First Glamorous Actress
Neelo who appeared in the cine world of Pakistan in early 50s as a star and its twinkling remained at the silver screen sky for almost three decades. She introduced a new style of a traditional film heroine. Although it was also criticized by the film decriers but at the same time this is the reality that it gave a rapid boost to the film career of Neelo. She continued until at the time of her peak due to her marriage with renowned director and writer Riaz Shahid and discontinued her film acting career. But Riaz Shahid’s untimely demise resultantly existence of his family siblings compel Neelo for her comeback in the film industry but this time she projected herself exactly as per the demand of spectators unfortunately which was not well received by the serious minded film gores. But in spite of all we must appreciate her contribution for the cinematic world and purely from her motherhood point of view which she performed very well and deserve a hat’s off reverence and honor.
Mr. Alexander was resident of Bhera a town near district Sargodha and was leading his life with all financial constraints along with his wife and son Anwar Alexander. On October 1st, 1940, he was blessed with a daughter and named her Naseem Alexander (as Cynthia Alexander Fernandez (some film historian also mentioned her birth date June 29, 1945 and named as Parveen Alexander as well). She was hardly a teenager when she moved with his father from Bhera to Lahore for their better livelihood.
In 1954, MGM produced a film Bhowani Junction, which was shot on location in both Pakistan and England. The film was based on the famous novel by British author John Masters published in 1952. In May 1954 the novel was purchased by MGM to produce through its British production wing (MGM- Britain). As the story of novel was about an incident which was happened in India so movie was finalized to shoot in India but the Indian government rejected MGM’s request to shoot in India, but Pakistan proved to be more accommodating. There are several conflicting reasons that have been cited for the Indian government’s rejection of MGM’s request. The primary reason cited in newspapers is that the Indian government denied the request for the use of Indian army based on the fear of mixing state and private interests.
On the other hand actress Ava Gardner’s memoirs present a different picture, claiming that the move to Pakistan was strictly financial the Indian government wanted to impose a number of taxes, including a 12% tax on global profit, but Pakistan was willing to waive all taxes (Ava: My Story, 1990, 214). In addition to the clear tax benefits of shooting in England, Bhowani Junction also took advantage of the reduced labour costs for their “cast of thousands” that is prominently featured on all of the advertisements. Although film unit under George Cukor the director of the film had their complete film unit with crew but as he required a lot number of worker interpreters for local labour and extras. So in response to advertisement a lot number of male and female labour and extras joined the film company. Naseem Alexander was in her late teens but her appearance was quite fit to be enrolled as extra so Alexander managed to induct her daughter in the MGM film crew as extra. That’s how she debut her film career but once film was released she had hardly a glimpse of her appearance on the film screen. Though she was disappointed but he participation in the film crew lightened a ray of actress in her mind so she started her all out efforts to become actress on any cast. She was meeting all the pre-requisites required for any actress less her dancing competency. After realizing this she laid her emphasis on acquiring this proficiency and as she had inbuilt aptitude for dancing so with laborious practice she further polished it up to acceptable level.
Career as Actress
She announced her decision of becoming an actress to his father who was also facing lot of difficulty in meeting both the ends so had no objection and started visiting the producers and film office for induction of her daughter in films as extra or minor role. Finally she was able to get a minor role in Jafar Bukhari’s Anjam mainly it was a role of an extra. Consequently she got few more extra roles though up to some extent her family’s financial matters were addressed but she was not comfortable as yet she was not been able to get some considerable role in the films.
During the making of Thandi Sarak, Neelo had opportunity to play a secondary role in the film on the request of A. Hameed (Bhaiya Hameed). The director of the film Shabab Keranvi offered her Rs. 500 hundred for the character with the condition that she will not play any role in other films unless the completion of Thandi Sarak. In turn Neelo demanded one thousand rupees or permission to work in other films side by side which was rejected by Shabab Keranvi and there she was out of the film Thandi Sarak.
Her minor appearance in Anjam and other few films was almost unnoticeable, at last she was able to get an entry in film Saat Lakh which subsequently became a memorable film of Pakistan as Saif ud Din Saif was established as film producer, Hassan Tariq debut as assistant director and music of the film was appreciated in all over Pakistan and India. Moreover Saat Lakh confirmed recognition of Neelo as an actress as her song “aaye mousam rangeeley suhaney, jiya na maney, tu chhutti le ke aaja balma’’ in film not only became the hit song of the year but her performance and dance during the song was so synchronized that output was clicked to all film lovers and film makers as well. Still her magic of her song was on when Neelo’s next performance in Yakke Wali further boosted her professional credential when she appeared as side heroine with Mussarat Nazir and according to film story Mussarat Nazir is driving a horse cart (tanga) in getup of young man and girl of village fell in love with him which was played by Neelo. Yakke Wali was released on and hit the box office, it also further enhanced the professional career of Neelo.
