Zubaida – Profile
Zubaida was born in Surat as a Muslim princess, daughter of the Nawab of Sachin and Fatma Begum (later India’s first woman director). She started her career in silent films at Kohinoor Studios when she was only 12. Her early career was dominated by her extraordinarily beautiful sister Sultana, a better-known star in the 20s. Her second sister, Shehzadi, also became a teenage actress. Zubaida’s best silent work was for Manilal Joshi at the Kohinoor, Laxmi and Excelsior Studios. During her silent days, she developed the tragic dimension of her image in several of Naval Gandhi’s socials including Sacrifice (1927), which was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Balidan and dealt with the sacrifice of animals in the temples of Bengal.
She played the lead in Alam Ara (1931), India’s first sound film. The Indian film industry witnessed a revolution following the release of “Alam Ara”. Produced by Ardeshir M. Irani of Imperial film company, the cast included Rani Zubaida, Master Vithal and Prithviraj Kapoor. It was released at Majestic theatre in Bombay in 1931. The film though a third-rate romance, was an astonishing success. Four anna tickets were sold in black market for Rs four and five and police had to be summoned to control the crowds.
In the 1930s, she made a hit team with Jal Merchant and starred in several successful mythologicals playing characters like Subhadra, Draupadi etc. One of her most controversial films was Ezra Mir’s Zarina (1932), where she played the vibrant, volatile circus girl whose kisses steamed up the screen and sparked off heated debate on censorship. Zubaida was one of the few actresses to make a successful transition from the silent era to the talkies.
With the advent of talkies, she was identified with courtesan roles in big Urdu, stage-derived costume pictures, a tradition extended by Meena Kumari.. Later she freelanced at the Ranjit and Sagar Studios and in her mother’s films: Bulbul-e-Paristan, Heer Ranjha, Milan Dinar. She also set up Mahalakshmi Cinetone (1934) with the film-maker Nanubhai Vakil. Zubaida retired at the height of her stardom in the late 30s, doing only a few films later on.
Zubaida married Maharaj Narsingir Dhanrajgir Gyan Bahadur of Hyderabad and converted to Hinduism upon marriage. She is also the mother of eminent corporate figure Humayun Dhanrajgir. Zubaida spent her last years in Dhanraj Mahal Palace in Bombay amongst her children and grandchildren. She died in September, 1988. She is survived by her son Humayun Dhanrajgir and grandchildren Nikhil Dhanrajgir, Ashok Dhanrajgir, Rhea Pillai and Karen Nina.