Raagni, one of the most charming film actresses of the 1940s who silently passed away on February 27, 2007, had contributed greatly to the silver screen with her inspiring beauty and mature histrionics. She was popularly known in film circles as Aahoo Chasham and as a heroine, she left a lasting impression on the minds of the cine-goers.
However, all the hype she got and accolades she won as an actress par excellence appear meaningless and shallow when one takes a look at the last days of her life. She was left alone by almost everyone whom she held dear, including her family, friends and film colleagues, when she needed them the most. Over the years, no film-maker offered the aging actress a role in his film, which is typical of the high-handed attitude extended to artistes on reaching seniority.
One of the loveliest faces of cinema of yesteryear, she died of health complications while living the life of a recluse for the last many years in Lahore, the hub of films and all its related activities. Arthritis had had a crippling effect on her and cataract had wreaked havoc on her once famous eyes. With her demise on February 27, the Pakistan film industry lost a valuable artiste whose contribution to the then emerging film industry in the subcontinent can never be forgotten.
Raagni was born in Gujranwala in 1925. In the ’40s, she came with her father, Deewan Sahib, and her family to Lahore and lived in a locality adjacent to Flemming Road. Her real name was Irshad Begum but she was known by her nickname, Shado. Roshan Lal Shori, a film-maker who owned Shori Pictures and the studio, also lived on Flemming Road in those days. Roshan Lal’s daughters used to play with Raagni and they told their father of the beautiful girl who was their playmate. Raagni was thus introduced to films by the Shoris.
Film-maker Roop Kishori’s Dullah Bhatti was her maiden movie. M.D. Kunwar was the hero opposite her in the film. A rich man, Kunwar soon became a die-hard fan of Raagni. As part owner of Anarkali Bazaar, it is a well-known fact that when Raagni went to shop at Anarkali, he used to lay Rs100 bills under her feet. Some of the actress’s early movies which won acclaim were Sehti Murad, Himmat, Nishani, Mera Mahi and Ravi Paar. Poonji was also a box-office hit.
In 1945, Raagni left for then Bombay to work with film icon A.R. Kardar. Naik Parveen by S.M. Yousaf is one of her most famous movies from those days. Her other famous films include Naila, Mundri, Patan, Shrini Farhad Lado, Sarhad and Shah Jehan. She was the first film heroine to charge Rs100,000 for Shah Jahan in which she played Mumtaz Mehal. The film also holds the honor of featuring Salma Agha’s mother, Nasreen, in the role of a kaneez (servant girl).
There can be no doubt about the fact that Raagni’s captivating eyes were her biggest claim to fame. On the poster of Sehti Murad put on display at Lahore’s Bhaati Gate, her eyes were blindfolded with the caption underneath: ‘What will happen when these eyes are revealed?’
Raagni got married for the first time in the early ’40s and had two children, a daughter, Saira, and a son, Abid. In 1947, she returned to Pakistan and got married a second time, this time to film-maker S. Gul and produced the film, Beqarar with her husband. Some of the well known films she did in Pakistan are Mundri, Akaili, Nazrana, Naukar, Baydari, Kundan and Zanjeer. She also successfully performed a number of character roles in films such as Husn-o-Ishq, Gumnam, Ghulam, Anarkali, Duniya Na Maane, Mirza Jat and Aab-i-Hayat.
In the late-50s, the film Anarkali earned her fame. The songs of the film also became hits, such as Sada Hoon Apne Pyar Ki. In the film, she played the role of Dil-a-Ram while actor Sudheer played Prince Saleem.
Before her death, Raagni spent the last days of her life alone in a room of a quarter in Madian Colony, Gulberg. Her son, Abid, had died some years ago of blood cancer in the US, while her daughter, Saira, had shifted to Karachi after getting married. According to some of her close family members, she had an estranged relationship with her daughter and preferred to live with her nephew, Tariq Butt, instead. However, Saira, in a brief telephonic conversation, said that things between her and her mother were normal, adding that her mother was the kindest person she had ever met.
No doubt, Raagni was not only a good human being but a wonderful artiste as well. But she her last days were spent in misery and loneliness. She was utterly ignored by the very industry and its people to whom she had dedicated a major part of her life. No arts council or any other institution ever came forward to help her despite the fact that her interviews, focusing on her dilemma, were telecast repeatedly from various private TV channels shortly before her passing away.
Just two days before her death, Guddu, a film buff and collector of related paraphernalia, upon hearing of her grave condition, paid her a visit during his visit to Lahore. Speaking to this writer, he recollected Raagni’s last words to him: “Beta, bus dua karo meri aakhirat aache ho jaye aur mein eeman ke saath iss duniya se rukhsat ho jaon.” (Pray that when my time comes, I depart from this world with my faith intact) – Shoaib Ahmed – Dawn Newspaper