Khursheed Begum – Her Last Interview

The year was 1992 the month was February; I entered a house in Karachi’s posh area. I was led inside by a servant who took me to the living room area of the neatly decorated compact house. A group of women sat in the room, all in their middle ages. They were startled to see a person holding a tape recorder in his hand, a sudden pin drop silence followed. Minds brimmed with questions but lips were sealed. Amidst all this was a lady reclined on a deewaan. She was much older than the rest of them; her eyes twinkled with certain verve and her snow white hair shined on the round scalp. This is the woman who was once the heartthrob of many. An actress of yore who gracefully ruled the silver screen for many years. Yes, I had landed there to interview Khursheed Bano; the leading star of the 30’s who gave up everything for her marriage. This interview was perhaps her last interview ever and according to her the only one she gave in Pakistan.

Ever since Khursheed Bano bid farewell to the movies, she kept a low profile. She chose to keep herself and her family away from the big bad world of show business. She refused to give interviews or speak about her professional life with anybody. Soon after partition she quit cinema and tied the knot and then shunned limelight for good. I was lucky that my maternal aunt knew her well as together they used to recite Na’at in Milads organized by their friends, not professionally. So I requested my aunt and she asked Khursheed who was kind enough to allow me to come and interview her.

Khursheed Bano was born as Irshad Begum in Lahore. As a child she resided in the Bhatti Gate area next to Allama Iqbal’s house. The two families were pretty close. Khursheed was a child then. There was no ambition of joining the showbiz bandwagon then and it was by chance that led her to this arena.

Khursheed was very still young when she became an actress in the early 30’s. The era of the silent movies had already ended with the release of Alam Ara in 1931 and the Indian film industry was going through a revolution. What set her apart from other heroines were her attractive face and certain flamboyance owing to which she made her presence felt. And then she was very good actress who could be melodramatic and happy-go-lucky with equal ease.

Each star then was required to playback for themselves and Khursheed was lucky to have a good voice. Hence started the brilliant era of some timeless classical and exemplary numbers like panchi banwara chaand sey preet lagaye.

The graceful and decent actress was luckier to secure some of the best films including Sitara, Shaadi, Musafir, Pardesi, Bhagat Surdas, Dekha Jaye Ga, Shehanshah-E-Babar and Tansen. Pardesi had a very famous soundtrack comprising of memorable numbers by the late actress. In Tansen she played the protagonist Tani with Kundan Lal Saigal as Tansen. Together they made indelible performances and the role took her to great heights. She even transcended Saigal with her strong performances and pretty looks and her fans started calling her Tani after that.

Her leading men in those days apart from Saigal where Motilal, Ishwar Lal, Nazeer and Sadiq Ali. She made a successful pair with Motilal the most. Her female contemporaries included actresses of caliber like Kanan Bala, Devika Rani, Leela Chitnis, Suraiya, Swaranlata and Noor Jehan. The last three were her juniors.

Khursheed said that there was no such thing as rivalry in those days and actresses worked in close coordination. Abusing, backbiting or gossiping was not amongst their traits. Even the male stars with whom she worked treated her with great respect and there were no scandals.

Though she was an accomplished singer, acting remained her forte and first love. “Singing was a requirement to be a heroine in those days”, she said, “and even heroines with not too good voices were forced to ding if they were to act. But the composers were so good that they managed to get the best out of them then. Each song was recorded after several rehearsals. But I was an actress before and singing was just to complement that.”

Khursheed was not too happy with the way films shaped up in the years to come. So much so that she never wanted to see films anymore. In the interview she expressed her displeasure, “In spite of the resources and much higher budget, there is not a single film maker in the entire sub continent who could make a film even half as good as the films made in my era. Ours were simple films but treated well and had strong content. Plus the hard work and honesty of each unit member reflected in the entire film. This thing is missing now. A film is not only about technique, rather the issue, sensitivity and sincere dedication too.”

Following partition in 1947, Khursheed opted to move to Pakistan. She worked in two Pakistani films too – Mandi and Fankar. But then she decided to quit and tied the knot with a Karachi – based business Yousaf Bhai Mian. They had one daughter who lived in the US when the interview was conducted. She then concentrated on her marriage alone and emerged equally successful on the home front as much as she was in films. She was happy that she quit films before their standards declined – Interview conducted in 1992 by Navaid Rashid. Khursheed Begum died on April 18th, 2001.