Even though the Indian silver screen has always been exploded by unmatched beauties like Madhubala, Vyjayanthimala, Nutan, Waheeda Rehman, Sadhana, Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu, Madhuri Dixit and sensual weapons like Tanuja, Parveen Babi, Zeenat Aman, Dimple Kapadia, Mandakini, Kimi Katkar, Mamta Kulkarni, Urmila Matondkar, Bipasha Basu and of late Sunny Leone; but the oomph factor, sheer charm and sparkle of incandescent Begam Para remains unmatched till today.
It’s ironical that most of us don’t know much about her and even there will be many firsts who heard her name just now.
If not the American Life magazine and the photoshoot done by ace photographer James Burke, then the quintessential Sex queen would have gone unrecognized. His camera lens captured her in the rawest mercurial form, arousing the dark fantasies of cine lovers.
She ruled the Indian cinema industry between 1940s and 1950s. Her sexuality on the screen was electric. She used to wear pants and jeans and championed an unconventional lifestyle. Film magazines of those days wrote endlessly about the frank utterances and open lifestyles of Begam Para. In one of her interviews, she said, “I have millions of memories from those days. I didn’t smoke as I never liked it. But I did drink even when it was considered taboo. I used to hold a glass of whisky openly, unlike other actresses who mixed whisky in colas and pretended that they were teetotalers.”
She was a rebel, coming from a respectable and a Muslim family she joined film industry; a rare phenomenon in those days. He father was Chief Justice of the princely state of Bikaner, now northern Rajasthan. She had a Bombay connection to start with. Her brother Madsrurul Haq and his actress wife, the dusky Bengal-born beauty, Protima Dasgupta used to live in the city, paving her way to the ‘Sapno ki Nagri’.
She first faced camera at the age of 17 in film, Chand. This was followed by Chhamia a year later and then in quick succession: Shalimar and Sohni Mahniwal (1946), Duniya Ek Sarai,Lutera, Mehndi, Neel Kamal and Zanjeer (1947), Jharna, Shaahnaaz and Kidar Sharma’sSohag Raat (1948), Dada (1949), Meharbaani (1950), Ustad Pedro (1951), Laila Majnu, Naya Ghar (1953), Aadmi (1957) and Do Mastaane (1958). Her co-star in Dada, Dara and Ustad Pedro was the swashbuckling Sheikh Mukhtar, all these three movies were great hits.
She married actor Nasir Khan, the younger brother of veteran actor Dilip Kumar. They had three children, including actor Ayub Khan (Mirtyudand movie). Her husband died in 1974. Following her husband’s death, she briefly migrated to Pakistan in 1975 returning to India again after two years.
She made a comeback on the silver screen in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya in 2007 as Sonam Kapoor’s grandmother. She was not keeping well and used to come on the sets on wheelchair. The following year, 2008, she embraced someone more beautiful and eternal than her – Death.
Leaving you with her memories, from the eyes of James Burke.
(Photo credit: James Burke, Life Magazine, Source: Life archive hosted by Google).