RANI was the Sophia Loren of the Pakistani cinema. Her classic Punjabi features, pouting lips, swaying hips and heaving bosom mesmerised film viewers in the 1960s and 1970s. She was the sexiest woman in the film industry, and extraordinarily beautiful, despite her heavy use of make-up. At her peak, poets penned epics to her, politicians wooed her, and butchers delivered free meat to her doorstep. Recently her pout featured on television, when she acted in an immensely successful blockbuster soap opera.
Rani (the name means 'queen' in Urdu) was born Nasira Bano, one of many children of a poor family in Lahore. Her parents farmed her out early on and she was adopted by a famous classical singer, Mukhtar Begum, who trained her in the ways of a traditional courtesan to sing and dance. As a teenager she was noticed by the film producer Anwar Pasha, who first cast her in Mehboob in 1964. These were the days when television was still in its infancy and Pakistanis were fanatical filmgoers. Her first film was a hit and the young beauty suddenly became a household name. A spate of films followed until she married the (much older) film producer-director Hassan Tariq in 1970. He insisted she now work only in his films, and they included two memorable big hits, Anjuman and Umrao Jan.
After her divorce in 1978, she briefly married again but never disclosed her husband's identity. Her most spectacular marriage was to the Pakistani cricketer and fast bowler Sarfaraz Nawaz in 1982. It was a romance worthy of the stars and for a time they were the most popular couple in the country. After he joined the Pakistan People's Party, she gave up films and entered politics. He won an election and became an MP - with Rani drawing in the crowds on his behalf. Nawaz divorced her last year, but in her last interview she acknowledged her debt to him. She said she wanted to run for the Senate, become a politician in her own right and work for women's rights.
Rani made a dramatic return to acting in the late 1980s when she appeared on television in two soap operas. In one she played a rich, sexy older woman who falls for a younger man - a role that gossip magazines said was true to her lifestyle in later life. Rani was never a great dramatic actress and she had a limited range. However, people did not go to the cinema to see her act but to see her. In tightly fitted dresses, she would dance and sing among the trees clutching her lover to her, while successive directors ensured that close-ups of her bosom and her famous pout filled the screen every few moments.
However, she was the most celebrated dancer of her generation and her dancing style was copied by numerous starlets trying to make it in the film world. In the 1970s she had developed lung cancer, which she long kept a secret, and she had half of one of her lungs removed in London. It was after that traumatic experience that she fell in love with Sarfaraz Nawaz, who she later said saved her from falling into despair and depression. She developed leukaemia earlier this year, but remained high-spirited till the end, speaking to journalists from her hospital bed and insisting that she still had a career to live.
Unlike other film stars Rani avoided the flashy film social scene, preferring to spend time at her lavish home with a few friends and family. She would spend hours every day making up and dressing. She had one of the most exquisite jewellery collections in the country. There is nobody in the local film industry to take her place and with her passing the era of classic sex symbols in Pakistan has come to an end.Reuse content