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Date of Birth: August 17, 1942

Name at bith: Jharna Basak

Years Active: 1958 or 1960–1999

Profession: Actress

Mother Tongue: Urdu

Place of Birth: Dhaka


Catching up with Shabnam

By Moazzam Abbasi



No one word can even begin to describe the Lollywood diva that was Shabnam. Talented and extremely down-to-earth, there was and still is an overpowering aura about her that takes a firm hold on anyone meeting her, or speaking to her for that matter, for the very first time.

Blame her screen image and the fact that Shabnam ruled the Pakistan film industry for over three decades — or simply the fact that like all great personalities she is humility personified.

I would not be exaggerating when I say that as a Shabnam fan, it was very painful for me when the majestic star who ruled people’s hearts across Pakistan suddenly disappeared from the silver screen. And there has hardly been any news of her ever since. One assumed that she probably wanted it that way. The fact is that Shabnam left Pakistan for Bangladesh not for greener pastures, as contrary to expectations, but to be with her family.


In this exclusive interview to Images, Shabnam says she does not miss the greasepaint or the studio lights, as she was ready to call it quits when she did. She now spends her days in Dhaka, cooking and cleaning, and generally looking after her long-time husband and renowned music composer Robin Ghosh. She is the dutiful housewife that is to be the ultimate character she plays in this lifetime.

She also has fond memories of Pakistan and its people, calling it her “second mother” who took care of her. Hardly a day goes by when she does not cherish the wonderful memories, her films and moments spent in the loving company of co-stars particularly Nadeem Baig who she says is “not just a good actor but a great human being, too.”

Shabnam has the distinction of being the only actress who has worked in the maximum number of films and done a wide variety of roles — be it of a club dancer in Zanjeer (1975), a nautch girl in Sharafat (1974), a suffering wife in Bandish (1980) or a well-meaning older woman whose affections are misinterpreted by a younger man (played by film actor Faisal Rehman) in Nahin Abhi Nahin (1980). Her personal favourite, however, was her character in Dooriyan (1984) for which she won many accolades, including the National Film Award. Another memorable role which she found difficult to play was that of Zeenat in the self-titled film (1975), wherein she plays the double role of the mother and daughter.


It was known to all at the time that Shabnam chose her roles with great care. She also had a reputation for being punctual, something unheard of these days (rumour has it that film technicians used to sneak in from the studios’ back doors to avoid running into the leading lady). As a professional, she worked hard on both her roles and wardrobe, and is on record for being one of the most well-dressed heroines of her time. But in spite of being a successful commercial artiste, Shabnam also did many off-beat films — such as Javed Fazil’s Aahat (1982). She recalls how Robin Ghosh predicted its failure as he thought it was ahead of its time.

Shabnam’s last movie in Bagladesh was Amma Jaan which, according to her, did good business but failed to revive her career in films in that part of the world. She attributes the cold response to the lack of quality roles, hence resulting in a self-induced retirement. But that does not mean she is not open to offers if the role is good and her health allows her to take up any such offers.

Shabnam says that she keeps in touch with the goings on in Pakistan by watching the FilmAzia channel regularly and even today, whenever any of her films run on it, she closely watches her performance and still feels that she could have done much better.

Q: Why did you leave Pakistan so abruptly and without goodbyes. Why the mad rush?

Shabnam:I did not leave in a huff. My parents were not well … in fact, I couldn’t be by their side at the time of their death. There eventually came a time when I realised that in old age one wants to be close to his/her family.

Besides, good roles were no longer coming my way and all my assignments were complete. I decided that it was better that I make a graceful exit rather than hang around and be forced to take up insignificant roles.

Q: But why vanish. I mean there has been no news of you at all?

Shabnam:Because I am no more a part of the Pakistan film industry.

Q: Did you not miss Pakistan and all your fans you left behind?

