Known for her roles in films like Chitchor (1976) and Gharaonda (1977), Zarina Wahab filled the gap left behind by Jaya Bhadhuri as she took a break from films after her marriage in 1973. The girl-next-door roles at the start of her career made her a household name. Chitchor (1976) and Gharonda (1977) were instant hits and resonated well with the audience of the urban and middle class milieu.
Born in Vishakhapatnam in a conventionally orthodox Muslim family Zarina left her house while still a teen after seeing an advertisement of a diploma course in acting at Film and Television Institute of India. After her stint in Pune she came to Mumbai to pursue her dreams in acting. A meeting with Dev Anand fetched her, her first role in Hindi cinema as the younger sister of Zeenat Aman in the film Ishq Ishq Ishq (1974). The recognition though came from Basu Chatterjee’s Chitchor (1976). A rustic romance of mistaken identities, Chitchor was not just a runaway hit but also widely critically acclaimed. The songs Jab deep jale aana and Gori tera gaon bada pyaara are still fresh in people’s minds. The 1977 release Gharaonda, second collaboration between Zarina and Amol Palekar, was appreciated as well. The story of unfulfilled dreams and lost love resonated deeply with the urban milieu. The anxieties surrounding lives in modern cities bursting to grow and the struggles of the common man within that structure struck a chord with the audience and made her a household name. The songs of Gharaonda were a huge hit as well. Tumhe ho na ho mujhe to itna yakeen hai, Mujhe pyaar tumse nahi hai nahi hai and Ek akela is shehar mein have stood the test of time and are still loved by the audiences.
Meanwhile, she went on to work in films like Anpadh (1978), Gopal Krishna (1979), Salaam Memsaab (1979), Aakhri Insaaf (1980), Sitara (1980), Taxi Chor (1980), Khoon ki Takkar (1981), Chor Police (1983) and others, making a place for herself in the industry as the quintessential small town girl-next-door of Hindi cinema. Her venture into Malayalam cinema came with the film Madanolsavam (1978) when friend and music director Salil Chowdhury referred her to the producer. Her first film was with the legendary actor Kamal Hassan. She went on to do many Malayalam films including Naayattu (1980), Ammakkorumma (1981), Chamaram (1980), Sara Varsham (1982) and Veedu (1982) throughout the 80s. Along with that she also ventured into Tamil, Telugu and Kannada cinema establishing her in the film industry down south as well.
Zarina made a promising career for herself in television as well with shows like Maayka, Zaara-Pyaar ki Saugat, Virrudh, Ek Kiran Roshni ki and Meri Aawaz Hi Pehchan hai. She returned to doing character roles in Hindi cinema with films like Dil Maange More!!! (2004), My Name in Khan (2010), Agneepath (2012) and Dil Dhadakne Do (2015). Her character as Najma in the serial Henna was a drastic departure from her film persona as the girl-next-door to portraying a negative character, which garnered her lot of praise from the audience. One of the most important collaborations of her career has been with Rajshree Productions, in both films and cinema. Starting with Chitchor in 1976 to films such as Gopal Krishna (1979) starring opposite Sachin Pilgaonkar, both major hits, she went to do many more films with Rajshree, namely Naiyaa (1979), Sawan Ko Aane Do (1979), Jazbaat (1980) and Dard-e-dil (1983).
During the shooting of the film Kalank Ka Tilak (1986), Zarina met Aditya Pancholi and fell in love with him; marrying him after 15 days of courtship. Her marriage with Aditya has been nothing less than a roller-coaster ride surrounded by constant rumors and speculations by the media though she has always maintained a silence on the topic. Her son Sooraj Pancholi made his debut with the film Hero (2015) while her daughter Sana also dabbled in films.
Zarina still continues to work in both television and films in Hindi as well as Malayalam cinema.