In her own right, Zeba, who was born Shaheen, was, and arguably remains because of her past cinematic achievements, one of the most successful actresses Pakistan cinema has ever produced. During her luminous three decade career, her incandescent presence never dimmed and she continued to delight millions of her fans.
She was also one of the few actresses who acted in a slew of films that were so popular that they became Silver Jubilees.
Zeba made her debut in Fazal Ahmed Karim Fazil’s March 1962 sensationalistic film, Chiragh Jalta Raha acting alongside future husband Mohammad Ali, Deeba and Kamal Irani. It was a movie in which the pretty actress, who could have become an easy target for those who warranted that she got ahead because of her looks, worked very hard. Twenty days later Zeba’s second movie was released. This was director Munnawar Rasheed’s Jab Sey Dekha Hai Tumhay, which was Waheed Murad’s second movie as a producer and in which Sohail Rana made his debut as a music director. The cast included Darpan, Lehri, and Agha Jan and was the first time Zeba was given a lead role. Zeba’s next role in Heera Pathar, which was Waheed Murad’s first film as a leading hero and for which he earned a Nigar Award, also established Zeba as a highly reputable actress. The film which was first shown in Karachi’s Naz Cinema in December 1964 kept showing for a record 68 weeks and quickly earned a Golden Jubilee status. The film was also director Pervez Malik’s debut and earned its scriptwriter M. Aqeel Khan a Nigar Award. Another Silver Jubilee film (26 weeks) was director S.M Yusuf’s 1965’s Eid Mubarak in which Zeba again acted opposite Waheed. The same year director Hassan Tariq’s Kaneez with Mohammad Ali and Waheed Murad again remained in the cinemas for 67 weeks. It seemed that every film in which Zeba acted was a veritable success.
But on March 18 1966 producer Waheed Murad released director Pervez Malik’s deeply melancholic film Armaan, which Zeba has been quoted as saying, is her favorite film of her entire career. The film was also Pakistan’s first Platinum Jubilee film and displayed Zeba’s refined tragic style that became forte and her trademark. Nineteen sixty-six saw Zeba acting alongside Waheed in Iqbal Yusuf’s Golden Jubilee film Josh, Sheikh Hasan’s Jaag Utha Insaan and in 1967 Shabab Kiranvi’s moralistic Golden Jubilee film Insaniyat and Pervez Malik’s Golden Jubilee Ehsan in which she once more acted in a tragic role alongside its producer and scripter, Waheed.
During this glittering era Zeba was considered the most prominent actress of her generation and she continued to act prodigiously in films like director Khaleel Qaiser’s Silver Jubilee Maan Baap director Qamer Zaidi’s Silver Jubilee Rishta Hai Pyar Ka, S. Suleman’s Baaji opposite Darpan, M.S. Dar’s Samera opposite Ratan Kumar, S. Suleman’s Punjabi film Mehdi Walay Hath opposite Sultan Rahi, S.A. Hafez’s Tauba opposite Kamal, S.M Yusuf’s Aashiana, Suhagan, Baalam, Noori, and Mohabbat Rang Laye Gee.
By this time she had married Mohammad Ali and under the `Ali-Zeb’ banner they made the famous Aag and Jaisay Jantay Nahi.
Apart from being a superlative consummate artist, Zeba acted with all great directors and actors of her era including Raza Meer and Luqman, and came to be known as one of the greatest screen tragediennes; her heavy kohled eyes often streaking her face. Some of her most famous tragic roles, amongst a bevy of greats includes: Naukar, Yaadein, Bahu Rani, Shireen Farhad, Aurat ik Paheli, Gumrah, Ilzaam, Ik Phool Ik Pathar, Insaan Aur Aadmi, Afsana Zindagi Ka, Daman Aur Chingari, Dil Diya Dard Liya, Pakeeza, Phool Meri Gulshan Ka, Mohabbat Zindagi Hai, Jab Jab Phool Khilley, Riwaj and Sabaq.
Zeba’s last film as a lead actress was in the whimsical and defeatist sounding Mohabbat Ho To Aisi. Zeba, as she was sometimes popularly called, impressively won three Best Actress Nigar Awards for Armaan in 1966, Insaan Aur Aadmi in 1970 and Mohabbat in 1972.
Zeba’s career was one which never fell into any deep Abysses; her star rose and rose and never set until she wanted it to. Her career is also noted for its inclusion of thoroughly absorbing and entertaining movies that won her millions of fans who saw the actress as Pakistan Cinema’s own sweet heart. That she later decided to cower in her less talented husband’s shadow became another story altogether – Zurain Imam – Mag The Weekly – Karachi