Putli, Shamim Ara to her innumerable fans, was the daughter of a popular dancer from Aligarh, Uttar Pardesh, India. At a very young age, Putli started receiving her lessons in acting and dancing from her talented mother and subsequently became a competent dancer herself. The mother aimed to be an actress. However, her hopes could not be materialized. Apparently that motivated adorable little Putli, in her later life, to fulfill her mother’s dreams.
In 1956 Putli along with her family migrated to Pakistan. The same year, a prominent film director, Najam Naqvi, was in search of a young actress for his next venture. By chance, Najam met this girl and he was taken aback by Putli’s sheer beauty and innocent smile.
Therefore, Putli made her maiden appearance in Najam Naqvi’s Kunwari Bewa (The Unwed Window) with the screen name of Shamim Ara. The film flopped and Shamim was left with the option of playing side roles both in Karachi and Lahore productions. Miss 56, Anarkali, Faisla, Raaz, Raat Kai Rahi, Bhabhi and Masoom offered her the opportunity to work in better productions with seasoned directors. For example, in Miss 56 Shamim Ara was cast opposite Aslam Pervaiz as the side heroine, with Meena Shorey and Santosh Kumar in the lead. The film was directed by Roop K. Shorey, who started his film career in Lahore during the pre-independence era and came to Pakistan to direct Miss 56 for J.C. Anand. It was somewhat like Mr. and Mrs. 55, a Madhubala-Guru Dutt venture from Bombay. The film did average to good business in Pakistan, and this was the beginning of Shamim’s illustrious career as an actress.
She was committed to the cinema and accepted any role that came her way. Roopmati Baazbahadur, Izzat, Do Ustad, Alamara, Wah Re Zamane, Apna Paraya and Savera had her in the female lead, but except for giving her wider experience in front of the camera, most of the ventures were `B’ class undertakings. Wah Re Zamane (1958) was the first film from the newly formed Karachi centre which did modest to good business. Released countrywide, it was produced by Wazir Ali, brother of Rattan Kumar, and directed by Bappu, Rafiq Rizvi. The cast was headed by the up-and-coming Shamim Ara, Ejaz, Rukhsana, and Rattan Kumar (child artiste from Bombay), now playing a young man’s role. The viewers were enchanted by Ghulam Nabi and Latif’s music. For Karachi and its superstar-to-be, Shamim Ara, this was a reassuring endeavor.
Saheli – an unsual love-triangle where everything ends happily for those involved, was a big hit and it established Shamim as one of the leading ladies of the Pakistani cinema. It won her the prestigious Presidential Award, the Nigar Award for Best Supporting Actress and also the fame she had so ardently craved. Other hits followed soon including Aag Ka Darya (1966) – a love story of a robber and a nautch girl proved to be a major success. She was paired with Mohammed Ali in this film and together they have many successful films to their credit including Saiqa.
Shamim Ara also holds the distinction of being the first successful female director of the Pakistani film industry. Her first film as director was Jeeyo Aur Jeenay Do, followed by the blockbuster Playboy. Playboy was a light romantic comedy with Nadeem and Babra Sharif in the lead, supported by Asif Raza, Nanna, Nadia, and veteran Talish. Mostly shot in London during the summer, it featured fresh and well-selected locales. With M. Ashraf’s swinging tunes and Nadeem and Babra’s spontaneous acting under the adroit direction of Shamim Ara, the film proved an instant success with youngsters and the family audience. After the success of Playboy, Shamim Ara directed many films including Miss Hong Kong, Miss Singapore, Miss Colombo, Lady Smuggler and Lady Commando, therefore, securing her place forever in Pakistan’s Hall of Fame.
In spite of being successful on the professional front, Shamim Ara’s personal life was full of hardships. She was forced into marriage by her maternal grandmother, to a feudal landlord of Balochistan, Sardar Rind, in return for a substantial amount as bride money. She soon escaped from this bondage. While in the prime of her career, Shamim Ara married again, this time Majid Karim, the chief of Agfa in Pakistan. A short happy spell came to an abrupt end when Karim, under the duress from his first wife’s family, divorced Shamim Ara. She also holds a record for the shortest marriage in filmdom. Her marriage to the gifted director Fareed Ahmed lasted for only three days. Fareed’s first wife Samina Ahmed is a highly talented TV artiste and a key official of the Lahore Arts Council. Fareed left the country after the mishap never to come back and died an untimely death abroad.