After the success of Yakke Wali she appeared in Mahi Munda and Bholey Khan. In Patay Khan which was Aslam Pervez’s first successful film, though Neelo’ s character has got nothing to do with the success of the film but Patay Khan‘s success also included in the list of her film career credential. The top most heroines of that era, Mussarat Nazir and Sabiha Khanum played together in Sibtain Fazli’s Aankh Ka Nasha in which Neelo ensured her presence with a very powerful performance. Syed Shoukat Hussain Rizvi also noticed her character so he offered role of dancer to his upcoming film Jan-e-Bahar which was talk of the town much before of its release. He took audition and found out that Neelo was good dancer but still there was room especially from classical Kathak point of view so Shoukat Hussain asked the number one choreographer of that time Ashiq Samrat for the dance training of Neelo. Who took month for the rehearsal of song which was primarily a ghazal “Apney ashaq ko azmaen ge hum, abb to ji bhar ke khanjar chalayen ge hum” and once the song was shot and edited by Syed Shoukat Hussain Rizvi himself and then projected who so ever saw the Rush print of the song highly appreciated Neelo for her brilliant performance. She performed in close-fitting dress while holding dagger in her hand, so perfectly with the rhythm of music that it became a classical performance even much before the release of Jan-e-Bahar. In every film gathering functions, rather song used to be projected on the request of film producers and other film related personalities. Even the same song was projected in front of foreign delegates on their reception ceremony to Pakistan. But on its release Jan-e-Bahar was unable to come up to its expectations but it gave a very strong platform to the career of Neelo as actress.
In 1957, Nai Larki, Darbar, Aakhri Nishan, Mumtaz, Changez Khan, Neya Dour, Jan-e-Bahar, Kachiyan Kaliyan and Sheikh Chilli were released in which Neelo played secondary role as yet she was unable to play a lead role in any film but at the same time with release of her new film she was establishing herself as an actress. So far she had worked with almost all top heroine of that era which includes the leading ladies Sabiha Khanum and Mussarat Nazir. By nature Sabiha Khanum was amongst those person who are not easy with everyone and maintain a distance with others specially juniors. Whereas Mussarat Nazir was very friendly and used to greet everyone with big smile on her face. So Neelo developed very good relationship with Mussarat Nazir a sort of friendship because Mussarat had no professional rivalry with Neelo as she had with Sabiha because both the actresses had different approach. Moreover, their friendship also gave an access to Neelo with all echelons of filmdom.
Neelo in Lead Role
After Be-dari, Ratan Kumar appeared in Masoom and played the role of brother of the lead heroine (Yasmin), Habib was the hero of the film in which once again Ratan Kumar impressed with his resilient acting performance. In his next film Wah Re Zamanay which was made under the banner of Films Hayat with the cast of Ejaz and Shamim Ara under the direction of Rafiq Rizvi, Ratan Kumar played almost the same role of his film Masoom and moreover this film proved to be his last film as child star. Now Abbas Ajmeri wanted his son to project him as a lead hero in his next film. But as Ratan Kumar was hardly young man and other leading heroines like Sabiha Khanum, Shamim Ara and Mussarat Nazir were not age wise compatible to him, finally they selected the upcoming actress Neelo as heroine of their next film. So in his next film Nagin Ratan Kumar appeared in lead role of a romantic hero with Neelo. Nagin was again a production of Films Hayat under the direction of Khalil Qaiser, Ratan Kumar played a double role (two characters one of Prince and another of snake (Sheesh Naag) who was converted into a human and entered into royal palace as fake prince). Neelo who appeared in Nagin in a lead role for the first time, Saqi played an affective role of sapera, Yousaf Khan, Husna, Rekha, begum Parveen, Nazar and Abbas Ajmeri (Ratan’s father) were in cast of Nagin.
On the other hand both the characters played by the Ratan Kumar were superb and played a vital role in the success and making this film an all-time memorable film. The performance of Ratan Kumar and Neelo in Nagin made them a striking pair of that point of time and subsequently both of them appeared in many films like Alladin Ka Beta, Neelofar, Hussan o Ishq and Barat which was his own production as well. After the success of Nagin Abbas Ajmeri wanted to keep Neelo closer to Ratan Kumar for their subsequent productions as the chemistry of Neelo and Ratan Kumar was well received by all film lovers. Ratan Kumar was himself interested in this imposed affection game. On the other hand another actor Darpan was also desirous to remain close with Neelo but keeping in view his deleterious reputation she was quite cautious on this aspect. Anyways Wazir Ali made another film Alladin Ka Beta which was costume film and both Ratan Kumar and Neelo played the lead role in the film. During the film not only the Ratan Kumar rather his all family was determined to make Neelo as one of their family member. Once Neelo saw this adorable comportment of the family she also got inclined towards the said intentions of Ratan Kumar’s family. Alladin Ka Beta was started with the cast of Neelo and Ratan Kumar so another film of both the artists gave another chance to come closer and understand each other. Since during the making of Alladin Ka Beta, Wazir Ali and their production team including artists did not pay the due attention so result was obvious and film could not achieved the desired results on its release.