Shabnam:How could I not? I have spent so many years of my life in Pakistan. I have friends over there, people whom I have worked with. I still believe I have two mothers — one gave birth to me (Bangladesh) and the other brought me up (Pakistan). I owe my name, fame and success to Pakistan but I had no options. My parents were old and needed me. Though I wanted them to come live with me in Pakistan, they had a language problem and when they died, the only family I was left with was my elder sister. Now, I live close to where she lives and my in-laws are also close by so I am enjoying my old age. I had spent all my life working and away from my family, so it was high time I was with them.

“I have spent so many years of my life in Pakistan. I have friends over there, people whom I have worked with. I still believe I have two mothers — one gave birth to me and the other brought me up. I owe my name, fame and success to Pakistan but I had no options. My parents were old and needed me,” says Shabnam

Q: Don’t you miss the studio life?

Shabnam: Honestly speaking, I don’t. After Aaina (1977) I was expecting my downfall but God has been very kind to me. I enjoyed a long innings in the Pakistan film industry but I knew at some point there would come a time when I would have to say adieu to my film career. I like my new role of a housewife who cooks, cleans and looks after Robin as there only the two of us at home now.

Q: There were rumours that you were suffering from a serious ailment. Is it true?

Shabnam:I had a stroke when I was in Pakistan but then I went through extensive treatment for it. Then later in Bangladesh I developed complications but thank God I am fine now. I had gained a lot of weight but I am shedding it off.

Q: You have played a wide variety of roles in countless movies. Which film is the closest to your heart?

Shabnam:Oh, there have been so many of them. Let’s see, there was Anmol (1973), Bandish, Aaina, Lazawal (1984), … but I loved doing Dooriyan as mine was a beautiful role and it won many awards, too. But the most difficult was Zeenat’s wherein I played a double role of mother and daughter. I was completely without make-up in the mother’s role so that the audience could see the difference.

Q: What about 1982’s Aahat. It was a beautiful Javed Fazil film?

Shabnam:It was a good film but was made much ahead of its time. In fact, Robin was giving the music for the film and when he heard the subject, he told Javed that the film would not run. The audience at the time was not prepared to see a wife having an affair outside the marriage.

Q: You have done the maximum number of film with Nadeem. How was it like working with him, considering you were working with other leading men, too?

Shabnam:Nadeem and I were of the same age so working with him was a lot of fun. We would rehearse and improvise in each shot — if I liked something he did in a particular scene I would tell him and vice versa. With (Mohammed) Ali bhai it was different as he was older and so there was a level of respect. I could never open up in front of him. Shahid was another actor whom I enjoyed working with.

Q: I believe you never called Zeba when Mohammed Ali died?

Shabnam:I was very sad when I heard about Ali bhai’s death. In fact, I tried to call Zeba but the phone number had changed so I couldn’t reach her. Working with Ali bhai was a wonderful experience as he was a great man and a wonderful actor.

Q: You and Nadeem shared a special on-screen chemistry. Some say that if he signed a film then you would not even look at the script. How true is that?

Shabnam:It’s not true. I always took a good look at my role and who my co-star was always secondary. I agree working with Nadeem was a good experience, taking into account that he was not just a good actor and a super human being but also a family friend. Ehtesham saheb was like a father-figure to me. When he was leaving for Bangladesh, he told me he was leaving his daughter Farzana (Nadeem’s wife) in my hands.

Q: How was it working with Nazar-ul-Islam. He gave you the biggest hit of your career — Aaina?

Shabnam:Dada was absolutely great. He was spontaneous and very creative. In fact, so involved was he with his work that he wanted to shoot one of Aaina’s songs, Haseen Wadiyoon Se Poocho, in snow in Muree. The entire unit reached Muree only to find no snow there. He was heartbroken and disappointed. Nevertheless, we went to settle down in our rooms and suddenly Nadeem came running inside, shouting and asking us to come out. What we saw outside amazed us as it had started snowing. I reminded Dada that God helps those whose intentions are good.

Q: Why did you always prefer to do solo heroine films? Was it because you lacked the confidence to star along with the other talented heroines of your time?

