Naseem Banu: One of the first female stars to act with younger heroes 

The unmatched beauty and mother to Saira Banu had a storied career of her own which found her acting opposite younger actors.

Sonal Pandya

It is said that most Hindi film heroines have a shorter shelf life. After they hit a certain age, they are expected to gracefully retire to maternal roles. Most get married or disappear from films altogether. They are few who defied these unspoken rules and continued acting.

One such actor was Naseem Banu, née Roshanara Begum on 4 July 1916. As a teenager, she fought against her strict mother to enter films. She went on a hunger strike until her mother gave in and allowed her to act in Sohrab Modi’s Khoon Ka Khoon (1935) aka Hamlet. A natural beauty, Naseem Banu was quickly dubbed ‘pari chehra’ in her upcoming film’s publicity.

She rose to fame in films like Khan Bahadur (1937), Vasanti (1938) and Pukar (1939). Naseem Banu even did her own singing for Pukar. But her relations with the studio that launched her grew strained when Minerva Movietone boss, Sohrab Modi, did not release her from the stringent contract.

After her marriage to Mohammad Ehsan, they started the banner Taj Mahal Pictures Ltd which produced films Ujala (1944) and Begum (1944) with her in the lead. Eventually, she moved on to act with Filmistan, appearing in Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944) with Ashok Kumar. By the 1950s, when she was in her 30s, she did not hang up her boots. Instead, she started acting opposite younger actors in lead roles.

Heroes like Shyam, Rehman and Southern actor Ranjan were all younger than her, but one would never know that seeing the pair onscreen. She appeared opposite Shyam in Filmistan-produced Shabistan (1951); it became his last film. Shyam had an accident on set and fell off his horse during filming. Shabistan was completed using a double.

Rehman, then an upcoming actor, acted as her hero in her home production Ajeeb Ladki (1952) while Ranjan played the part of the dashing Sinbad in Taj Mahal Pictures’ Sinbad The Sailor (1952).

[left] With Ranjan in Sinbad the Sailor (1952) / With Rehman in Ajeeb Ladki (1952)

Her husband then moved to Pakistan with the negatives of the films they produced together. Naseem chose to remain behind with her young children, Saira Banu and Sultan Ahmed. It was then that she started turning down films.

Even when her daughter Saira Banu was about to enter films, Naseem still received offers for lead roles. She turned them down as not to directly compete with her. She began guiding Saira’s career as well as designing her costumes in a couple of films.

Presently, actors like Kareena Kapoor Khan and Nargis Fakhri have acted opposite younger actors Arjun Kapoor and Varun Dhawan respectively in films like Ki & Ka (2016) and Main Tera Hero (2014). Back in the 1950s, beauty queen Naseem Banu was one of the first to dictate her career on her own terms.