Legendary stars that departed in 2020
The year 2020 came with a bleak shadow of coronavirus and has imprinted unforgettable and scary memories in history.
It is a year that everyone would want to forget forever with a wish that such a year never returns in our lives, but a lot would be remained etched in the memories of the people for forever for the losses of precious lives and misery the mankind has to suffer.
And among such memories will surely be the departure of some the greatest losses to the fans in Pakistan with the departure of some legendary stars of film, TV and stage who went on their eternal journey.
The year 2020 snatched from us the First Lady of Pakistani Cinema, a Man of Very Firsts, King of Comedy and Heer of Lollywood.
Sabiha Khanum, the First Lady of Pakistani Cinema
Sabiha Khanum, acknowledged as the ‘First Lady of Pakistani Cinema’ and arguably the greatest actress of the Pakistani screen, had passed away in the US. Her exact year of birth is not known – it is variously mentioned as 1935 or 1936.
Her performances in films like Sassi (1954), Gumnam (1954), Dulla Bhatti (1956), Waadah (1957), Devar Bhabhi (1967) and, in particular, Ek Gunah Aur Sahi (1975), are talked about in admiration by Pakistanis of an older generation even today.
Sabiha was born Mukhtar Begum in a village near Gujrat in Punjab. Her mother died when Sabiha was just six. Her father, based in Lahore, then sent her back to the village, where Sabiha was brought up by her grandparents. She learned to milk cows, get water from the well, make rotis and churn butter.
After she grew up, her father took her back to the city. A friend of his took her around to see Lahore and for the first time in her life, Sabiha watched a movie on the big screen. Soon after, Sabiha visited Radio Pakistan, where her father’s friend worked, and in the spur of the moment, she was given the chance to sing in a live programme. A few days later, she saw a play in the theatre and found out they were auditioning. Sabiha tried for that part and got it.
A film role followed. Her first film was Beli (1950), also marking the Pakistani debut of Santosh Kumar who would go on to become Pakistani cinema’s greatest and most popular leading man. The film, with the Partition of India as a backdrop, did not do well at the box office.
The same year, her next film Do Aansoo made Sabiha a star. It was the first-ever Urdu film in Pakistan to mark its silver jubilee. The film, directed by Anwar Kamal Pasha and co-starring Shamim, Gulshan Ara and Santosh Kumar, was based on an earlier Noor Jehan hit Bhaijan (1945).
Now a popular leading lady, Sabiha gained attention as an actress of merit in Sassi (1954) based on the legend of Sassi and Punnu but even more so in Gumnam (1954) where she expertly played a woman with mental disabilities.
With Dulla Bhatti (1956), Sabiha proved she could carry a Punjabi film with ease too. The film, co-starring Sudhir, was a huge success at the box office. That year, Sabiha delivered success after success: Hameeda, a remake of the Geeta Bali starrer Vachan (1955), Sarfarosh and Chhoti Begum all proved to be huge winners at the box office. Sabiha had become the undisputed queen of Pakistani cinema.
Waadah (1957) and Saat Laakh (1957) are regarded as milestone films in Pakistan, both co-starring Sabiha and Santosh and both super hits. In 1957, the Nigar Awards, Pakistan’s version of the Filmfare Awards, were launched. Santosh won the Best Actor Award for Waadah and Sabiha was the winner for Saat Laakh. By now, the Sahiba Khanum-Santosh Kumar pair was talked of in the same manner as Raj Kapoor and Nargis in India. It was but inevitable that with the numerous films they were doing together and with the on-screen chemistry they shared, that they fell in love with each other off-screen as well. This in spite of Santosh being a married man with children. The two, after initial opposition from Sabiha’s father, got married during the making of Hasrat (1958).
Sabiha proved to be a top star right through to the mid-60s, scoring heavily in films like Naaji (1959), Ayaz (1960), Shyam Dhale (1960), Mousiqar (1962), Shikwa (1963) – winning the Nigar Award for Best Actress, Kaneez (1965), Sawaal (1966) and Devar Bhabhi, yet another award-winning performance. Though by now Sabiha was getting slotted into the character artist category, she was still getting roles around which the film’s story revolved. In Ek Gunah aur Sahi, based partly on a Manto story, she was sensational as ‘Mummy’, an elderly Christian lady with a heart-of-gold. Though Rani, who played a double role as a mother and daughter, was the lead actor, it is Sabiha who keeps the viewer glued to the otherwise ridiculous goings-on on the screen. Campy, over the top and yet strong and fascinating, Sabiha effortlessly steals the film, which without her would have been simply unwatchable. She went on to win the Best Actress Award at Tashkent for her robust act as well as a special Nigar Award for her extraordinary performance.
Sabiha continued acting well into the 1980s receiving a special Nigar Award in 1981 for completing 30 years in the Pakistani film Industry. But Santosh’s death in 1982 shattered her. She reduced her workload gradually, moving away from the big screen and doing the odd television serial.
