Legendary film star Neelo passes away

Legendary film star Neelo passes away

Her son Shaan Shahid announced her demise.
Updated 31 Jan, 2021

Veteran actor Neelo Begum has passed away at the age of 80.

Her son, film star Shaan Shahid, announced her demise. "It is with the saddest of heart I share the departure of my mother as she has gone to her creator," he wrote on Twitter.

"I don’t know what to write as words have become empty [...] just like the world without her is so meaningless. "My success and my failures both need her," the actor said in a tweet the next day. "The only hope that is still alive is to meet her one day beyond the boundaries of life. Love you forever."

Among the many who mourned her loss and offered condolences were Prime Minister Imran Khan, entertainer Fakhr-e-Alam, host Waseem Badami, PTI's Shehryar Afridi, and journalist Fifi Haroon.

A legendary superstar

Born Cynthia Alexander Fernandes, Neelo had 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.

Riaz Shahid, the legendary writer known for meaningful concepts and patriotic films, married Neelo under circumstances no less intense than a Riaz Shahid film.

Neelo and Riaz Shahid
Neelo and Riaz Shahid

In March 1965, the Shah of Iran was on an official visit to West Pakistan. The Nawab of Kalabagh, the then Governor, asked Neelo — who was then at the height of her popularity — to dance before the Shah.

Allegedly, armed persons were even sent to her home to abduct her, yet she resisted and attempted suicide on the way to the Governor’s House. She was taken to a hospital where doctors managed to save her life. The film fraternity got involved and shut down work at the film studios for a day while the media gave the incident extensive coverage.

Leftist poet Habib Jalib immortalised the incident in his poem:

Too ke nawaqif-i-aadab-i-shahenshahi thee
Raqs zanjeer pehen kar bhee kiya jata hai

Impressed by her bravery, Riaz proposed to Neelo and they got married in 1965 after she converted to Islam and changed her name to Abida Riaz. The husband-wife duo made a film Zarqa on the Palestinian issue in 1969, where Riaz used Habib Jalib’s poem, showing an ‘angraiz’ (foreigner) asking the leading lady (played by Neelo) to dance against her will.

Zarqa went on to become Pakistan's first diamond jubilee film and Neelo's role in it proved to be her crowning glory. The film is regarded as one of the finest achievements of Pakistan's cinema history.

Riaz and Abida even named their first born Zarqa. Riaz died of blood cancer in October 1972.