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NASEEM BANU (1916-2002)

Naseem Banu was an actor and singer in Hindi cinema. Her mother was Chamiyan Bai, a courtesan, who was also known as Shamshad Begum. Shamshad Begum had also sung for films and made a lot of money (there is another playback singer of that name who should not be confused with her). Naseem wished to emulate her mother and was determined to be an actor too. She learnt music, and her beauty got her lots of offers. However, her mother did not wish her daughter to act, as there was a lot of social stigma in those days which she had had to face. Naseem was unfazed, however, and even threatened to starve herself if she was prevented from acting. She allayed her mother’s fears by being successful from the start. Debuting in Khoon Ka Khoon (1935), a Hindi version of Hamlet in which she played Ophelia, she created a sensation with her role in Sohrab Modi’s classic Pukar (1939), for which she sang ‘Zindagi ka saaz bhi kya saaz hai, baj raha hai aur beawaz hai’. She was known as ‘pari chera’ or ‘fairy-face’. Her other successes included Mehboob Khan’s Nagma, Sindbad, Talaaq, Ujala, Begam, Jeevan Sapna, Anokhi Ada, Chandni Raat and Sheesh Mahal. In 1944 she had a daughter, Saira, and in the mid-1950s she retired from films so as not to compete with Saira Banu’s blossoming acting career. Instead, she turned her attention to designing clothing, especially intricately embroidered saris. She was instrumental in getting her daughter married to Dilip Kumar, and the couple used to live mainly in her bungalow on Pali Hill. She designed many of her daughter’s costumes. In 1972 she acted in Pakeezah.
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