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‘Afsana Likh Rahi Hoon’ - Munavvar Sultana

26 Mar, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Imeg Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Munavvar Sultana, the star actress from 1940s who ruled the hearts of her audience with her eternal beauty and amazing performances. She reached the heights of fame in a short span of time but gave it all up for domestic bliss. Completely devoted to her family, she moved away from the glitz and glamour of showbiz and with time her name faded into oblivion. Even her contemporaries did not know about her whereabouts, some even believed that she was no more. However, the truth is that though unwell, Munavvar Sultana lived with her family at Pali Hill area till 5 years back before her passing.

According to her businessman son, Sarfaraz and daughter Shaheen, their mother was born on 8th November 1924 in Lahore. Her father was a Radio Announcer. Since childhood, she wanted to be a doctor and after completing school she was preparing to enter the medical field. Around the same time she got an opportunity to play a small role in the famous producer-director Dalsukh Pancholi, (owner of Lahore based Pancholi Pictures) film Khandan. Pran and Noorjehan were the lead pair of this hit film released in 1942 whose music director was Ghulam Haider.

Poster of Khandan.  Image Courtesy:  Beete Hue Din

Mumbai's famous actor/producer/director Mazhar Khan was looking for a new face for his film Pehli Nazar (1945). After seeing her work in Khandan, he decided to cast Munavvar Sultana as the leading lady for his film and called her from Lahore to Mumbai. The leading man of this film released in 1945 was Motilal. Legendary singer Mukesh started his playback career with this film. Before this, he had sung songs for Nirdosh (1941) and Dukh Sukh (1942) which were picturized on Mukesh, himself. Sung by Mukesh, his first recorded playback song Dil jalta hai to jalne de, written by Dr Safdar Aah and composed by Anil Biswas was picturized on Motilal.
One can gauge her popularity from the fact that she modelled for the famous soap brand LUX which has featured every successful leading lady of her times.

After Khandan (1942) in a career spanning 12 years, Munavvar Sultana worked in 26 films as the leading lady – Pehli Nazar (1945/Hero-Motilal), Andhon Ki Duniya (1947/Mahipal), Dard(1947/Nusrat Kardar), Elaan (1947/Surendra), Nayya (1947/Mazhar Khan), Majboor (1948/Shyam), Meri Kahani (1948/Surendra), Parai Aag (1948/Ulhas), Sona (1948/Mazhar Khan), Dada (1949/Shyam), Dil Ki Duniya (1949/Mazhar Khan), Kaneez (1949/Shyam), Nisbat (1949/Yaqoob), Raat Ki Rani (1949/Shyam), Sawan Bhadon (1949/Ram Singh), Uddhaar (1949/Dev Anand), Babul (1950/Dilip Kumar), Pyar Ki Manzil (1950/Rehman), Sabak (1950/Karan Dewan), Sartaj (1950/Motilal ), Apni Izzat (1952/Motilal ), Tarang (1952/Ajit), Ehsan (1954/Shammi Kapoor), Toofan (1954/Sajjan), Watan (1954/Trilok Kapoor) and Jallaad (1956/Nasir Khan). One can gauge her popularity from the fact that she modelled for the famous soap brand LUX which has featured every successful leading lady of her times. The first-ever song sung by Uma Devi, Afsana likh rahi hoon for the film Dard (1947) and Betab hai dil from the same film sung by Suraiya and Uma Devi was picturized on Munavvar Sultana. The song Milte hi aankhein dil hua deewana kisika from Babul (1950) sung by Shamshad Begum and Talat Mehmood for Munavvar Sultana and Dilip Kumar was a chartbuster of its times. Her film Kaneez (1949) composed by Master Ghulam Haider and Hansraj Behl is also famous for being O.P.  Nayyar's debut film. He did the background score of this film.
Poster of Dard. Image Courtesy:  Beete Hue Din

Films Meri Kahani and Pyar Ki Manzil were produced by Mumbai's well-known Furniture Retailer, Sharaf Ali under the Super Team Federal Productions Banner. In 1954 Munavvar Sultana married Sharaf Ali and bid adieu to the film world. Her last film Jallaad was released after her marriage. In 1966, after the sudden demise of her husband, domestic (four sons and three daughters) and business responsibilities fell on her shoulders which she successfully handled. She was now completely disconnected from the film world and with passing only one question was left behind – “Is Munavvar Sultana alive?” 
Image Courtesy:  Beete Hue Din
For my column Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon in the weekly Sahara Samay, I wanted to interview Munavvar Sultana but whoever I met in this regard said: “she is possibly not alive”. This uncertainty was making me uncomfortable. One day I received a call from Shri Prem Krishna Tandon, a resident of Delhi, who had come to visit his son in Mumbai. He told me that he occasionally wrote about old films for newspapers in Delhi. He was an admirer of my column and wanted to meet me. He got my contact information from Dhirendra Asthana, bureau chief for Sahara Samay, Mumbai who he reached through Sahara Samay's NOIDA office. Meeting this 75 years old elderly gentleman with immense knowledge about vintage cinema was an achievement in itself. Surprisingly during our conversation, he suggested that I should write about Munavvar Sultana. He told me that she is very much alive and lived in Mumbai. He also gave me her contact information. Three years ago he met her at her Mumbai Residence but given her condition, she was as good as dead. 

(We are saddened that Shri Prem Krishna Tandon passed away on 15th Aug 2012 in Delhi at the age of 82. A heartfelt tribute from the team for Beete Huye Din.)

In the third week of March 2005, I visited Munavvar Sultanas residence. She lived on the second floor of Sehgal House, Ambedkar Road, Pali Hill. Sitting quietly on a wheelchair, unaware of everything, even herself, she was staring at nothingness. For the past 8 years, she was suffering from the incurable Alzheimers which was now in its last stages. I spoke to her son Sarfaraz and daughter Shaheen about her. They said – “We can't give her riddance from this disease but try our best that while she is around she should not have any problems, though at this stage she is beyond feeling any happiness or pain. She is like a statue which rarely shows any signs of life.”

Munavvar Sultana passed away on 15th September 2007 in Mumbai at the age of 83.

(Part of Shishir Krishna Shamra's Beete Hue Din blog series)

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