Shabnam:It was not because I was not confident but due to a bad experience I had with the late film-maker Hasan Tariq. He had signed me on for a film with his then wife and film actress Rani. Later, I found out that what was told to me in the script was completely different from what was being shot on location. I decided then that I would not do any such movies.

Q: How do you rate yourself as an actress?

Shabnam:I think I was pretty good. I was hardworking. I went through my role in the script, was always punctual, rehearsed with my co-stars and would even design my own costumes. In fact, some my saris came all the way from India. My mother and sister used to send them to me.

Q: Do you see any of your old films?

Shabnam:I watch my movies on FilmAzia every now and then. I look my performance and still feel I could have done better.

Q: Are you in touch with people and happenings in Pakistan?

Shabnam:Yes, whenever anyone from Pakistan comes to Dhaka, I go and meet them to find out about what is happening back in Pakistan. Let me tell your readers that I still love Pakistan the way I loved it before I left. I hope you will convey my feelings to the people of Pakistan the way I have passed them on to you. Memories of a fan

I have vivid recollections of going to the cinema regularly to see Pakistani movies as a kid, often watching the first day, first show with my family or friends so that we could have the distinction of passing our judgment on it before anyone else could.

In those good ol’ days Pakistani films were the rage and people booked their seats in advance for new releases so that they could be among the first to form an opinion about it. And this at a time when there would be new releases practically every week.

Of course, every one had their favourite stars and depending on who tugged at their heart strings the most, they would select which film to definitely watch and which to pass. Those were the days when the late Mohammed Ali, Waheed Murad and Nadeem were the three super heroes and Zeba, Shabnam and Babra Sharif the reigning screen divas. I, for one, loved the movies that paired Waheed Murad with Shabnam, and later Nadeem with this versatile actress.

What was so great about Shabnam was the variety of roles she could do, each with equal aplomb. Whether she had to prance about as a village girl singing Chitti zara sayanji kay naam likh de (Dosti, 1971), play the docile wife singing Roothay ho tum tum ko kaisay manoon piya (Aaina) or the sophisticated city-girl playing the piano and singing Kuch loge rooth kar bhi (Andleeb, 1969), she executed her roles with endearing charm. Many of her dialogues became household quotes — Mein bari buri aadmi hoon, haan (Anmol, 1973) and Maroon gi gulaila kass ke (Awaz, 1978) to mention a couple — and schools and college girls could often be heard merrily mimicking her. When she took to wearing trousers and tops and sporting short hair, her fan following increased and she became the idol of young girls and many guys as well.

But the best thing was that this sultry Bengali actor, with her distinct accent embraced her fans and the nation with the same warmth that was shown her. Both she and her talented composer husband, Robin Ghosh, remained in Pakistan till well after the downfall of the eastern wing and when the couple ultimately decided to move to Bangladesh for personal reasons, it was not without breaking many hearts. And, one feels sure, the decision couldn’t have been an easy one for the couple either.

With all our ethnic biases and prejudices, we as a nation managed to rise above ourselves and shower unconditional love on this star who had accepted Pakistan as her home. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why she has never been forgotten and will always remain an intrinsic part of Pakistans film history. — Shanaz Ramzi


