Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Rustom was a sex symbol of 1950s Egyptian cinema who starred in more than 60 films—largely comedies, melodramas, and crime genre vehicles—from that period through the early 1970s. Although not a formally trained belly dancer, Rustom did perform as such onscreen, incorporating Latin American modes (mambo, cha-cha). Rustom’s career was marked by persistent tension between her typecast image and her commitment to quality performance. Her first film appearance was Flowers and Thorns (Mohamed Abdel Gawad, 1947), alongside Yehia Shahin. Upon her marriage to director Hassan Reda, Rustom starred in his unsuccessful Reason Is Bliss (1950); later, she would feature in films directed by her second husband, Hassan El-Iman, including Women of the Night (1955) and The Body (1955), in both as a dancer whose redemption comes in the form of a respectable man, yet who nonetheless meets an untimely death. Although often referred to as the Egyptian “Marilyn Monroe,” Rustom’s voluptuous persona was far from the “dumb blonde,” exuding both elegance and feistiness.
Eventually, she began appearing in socially more meaningful films, including Libyan Ahmed Toukhi’s The Triumph of Islam (1952) and Class Distinctions (Al-Sayed Ziyada, 1954). There followed perhaps her most memorable roles, in Youssef Chahine’s My One and Only Love (1957), alongside Farid al-Atrache, as part of an allegorical love triangle, and Cairo Station (1958), playing opposite Chahine. These roles garnered Rustom acclaim and led to further significant parts, often in projects by prestigious directors. These include I Can’t Sleep (Salah Abu Seif, 1957), alongside Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama; Struggle on the Nile (Atef Salem, 1959), co-starring Sharif; Crime of Love (Salem, 1959), with Emad Hamdi; I Think of the Man Who Has Forgotten Me (Hossam Eddine Mostafa, 1959), alongside Fairuz; and Between Heaven and Earth (Abu Seif, 1959), a comedy. Rustom likewise appeared in several Niazi Mustafa and Fatin Abdel-Wahab vehicles during this period. In 1963, her acting skills were honored with an Egyptian Association for Film Writers and Critics Best Actress award. While she continued to perform in films throughout the 1960s, notably in The Bachelor Husband (Hassan 1966) and Leaving Paradise (Mahmoud Zulficar, 1967), again alongside al-Atrache, Rustom became increasingly dissatisfied with cinema and the lack of privacy her stardom afforded her. She retired from the screen in 1975.