Pakistan’s film industry suffered a blow with the death of film veteran Shamim Ara, who breathed her last in London on August 5, 2016. Although she had been inactive for the last decade-and-a-half, she has left a lasting impression as an actor, producer and director.
Here, Images on Sunday takes you down memory lane with little known facts about the versatile film-maker.
1) Shamim Ara wasn't her real name
Although Shamim Ara sounds like a perfect name for a leading lady, it wasn’t her given name. She was born Putli Bai in 1938, and it was changed to Shamim Ara when she entered showbiz in her teens. With her attractive features, beautiful smile and loads of talent, she was destined for greatness right from the start. However, even her mentors could not have guessed the giddying heights their protege would later soar to.
2) She was one of the first female film producers of Pakistan.
Film production was considered a man’s domain back in the ’60s. But Shamim Ara broke through that barrier by producing Saiqa in 1968. The film was based on Razia Butt’s novel and became a box office hit, winning multiple awards and establishing her as one of the most versatile actresses of that generation.
3) She was the heroine of the film that introduced Mustafa Qureshi to Pakistani cinema
Veteran actor Mustafa Qureshi may not have ventured into films at all had it not been for Shamim Ara.
The story goes that the actress was busy shooting for a film when Mustafa Qureshi, who used to work at Radio Pakistan at the time, decided to join the crowd that had gathered to see their favourite actress shooting for a film. It was then that film director Raza Mir offered the good-looking young man a role in his upcoming film. After negotiations, Mustafa Qureshi agreed to play the role of Shamim Ara’s husband in Lakhon Main Aik.
4) Marriage was good for her career
Shamim Ara was once married to one of the leading film-makers of her time, Fareed Ahmed, who had hits such as Andaleeb, Bandagi, Suhaag, Khwab Aur Zindagi and Zebunissa to his credit. Shamim Ara was in all these productions except the first two, and although the marriage didn’t last, it did help save her film career in the ’70s as younger actresses were taking over lead roles and the older lot opted for character roles.
She later married Dabeer ul Hasan (her fourth husband; Sardar Rind and A. Majeed were the other two), who wrote the screenplay and dialogues of her films in the ’90s, Munda Bigra Jaye included.
5) Her stardom inspired song lyrics
Shamim Ara is one of the very few actresses in the Indo-Pak industry whose name was part of the lyrics of a song that was filmed on her. In Ek Sanwali Si Larki from the film Khwab Aur Zindagi, Masood Rana sang for Waheed Murad and while addressing the leading lady, the chocolate hero lip-synced to the words: Khud ko samajh rahi hai shayad Shamim Ara… How common is that?
6) She was a role model for female film directors
When her career as a leading lady was drawing to an end, Shamim Ara turned to direction with Jeo Aur Jeenay Do (1976), and enjoyed success in the ’70s with hits such as Playboy and Miss Hong Kong, and much later with Munda Bigra Jaye, which became one of the biggest hits of the ’90s. She also paved the way for her contemporaries (Sangeeta turned to direction that same year) as well as future film actresses (Reema Khan, Noor Bukhari) who have also turned to direction after acting.
7) Her films introduced girl power to Pakistani cinema
What do you recall when you hear of films such as Miss Hong Kong, Miss Colombo, Miss Singapore and Miss Bangkok? Babra Sharif beating up goons twice her size!
Shamim Ara was behind all these films that first introduced us to girl power. Her last two flicks with Babra were Lady Commando and Lady Smuggler. In her last film, Miss Istanbul, Shamim Ara ‘borrowed’ the plot from Julia Roberts-starrer, Pretty Woman.
8) She introduced NFAK in Pakistani films
In the mid-90s, Shamim Ara convinced Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to produce a soundtrack for a Pakistani film. Despite his busy schedule in the film industries of India and the US, NFAK composed the soundtrack of Pal Do Pal which was released after his death in 1997. It featured his name in the credits as a singer along with Humera Channa and Tehseen Javed.
9) She won quite a few awards
Shamim Ara won many awards during her lifetime, but considered the Nigar Awards as something special since it was with Ilyas Rasheedi’s support that she gained a foothold in the industry.
She won her first and only Nigar Award for Best Supporting Actress in Saheli; afterwards she won the Best Actress trophy for Farangi, Naila, Lakhon Main Aik and Saiqa. Her first film as producer Saiqa was declared the Best Film of 1968 as well whereas she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in the ’90s. Her association with the Nigar Awards doesn’t end there. She won back-to-back Best Director awards for Haathi Mere Saathi and Aakhri Mujra in the ’90s.
10) Her and Waheed Murad were best buds
In a television interview in the late ’90s, Shamim Ara termed Waheed Murad as her “most sincere friend” in the industry. Although she was a few years’ senior to him as an artiste, the two hit it off well and acted in nearly a dozen films.
According to her, she and Murad wanted to get away from Karachi ahead of their film Salgirah as it had an Indian lyricist Shevan Rizvi, and they thought that people might react angrily as the film was released soon after the 1965 war. But the film turned out to be a super-hit and they continued acting together till Mere Apne (1981). That film saw Shamim Ara as both director and actor alongside Waheed Murad, Shahid and Asif Raza Mir.
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 14th, 2016