She then shifted to the US to live with her daughter and her grandchildren, where she passed away. Apart from her award in Tashkent and the various Nigar Awards she has won, she has also been honoured with the Pride of Performance Award, the highest Pakistani honour in entertainment, or the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz as it is known.
Tariq Aziz: A man of very first in entertainment industry
Tariq Aziz was the man of firsts, the first male television anchor, the first Pakistani game show host, the first to represent our culture onscreen and subsequently the first to influence it.
His encapsulating speech, intimidating tone, contagious style and enigmatic presence set the benchmark for every showman to follow. And In today’s world of exuberance, Aziz left a legacy of eloquence which can never be forgotten.
The 85-year-old Neelam Ghar host also breathed his last after being rushed to a private hospital in Lahore in 2020. He then passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest.
His quiz show Neelam Ghar was first aired in 1974, it later came to be known as the Tariq Aziz Show and was then renamed the Bazm-e-Tariq Aziz. Aziz was also a politician and became a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan between 1997 and 1999.
He received his early education in Jalandhar before starting his career at Radio Pakistan, Lahore. When the country's first television broadcast was made in November 1964, Aziz became the first male PTV broadcaster.
He starred in film Insaniyat (1967) with renowned actors Waheed Murad and Zeba, following which he also played the leading role in film Haar Gaya Insaan. Aziz has appeared on several local television programs and morning shows, along with organising telethons for charity purposes.
The late actor also received a Pride of Performance Award by the President of Pakistan in 1992 for his services to the nation.
Firdous Begum: Heer of Pakistan film industry
Veteran Pakistani actress Firdous Begum, known for her character ‘Heer’ in the classical Punjabi movie ‘Heer Ranjha’ also passed away at Lahore’s hospital in 2020. She was 73.
It was rumoured that she died of COVID-19, however, later her family and doctors too attributed to brain haemorrhage that claimed her life.
Real name Parveen, Firdous was considered one of the most classy film actors of her time. Originally from Lahore, she started her film career in Fanoos (1963) as a supporting actor introduced by Nausad, while the main leads were played by Komal and Salman Peerzada. Her earlier films included Khandaan, Malangi, Lai Laag and Aurat.
During her long-spanning career, she worked in 160 films among which around 30 were in Punjabi and three in Pushto. Her most renowned Punjabi films included Heer Ranjha, Dilan de Sauday, Malangi and Aansoo.
Though she did well in the beginning of her showbiz days of late 1960s, her acting career received a boost when she played the lead role in the adaptation of the Heer story by the mystic poet, Warris Shah. Ejaz Durrani, another iconic film star of that period, had played the character of Ranjha in the Punjab classic.
The former veteran reached the peak of her career after landing a lead role in 1965 film Malangi. She then became the top heroine of the local film industry. Firdous also ended up tying the knot with the hero of the film Akmal Khan – a marriage that could not last long provided that he passed away in June of 1967.
Malangi also featured Mahi Ve Sanu Bhul Na Javin, crooned by Noor Jehan and picturised on Firdous, the song became one of the main reasons behind the film's success.
Firdous was paired with the top Punjabi actors of her time including Habib-ur-Rehman, Lala Sudhir and Yusuf Khan. Producer Masood Parvez brought Firdous and Durrani together for the folk tale of Mirza Jat in 1967 which became an instant hit.
She also won the Best Actress Award for her role in the film Heer Ranjha, Aansoo and Ziddi.
Amanullah Khan: King of Comedy
Famous comedian Amanullah Khan, also known as the King of Comedy, took his last breath in a private hospital in Lahore in 2020. He was 70.
Amanullah was battling with multiple medical conditions such as lungs, kidneys and breathing problems and was on a ventilator.
Amanullah was born in 1950. From a humble family in Gujranwala, Amanullah came to Lahore in the 1970s to earn a living. He sold sweets and candies in public buses. Amanullah got married in 1973 and had six children. He got married again and had four children with his second wife. He also had a third marriage.
Khan's talent was first spotted in a road comedy show near the famous Sufi shrine Data Darbar in Lahore. He shot to fame for his performance in a local Lahore theatre - 'One-Man Comedy' in which he mimicked famous celebrities, earning him the title of 'comedy king'.
In a career spanning over 45 years, Khan performed in more than 2,000 plays, other than films and television shows.
His first television play "Sixer" with producer Iqbal Effendi was a huge hit. Some of his famous stage plays include "Basheera in Trouble" and "Landa Bazaar". Amanullah performed over 2000 stage plays in a career spanning some 45 years and worked with all the big producers of the time.
Amanullah is regarded as one of the best television standup comedians. He has a world record of 860-day-night theatre plays and also received the Pride of Performance award. He had appeared in several late-night shows on different TV channels. Before his death, he was working with a private channel. He performed in various stage dramas, films and received appreciation for his unique style.