1960/ 1958 Rajdhanir Buke

1958 Aey Desh Tomar Amar

1958 Kokhono Asheni

1960 Asiya

1961 Harano Din

1961 Je Nodi Morupothay

1962 Chanda

1963 Naach Ghar

1963 Preet Na Jane Reet

1963 Talash

1964 Karwaan

1964 Paisey

1964 Tanha (guest appearance)

1965 Aakhri Station

1965 Kaise Kahoon

1965 Kajal

1965 Sagar

1966 Begana

1967 Darshan

1968 Jahan Tum Wahan Ham

1968 Main Zinda Hun

1968 Notun Digonto

1968 Samandar

1968 Sharik-e-Hayyat

1968 Tum Mere Ho

1969 Naaz

1969 Aasra

1969 Andaleeb

1969 Ladla

1969 Naaz

1969 Nazneen

1969 Qasam Us Waqt Ki

1970 Chalo Maan Gaye

1970 Jaley Na Kyun Parwana

1970 Naseeb Apna Apna

1970 Naya Savera

1970 Shama Aur Parwana

1971 Afshan

1971 Charagh Kahan Roshni Kahan

1971 Dosti/ Friendship

1971 Nacher Putul

1971 Rootha Na Karo

1972 Bandagi

1972 Ehsas

1972 Mann Ki Jeet

1972 Mere Hamsafar

1972 Wafaa

1973 Aas

1973 Anmol

1973 Apna Farz

1973 Badal Aur Bijli

1973 Gharana

1973 Naam Ke Nawab

1973 Naya Raasta

1973 Society

1973 Zakhmi

1974 Aabroo

1974 Aina Aur Soorat

1974 Bano Rani

1974 Chahat

1974 Dhamaka

1974 Dillagi

1974 Do Badan

1974 Do Tasviren

1974 Intezar

1974 Main Bani Dulhan

1974 Miss Hippy

1974 Qismat

1974 Sawan Aya Tum Nahin Aye

1974 Sharafat

1975 Anari

1975 Badal Gaya Insaan

1975 Be-misal

1975 Bikhrey Moti

1975 Dil Nasheen

1975 Do Saathi

1975 Farz Aur Mamta

1975 Jageer

1975 Milap

1975 Paisa

1975 Pehchan

1975 Pehchan

1975 Umang

1975 Zanjeer

1975 Zeenat

1976 Anokhi

1976 Daman Ki Aag

1976 Aaj Aur Kall

1976 Anokhi Urdu

1976 Daag

1976 Do Aansoo

1976 Mom Ki Guria

1976 Raja Jani

1976 Sachai

1976 Sayyan Anari

1976 Talash

1976 Tallaq

1977 Aina/ The Mirror

1977 Mere Huzoor

1977 Naya Sooraj

1977 Sangam

1977 Shama-e-Mohabbat

1977 Uff Yeh Bivian

1978 Aabshar

1978 Aankhon Aankhon Mein

1978 Abhi To Mein Jawan Hun

1978 Achhey Mian

1978 Anmol Mohabbat

1978 Awaz

1978 Intekhab

1978 Milan

1978 Saheli

1979 Chalte chalte

1979 Naya Andaaz

1979 Nazr-e-Karam

1979 Nishani

1979 Pakeeza

1980 Azmaish

1980 Badaltey Mousam

1980 Bandish

1980 Hum Dono

1980 Nahin Abhi Nahin

1980 Pyari

1980 Rishta

1981 Faaslay

1981 Ghaerao

1981 Kiran Aur Kali

1981 Qurbani

1981 Tange Wali

1982 Aahat

1982 Biwi Ho To Aisi

1982 I Love You

1982 Khoobsoorat

1982 Naseeb

1982 Saharey

1982 Zara Si Baat

1983 Aaj Ki Raat

1983 Deewangi

1983 Dehleez

1983 Gumnam

1983 Kabhi Alwida Na Kehna

1983 Maang Meri Bhar Do

1984 Aisa Bhi Hota Hai

1984 Andhi Aur Toofan

1984 Barood

1984 Doorian

1984 Kamyabi

1984 Lazawal

1984 Naam Mera Badnam

1984 Naseebon Wali

1984 Shadi Magar Aadhi

1984 Tere Ghar Ke Samne

1985 Anokha Modh

1985 Benazir Qurbani

1985 Naraaz

1986 Faisla

1986 Jhoomar Chor

1986 Love in America

1986 Shadi Mere Shohar Ki

1987 Bazi (Punjabi)

1987 Kaloo (Punjabi)

1987 Love in Nepal

1987 Malka (Punjabi)

1987 Masti Khan

1987 Saas Meri Saheli

1987 Sondhi

1987 Teri Banhon Mein

1988 Jogajog

1988 Sheesh Nagin

1989 Lady Commando

1993 Ranjish

1994 Rani Beti Raj Karegi (Punjabi)

1995 Awargi

1996 Saza

1997 Aulad Ki Qasam

1999 Amma Jan (Bengali)

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