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Don't know Bibbo? Shame on you!

Get to know the multi-talented artiste who also became the industry's first female music composer

Sonal Pandya

Ishrat Sultana, more famously known as Bibbo, was a leading lady of the 1930s and 1940s who later migrated to Pakistan after the Partition. A daughter of a famous courtesan and singer, Hafeezan Bai, Bibbo grew up in Delhi. Like most actors of her time, Bibbo sang many of her own songs and in fact, is the first woman to compose music in Hindi cinema with Adal-e-Jahangir (1934) under her real name, Ishrat Sultana. Her contemporaries, Jaddanbai and Saraswati Devi, both starting composing music a year later in 1935. She only composed for one other film afterwards, Rainbow Films' Qazzak Ki Ladki (1937) directed by her husband Khalil Sardar.

She debuted in well-known talent scout and filmmaker Mohan Bhavnani's film Rangila Rajput (1933) and went on to appear in several other productions helmed by him, including  Sair-e-Paristan (1934) and Mazdoor (1934). One of her most famous roles was the early Mehboob Khan film Manmohan (1936) which gave her a meaty lead role as a  woman caught between her husband and an painter who becomes obsessed with possessing her. The film, though popular, was referred to as 'the poor man's Devdas'. 

After the Partition, she began working in the Pakistani film industry as a character artiste. She continued her acting career until the 1960s; her last film was Armaan in 1966. It was a restrained retirement for an  artiste who once had a song 'Tujhe Bibbo Kahoon Ke Sulochana' named after her in Gharib Ke Laal (1939). Written by lyricist Rafi Kashmir and composed by Sageer Asif, the song was sung by Mirza Musharraf and Kamla Karnataki and names most of the popular actors of the 1930s but it was Bibbo's name that's listed first. According to reports, Bibbo passed away in Karachi in 1972, impoverished and alone.