extent, the '70s are acknowledged as the golden decades of Pakistan's film industry and this success was, in no small measure, due to the beauty, grace and talent of its leading ladies.
Noor Jehan, Swaran Lata and Meena Shourie were already established names when they opted to move to Pakistan after independence, and with them they brought their star aura and screen magic.
Noor Jehan, of course, was the diva of them all -- not only acting as a leading lady, but also lending her beautiful vocals in numerous classic films, making them even more memorable. Intezar, Koyal, Neend, Chan We, Dupatta, Anarkali, Patay Khan, Mirza Ghalib, etc. are some of her great films. The success of her films was a great factor in helping the nascent film industry of Pakistan to stand on its feet.
Noor Jehan also contributed to Pakistani cinema by becoming the first female film director when she called the shots of the film Chan We (1951). Later, when she became a playback singer, in 1961, and began singing for other actresses, she further contributed to the glorious golden era of our movies.
Swaran Lata and Meena Shourie also had their glorious moments. Swaran Lata along with her husband, Nazir, another established pre-Partition hero, appeared in Pakistan's first Punjabi film, Pheray, which was a big hit. Laaray, Anokhi Dastan, Naukar, Shehri Babu, Heer are some of her other movies. Meena Shourie also worked in a few movies but could never really achieve the success she had garnered before Partition.
The first truly home grown heroine of the local film industry was, of course, Sabiha Khanum. With her lovely
features, girl-next-door appeal and stupendous acting prowess she captured the hearts of the cine-goers in a big way and along with co-star and later husband, Santosh Kumar, went on to give the Pakistan film industry its first star jodi. Her first film Beli, 1950, also marked the debut of Santosh, and her second flick, called Do Ansoo, was the first silver jubilee film of Pakistani cinema. Over the years Sabiha established herself as a serious actress, winning honours both at home and abroad, for her powerful performance in Aik Gunah Aur Sahi (1975).
Sabiha Khanum was followed by the arrival of Mussarrat Nazir, Nayyar Sultana, Bahar, and a bit later by Shamim Ara and Neelo. Nayyar Sultana, who formed an on-screen pair with Santosh's younger brother, Darpan and later married him, left behind a legacy of memorable movies including Saheli, Aulad, Baji, Devdas and Ghoonghat. She went on to become a character actress of great prowess in the '70s and '80s.
However, it was Mussarrat Nazir who proved to be the most popular heroine of Pakistani cinema after Sabiha. Her first film was Qatil (1955) but it was the success of Patan which opened the doors of stardom for her. Appearing in such epoch-making films as Yakkey Wali, Mahi Munda, Zeher-e-Ishq, Ishq Par Zoor Nahi, Jhoomar, Shaheed, etc., Mussarrat became the heartthrob of filmgoers. But she gave it all up at the peak of her career to get married
and left cinema behind forever.
The rise of Cynthia Alexander Fernandes aka Neelo to super stardom is a perfect example of the dictum that slow and steady wins the race. Neelo has the distinction of being the only Pakistani heroine to have worked in a major Hollywood movie, Bhowani Junction (starring Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger), which incidentally also marked her film debut. She then joined Pakistani films as an 'extra', worked hard and graduated to doing second lead roles and ultimately rose to the position of leading lady by the sheer dint of her immense talent.
However, it was her role in film Zarqa which proved to be her crowning glory. She played the role of a Palestinian freedom fighter and it was her tremendous performance in the title role that earned Zarqa the distinction of becoming the first diamond jubilee film of Pakistan. The film is regarded as one of the finest achievements of Pakistan film history.
Shamim Ara was another great actress of the second generation of heroines who left an indelible mark on Pakistani cinema. She debuted in Kunwari Beywa (1956) and though the film flopped, Shamim went on to become a leading light of filmdom. She shot to fame in Anarkali, even though her role was secondary to that of Madame Noor Jehan's, and gradually carved a niche for herself, becoming a top heroine by the '60s.
Her unforgettable films include Doraha, Saheli, Meray Mehboob, Saiqa, Naila, Aag Ka Darya, Salgirah, and Lakhon Main Eik which is also regarded as one of the best films from the golden era of our filmdom. Shamim also had an interest in the intricacies of moviemaking and produced her first film, Saiqa, at the peak of her career in 1968. Zeba was undoubtedly one of the prettiest and most graceful leading ladies of Pakistani films. She started her film career in Karachi in 1962 with the film Chiragh Jalta Raha, which incidentally also was marked the debut of Deeba and Mohammad Ali.
