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5 memorable roles of Zarina Wahab: Birthday special

Since her debut in Ishk Ishk Ishk (1974), Zarina Wahab, who turns 63 today, has worked in a number of films. We look at five of the more notable ones.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

Actress Zarina Wahab, better known to today's film fans as the wife of actor Aditya Pancholi and mother of Sooraj, made her big-screen debut in Dev Anand’s Ishk Ishk Ishk (1974) with Shabana Azmi, a classmate from the 1973 batch of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. (Now don't ask us how Zarina managed entry into a two-year post-graduate course aged just 15.)

It was not until Rajshri’s Chitchor (1976), however, with Amol Palekar and Vijayendra Ghatge, that Zarina Wahab had her first big taste of success.

Of course, the talented Wahab today is slotted into the mother roles that seem inescapable for older Indian actresses. She even played the mother of prime minister Narendra Modi in the recent biopic starring Vivek Oberoi. But during the 1970s and early 1980s, Zarina Wahab, born in Andhra Pradesh, played some prominent roles in Hindi and Malayalam cinema.

On her 63rd birthday then, here is a look at some of the films we still recall today.

Chitchor (1976)

In Basu Chatterjee’s small town musical, Zarina Wahab played Geeta, a headmaster’s younger daughter. Her elder sister living in the city has found a likely match for Geeta and writes that the young man, an engineer, would be visiting them soon. Vinod (Amol Palekar) is everything the family and Geeta had hoped for. Unfortunately, he is not the engineer her sister had in mind for Geeta.

Vinod is an assistant to Sunil (Vijayendra Ghatge) and arrives first for a project. After Sunil’s arrival, the headstrong younger daughter has to decide: should she abide by her family’s wishes or follow her heart? The Rajshri production was a bona fide hit and its music by Ravindra Jain added to its success.

Wahab was cast perfectly as the young, impulsive Geeta who must find clarity in what she wants in her future. The role remains one of her best.

Gharaonda (1977)

Wahab was reunited with her Chitchor (1976) co-star Amol Palekar for Gharaonda (1977) directed by Bhimsain. They played lovers who build big dreams for their future. They wish to get married and own a house in Mumbai, saving and investing money in a project. When that project goes kaput, so do their lives.

Wahab’s Chhaya is pressurized by Palekar’s Sudeep to marry a rich, ailing man (Dr Shriram Lagoo) and after she takes that momentous decision, her love for Sudeep slowly begins to wane. The actress gave a fine performance as the tortured girlfriend who becomes a devoted wife. It brought her her only Filmfare nomination for Best Actress.

Sawan Ko Aane Do (1979)

The actress continued to make her mark in another Rajshri production, Sawan Ko Aane Do (1979), directed by Kanak Mishra. The family drama, with shades of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, featured Zarina Wahab as Chandramukhi who falls in love with Birju (Arun Govil) and his music. However, class differences mean that they must separate.

When Birju becomes a singing star in Mumbai, will Chandramukhi accept her folly and return to him? The film had melodious hits by Raj Kamal that used Yesudas’s voice to their advantage. Wahab performed her part as the dutiful daughter with a quiet composure that belied her inner turmoil.

Jazbaat (1980)

For Suraj Prakash’s Jazbaat (1980), Zarina Wahab was the pickpocket who turns over a new leaf. Sapna gives up a life of crime and becomes famous, thanks to the actions of Inspector Kumar (Raj Babbar). When they reunite after many years, will they reveal their true feelings to each other?

In another Rajshri production, the actress showed off the rebellious and reformed sides of her character Sapna. She opens her heart and asks Inspector Kumar to marry her, but he spurns her out of good intentions and it leads her to make something of her life.

Mera Damad (1995)

The long-delayed family comedy, directed by Partho Ghosh, was a hilarious tale of numerous misunderstandings. Ashok Kumar and Utpal Dutt played old friends Ajit Khanna and Sitanath Choudhry who haven’t seen each other in decades. But they had made a promise that their children would marry each other. So Khanna's son Jay (Farooq Shaikh) sets out to see his wife-to-be, Choudhry's daughter Sunita, played by Wahab.

Circumstances force Jay to believe Choudhry's home is a hotel and the two think the worst of each other. Wahab, in a rare comedic role, finally has the time to relax on screen. She had earlier played Shaikh’s wife in Toofan (1989). Here, they get a chance to indulge in some nonsensical and funny moments on screen, especially with veterans like Utpal Dutt and Ashok Kumar.