Those associated with the film fraternity in Pakistan were dealt with a huge blow when legendary actress and veteran director Shamim Ara died at the age of 78 in London. She had been inactive since the turn of the new millennium but it was her efforts in the 80s and 90s that saw many film-makers turn towards the film industry, leading to the revival of the day.
Shamim Ara didn’t hail from a showbiz family; in fact she was known as Putli Bai until she became Shamim Ara in her teens. Her career began in 1958 with Kunwari Bewa but she was first noticed as Noor Jehan’s sister in Anarkali. From there onwards, there was no stopping the innocent looking girl who would go on to create history by turning first into a film producer, and later a director. She continued to actively participate in film-making till 1999 and bowed out with Pal Do Pal which was incidentally the last film of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as a music composer.
For those who have followed films of the yesteryear, the name Shamim Ara stands for quality. Be it the role of the damsel in distress in Saheli, the tawaif who refused to bow down to the dacoit in Aag Ka Darya, the woman who couldn’t marry her love in Doraha, the lady who became a singer after being lost when young in Saalgirah or the twin sisters who were used intelligently by her corrupt uncle in Humraaz, whenever Shamim Ara took on a role, she was on a roll. Even in the final years of her career as a leading lady, she took the bold roles such as the blackmailed wife in Suhaag as well as the woman accused of having an affair with her dewar in Angaaray.
HER LEADING MEN!
Nearly all the actors from the 60s and 70s had the chance to work with one of the most established actress of our times. Shamim Ara was senior to most of her leading men including Mohammad Ali, Waheed Murad and Nadeem, yet she appeared to be at ease with all of them. She showed her versatility by working opposite Syed Kamal in multiple films before newcomers took the stage; only she could have shouted “Daku” in reply to “Tawaif” that too in front of Mohammad Ali; only she could have looked good as the confused woman in Hill Station in front of not one, but two Waheed Murads or danced for Suhdir playing her ‘Akbar Khana’ in Farangi. She also romanced Santosh Kumar, Darpan and Habib on-screen and was one of the few actresses to have worked with Zia Mohyeddin in films – they were paired together in Suhaag where Nadeem donned a moustache to play the antagonist.
Shamim Ara managed to make a place for herself in a galaxy of stars – not only was Madam Noor Jehan active as an actress in those days but Nayyar Sultana, Sabiha Khanum and Musarrat Nazir were also making a name for themselves. With her innocent smile and good looks, Shamim Ara managed to bag roles that required a young girl and managed to impress all with her acting skills. That’s the reason why she didn’t look old even in the 70s when she was paired opposite Zia Mohyeddin (Suhaag) or asked to play as an elder sister to newcomers like Nisho (Angaaray).
THE GIANT LEAP!
At a time when female producers and directors were unheard of, Baji Shamim as she was known to all, decided to take the giant step and become a producer with Saiqa that was based on Razia Butt’s novel of the same name. She also produced a couple of movies and later turned to direction with Geo Aur Jeenay Do which didn’t do well but established her as one of the few leading ladies-turned-director. Playboy came next and became a huge hit thanks to its excellent cast and memorable songs; it was followed by countless flicks including Miss Colombo, Miss Hong Kong, Miss Singapore, Miss Bangkok, Lady Smuggler and Lady Commando. The specialty of these films were her association with Babra Sharif who was presented as an action hero(ine) rather than a damsel in distress.
… THE REVIVAL
In the 90s when Pakistan’s film industry was at rock bottom, it was Shamim Ara who laid the foundation for the revival. Not only did she buy the copyrights of Sajjad Ali’s Babia for Haathi Mere Saathi (to get the attention of potential cinegoers) but also gave full-fledged roles to Bollywood-returned Mohsin Khan, TV-import Jan Rambo (Afzal Khan) and Sahiba, daughter of her one-time co-star Nisho. If the early 90s belonged to Beta and Hum To Chalay Susral, she bounced back in the mid-90s with the star-studded Aakhri Mujra (Jawed Sheikh, Neeli, Reema, Shaan, Behroze Sabzwari) and Munda Bigra Jaye (which went on to become the biggest hit of the 90s). These flicks were followed by multi-starrers Love 95 and Miss Istanbul (Lollywood version of Pretty Woman) while Pal Do Pal, which turned out to be her swansong, had Moammar Rana and Resham dancing to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s compositions.
The first time Shamim Ara won a Nigar Award was for Saheli in which she played a supporting role, hence the trophy for best supporting actress. She got her best actress awards for Farangi, Naila, Lakhon Main Aik, and Saiqa – all between1964 and 1968 – her top years as an actress. She received back-to-back Nigar Awards in 1993 and 1994, as well as for the best director for her flicks Haathi Mere Saathi and Aakhri Mujra while was awarded a Special Award the same year by the Nigar people for her services to the Pakistan film industry. Shamim Ara proved to be a role model for the upcoming generation as most of the actresses who followed her copied her style to become successful. But there was only one Shamim Ara and there will only be one Shamim Ara