It was Bengali jadoo right out of the books of incantations when Shabnam appeared as Jharna in the first ever Urdu film from East Pakistan, titled Chanda. She was destined to become a true superstar, unmatched in the history of our industry. She came to cinema in the mid-1950s, Bengali films included, and her long career stretched to the early 1990s. So that makes it more than 40 years of dominance.
Shabnam started her film career by working in low budget East-Pakistani films like Chanda, Talash, Aakhri Station and Darshan. In Aakhri Station, Shabnam played the role of a mentally handicapped young woman. Though she only has a one-line dialogue throughout the movie, she portrayed her character with a rare pathos. To date it remains one of her most memorable roles and even Shabnam considers it to be her finest performance. Another East Pakistani Film – Darshan was released on a commission basis by Ghaffar Danawalla as nobody was willing to take the risk of buying the movie’s distribution rights. However, the film’s fascinating environment, soulful music and Rahman’s slick direction caught the attention of audiences all over the country. Darshan brought good luck to Shabnam, as the film drew attention in West Pakistan too, and she was signed by Film Arts (production company owned by Waheed Murad) for their Karachi-based production Samander. The story attributed to Waheed Murad, was derived from B.R. Chopra’s big hit Naya Daur (1957), starring Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala and Ajit. Waheed, Hanif, and Shabnam played the roles in the Pakistani version which was picturized on the lives of poor fishermen rather than the tonga wallas of the original movie.
Directed by Rafiq Rizvi, Samander did not do very well but the movie proved to be a stepping stone for Shabnam on her way to becoming a much sought-after actress in the western wing of the country. Like Nadeem she continued her work at Dhaka but gradually increased her engagements in Lahore. Soon she got more offers pairing her with other top actors, including Sudhir, Kamal, Waheed Murad, Mohammed Ali and most of the time with her colleague in Dhaka, Nadeem. With sheer commitment, hard work and the support of her husband Robin Ghosh a composer, Shabnam quickly adapted to the new atmosphere. She soon developed her own style of Urdu with a Bengali accent which appealed to audiences instantly. Moreover, the charm of the Bengali belle captivated film-goers to such an extent that her accent was considered more an asset than a deficiency.
In the late sixties she proved her mettle with hits like Ladla and Andaleeb, but the early seventies marked the beginning of her real stardom. Dosti and Anmol were both major successes. The Shabnam-Nadeem pair made the best team with ace director Pervez Malik. Together they created some of the most successful movies of Pakistan. In the years to come, Shabnam was to reach the heights of stardom rarely achieved by any other actress before her. In 1979, her film Aina, became Pakistan’s longest running film, and was shown for almost five years. In the early 1980s, she continued her dominance by changing her overall style to the modern look and acted in such films as Naheen Abhi Naheen, Bandish, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, etc.
Amongst actresses Shabnam has won the most Nigar Awards. Like Nadeem she too has been given lifetime achievement award by the Nigar Award Committee. Her performance in films like Aakhri Station, Aas, Dosti, Talash, Anmol, Naheen Abhi Naheen, Dooriyan, Aina, Pakeeza and Qurbani won her many laurels.
Sometime during the late 80’s or early 90’s Shabnam went back to her native country Bangladesh. Her last released film in Pakistan was Aulad Ki Qasam (1997). She did few films in Bangaldesh including Amma Jaan which, according to her, did good business but failed to revive her career in films in that part of the world. She attributes the cold response to the lack of quality roles, hence resulting in a self-induced retirement. But that does not mean she is not open to offers if the role is good and her health allows her to take up any such offers – Mushtaq Gazdar, Zulqarnain Shahid, & Ummer Siddique