Nasira, Rani to her countless fans, ruled undisputed over the hearts of millions throughout the 70s, 80s and somewhat into the 90s, armed with confidence and charm.
In her private life, too, Rani led a typical filmi style, replete with a rags-to-riches story, rapturous and unfulfilled love and repeated betrayals by men she loved. But while these emotions made her immortal on screen, in real life they tore at her passionate heart. But even after her death, she is remembered as a screen legend par excellence and without comparison. She belonged to a rare breed of superstars and had what it took to play Umrao in Umrao Jaan Ada, Chandni in Tehzeeb and Anjuman in Anjuman.
Rani was born on Dec 8, 1946, in Muzang, Lahore, to poor parents – Mian Mohammad Shafi and Iqbal Begum. She was one of two sisters. Her father worked as a driver for a popular classical singer of the time, Mukhtar Begum, wife of noted poet and playwright, Agha Hashr Kashmiri and lived in a house on Jamshed Road in Karachi.
The young Rani was handed over to Mukhtar Begum for a proper upbringing. Being a singer herself, Mukhtar Begum wanted Rani to follow in her footsteps. However, Rani’s vocal chords did not rise to the challenge and she was then groomed in the performing arts. Rani was taught dance by Ustad Ghulam Hussain and Ustad Khursheed. Mukhtar Begum bestowed on her the film name of Rani. Incidentally, it was also Mukhtar Begum who gave Noor Jehan her screen name. Rani loved to dance, a passion she fulfilled through her films.
One day, the well-known film director Anwar Kamal Pasha, paid a visit to Mukhtar Begum’s house to ask permission to shoot his film Suraj Mukhi there. On meeting Rani, he offered her a role in his film. She immediately asked him if there were any songs in the film. He laughed and said yes.
However, Rani’s first film was Mehboob which was released on Nov 16, 1962. She was 16 years old at the time. The film flopped but she didn’t as she got more offers. But after a row of flops, she was dubbed a jinxed actress in Karachi’s film circles. The ever-wise Mukhtar Begum then moved her to Lahore.
Rani’s first Punjabi film was Goonga which was released on June 24, 1966. She also worked with film star Neelo in Mauj Mela. Chan Makhna was her first hit Punjabi film and her favorite. Its title song Chal Mere Makhna became an instant hit and has recently been resung by Shazia Manzoor. She embarked on the road to fame and stardom in a big way with the release of Hazaar Dastaan, released on Aug 20, 1965.
Rani’s first love was film actor Kamal. But eventually Kamal succumbed to family pressure and married a girl in his family. The bombing of their film Joker at the box-office served as the final nail in the coffin of what was once their love.
As the money rolled in, Rani’s real mother also resumed her relationship with her daughter. When Mukhtar Begum fell ill and had to proceed to London for treatment, she returned to find that Rani had moved to another house with her mother. Nevertheless, such was Mukhtar Begum’s love for Rani that she never emptied Rani’s room of her belongings.
Rani married thrice in her lifetime: the first time to director Hasan Tariq, then Mian Javed Qamar and lastly, cricketer Sarfaraz Nawaz. Of Hassan Tariq she once said: “He was the one who gave rise to the artist in me in the true meaning of the word. When he was making the film Yateem, he needed a heroine who could also play the role of an 8-year-old boy. The film flopped, but Hassan liked my work and custom-made the role for me in Anjuman which became a super-hit.” She went on to prove her mettle in films such as Umrao Jaan Ada, Tehzeeb, Naag Mani, Begum Jaan and Kinara.
Rani had a daughter with Hasan Tariq called Rabia Hasan. Rani and Hasan Tariq got divorced shortly after and she moved back with her mother and stepfather, Haq Sahib.
A short while after her second marriage to Mian Javed Qamar, Rani discovered that she had cancer. As soon as Mian Javed found out about it, he divorced her. The second blow came when her mother, Iqbal Begum, became seriously ill. Such was her love for her mother that she would ask the people who would visit her to pray for her mother’s long life, although she was extremely ill herself.
In London, where Rani had gone to seek treatment for the cancer, she met cricketer Sarfaraz Nawaz. Their friendship culminated in marriage and she started a new life with Sarfaraz. The cancer became an ugly memory, or so it seemed. She also bid farewell to her film career. When Sarfaraz entered politics, Rani was there by his side and also ran his election campaign.
But the creative urge didn’t allow her to remain in the sidelines for long and she signed her first TV drama serial Khwahish, followed by Faraib. Differences started from there and not long after that, Rani and Sarfaraz went their separate ways. After her divorce, her loneliness and her mother’s critical illness started taking its toll on her and the cancer recurred with full force. The only thing that kept her going was the wish to see her daughter married off, and once that was done, she died just a few days after Rabia’s marriage to Dr Anwar.
After exactly 33 days of Rani’s death, her beloved mother, Iqbal Begum, who remained comatose all along and never knew of her daughter’s death, also passed away. She was buried by Rani’s side in Lahore’s Muslim Town graveyard. Rani’s only sister also died three months later – Guddu