Tauba, with Kamal, was Zeba's first golden jubilee hit film after which she formed a successful pair with Kamal, working with him in Dil Ne Tujhe Maan Liya, Aashiyana, Aisa Bhi Hota Hay and Joker. However, it was with Waheed Murad that Zeba formed the most successful, memorable and hit romantic film jodi of Pakistani films. Together Zeba and Waheed worked in some 10 films, most of which were super hits, with Arman (1966) becoming the first platinum jubilee film of Pakistan.
Later, after marrying Mohammad Ali in 1966, she worked in many memorable movies with her husband which included Aag, Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hae, Jaisay Jantay Nahi, Tum Milay Pyar Mila, Insaan Aur Admi, Insaaf Aur Qanoon, Daman Aur Chingari.
Rani was another ravishing beauty and an immensely talented actress of the Pakistan film industry. She particularly excelled in playing the role of the traditional courtesan. Initially, after debuting in 1962 in veteran film director Anwar Kamal Pasha's Mehboob, Rani, despite her mesmerising beauty and talent, failed to find much success. However, with the success of Hazaar Dastaan and Dever Bhabi in the late '60s, Rani's perseverance and hard work finally paid off and she was accepted as a bankable leading lady.
Incidentally, Dever Bhabi was also the start of Rani's association with director Hasan Tariq (who became her mentor and later husband) who was convinced of her hitherto untapped potential. The silver jubilee success of Maan Beta (Rani and Waheed Murad) released in 1969, was another example of the Rani-Hasan Tariq success factor. However, it was with the start of the '70s that Rani found the films through which she left an eternal mark on filmdom. Hasan Tariq gave Rani the role of a lifetime in the film Anjuman and she gave it her all -- critics hail the film as one of the best Pakistani movies. But more glory awaited her as she touched new heights of excellence in Tehzeeb and the classic Umrao Jan Ada both of which were directed by Hasan Tariq.
Rani at this stage formed a successful pair with both Waheed Murad as well Shahid and gave stellar performances in Khalish, Naag Muni, Laila Majnu, Deedar, Baharo Phool Barsao, Surriya Bhopali, Dilruba, Naag Aur Nagan. Rani will always be remembered for her acting prowess and her rare adaptability -- the ability to mould herself into all kinds of vastly different roles. Along with Zeba, Neelo and Babra Sharif, Rani is acknowledged as one of the prettiest actresses to have ever graced the Pakistani silver screen.
Another undeniable presence on the Pakistani cinema screen is Shabnam who, because of the great box office success of her Urdu movies, is rightly hailed as the most successful film heroine of all time. Indeed Shabnam is the record holder for having the greatest number of super hit Urdu films in Pakistan to her credit. This earned her the title Bengal Ka Jadu as she hailed from (former) East Pakistan.
Her first film in West Pakistan was Samundar (1968) after which she starred in Andleeb opposite Waheed Murad (1969) which was her first mega hit film. With the start of the '70s, Shabnam hit big time with the super successful film Dosti in 1971 and after that there was no looking back. The Shabnam-Nadeem duo became synonymous with hit films and Aaina, holds the record for the most successful Pakistani film, running for 401 weeks in Karachi. With the face and persona of a Barbie doll and a great flair for both comedy and serious acting, Babra Sharif is regarded as one of the eternal ethereal beauties and queens of Lollywood. Her first film was Intezar in 1974 after which she did a string of supporting roles in Bhool, Haqeeqat and Shama. It was Shabab Kiranvi's Mera Naam Hai Mohabbat, a remake of Love Story, in which she played the female lead, that launched Babra in a big way. With her captivating beauty and versatility as an actress Babra soon became one of the most successful actresses of the '70s and '80s. She worked with all top heroes of her generation -- Shahid, Nadeem, Waheed Murad, Ghulam Mohyedin and Muhammad Ali -- and, thanks to her ageless beauty, continued to be cast as leading lady opposite the new crop of heroes, including Faisal Rehman and Izhar Qazi. Her title roles in Shamim Ara's blockbuster 'Miss' series were the perfect showcase for her effervescent, vivacious personality.