The wife of Khair ul Kabi, managing director of Film Development Corporation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) invited Noor Jahan and Neelo for the fund raising ceremony of her school. Since Noor Jahan and Ejaz Durrani were recently married so she asked to go with her spouse. Seeing this Neelo also demanded to go to Dhaka with Ratan Kumar which was agreed and finally they all proceeded as planned. It was well taken by Ratan’s family but fully opposed by the Neelo’s parents. On their returned the matter was turned into a dispute which was referred to Agha G. A. Gul as arbitrator. During the discussion Ratan’s family proposed Neelo which was strongly objected by her brother Anwar Alexandar who in turn also proposed the sister of Ratan Kumar which was not accepted by his family. That’s how this affection went with the wind and spoiled the film making friendly environment of Films Hayat as Neelo declared not to work any further with film with Ratan Kumar and film made under their banner. However she completed the under production films Neelofar and Barat but in coming years her decision proved very fruitful for Neelo. Whereas it badly affected the business of Films Hayat as their mostly film started getting flopped, after visulizing this state of affair Wazir Ali shifted his production house to Karachi but again there all went in vain. Ratan Kumar got married and finally went to United States of America.
In her next film Neelo was paired with Darpan in film Shama which was a film of Nazir. Lead pair was Nazir and Souran Lata and Neelo and Darpan played the second pair. After the departure of Ratan Kumar, Darpan was fully attentive towards Neelo. Darpan produced his next film Sathi and casted Neelo as heroine with himself as hero. It was not wrong if we say that the main purpose of producing this film was to remain close with Neelo, he achieved both of his goals as the film hit the box office and he got closer to Neelo and finally he also proposed her for marriage. Now once again the previous episode of Ratan Kumar was replayed by the Neelo‘s family with Darpan, his reply was very obvious ..…. simple NO with anger and that’s how he went away of Neelo. In 1959, Neelo appeared in films with strong characters which include Lukkan Meeti, Shera, Suchey Moti, Lalkaar, Neend and Koel. In coming years she played prominent role in Khyber Mail, Subah Kaheen Sham Kaheen, Do Rastey, Insaf, Street 77, Shahzadi, Ayaz and Husan o Ishq which was her last film with Ratan Kumar but in spite being a costume film it was not a successful film. She appeared with Aslam Pervez in Darwaza and Bara Bajey and in Azra with Yousaf Khan. She came in Doshiza which was written by Riaz Shahid the same writer who has written Neend her earlier film.
In film Subah Kaheen Sham Kaheen, Neelo appeared with Kamal as lead pair. Earlier both of them appeared in Ayaz as second pair. During the shooting of this film Kamal found Neelo a very mature and promising lady and one fine morning he proposed Neelo. That’s how he became the third man who proposed Neelo and surprisingly they all were from Saadat family background. Neelo was expecting this type of proposition from his new colleague hero but she remained composed and didn’t negate or accepted the offer. Meantime Iqbal Shahzad the intellectual producer wanted to cash the spreading popularity of Neelo so he asked Hassan Tariq to direct the film Banjaran, the basic idea was taken from drama of George Barnardsha. Kamal was selected as side hero with Neelo and shooting was done at Karachi. During a shooting Neelo went unconscious on sea beach due to hot weather and Kamal did his bit and fanatically took care of Neelo. So once she recovered she was told about Kamal’s concern during her ailment that indeed enthralled Neelo. On release Banjaran did box office business and the credit of success of film undoubtedly went to Neelo’s performance as her character was very gallant basing upon which she was given the title of Sex Queen and that remained with her till the time she kept on appearing in films, thereafter. The time she spent with Kamal made her very wise in concluding that he was basically an emotional guy who attracts scandals because of his non serious attitude. As a result she used to be very careful and conscious of this fact whenever she was with Kamal.
By now Neelo was appearing in both Punjabi and Urdu films, in her next film Sher Di Bachi she appeared with Muhammad Ali which was his first Punjabi film. With Muhammad Ali she did Ustad, Lala Rukh, Karishma, Wohti and Paristan but her pair with Muhammad Ali was approved by the audience. Though by new she developed her image as glamorous heroine so she surprised everyone with her performance in Beti which was totally a drama character and she performed very well and proved that indeed she is versatile actress. This impression was further boosted once she appeared in Badnam which was also a production of Iqbal Shahzad who also directed this film. Badnam was derived from Saadat Hussain Manto’s Jhumkey and screenplay and dialogues were written by Riaz Shahid. The highlighting fact of this film is that Iqbal Shahzad asked the writer Riaz Shahid to remain present whenever the shooting of film was in progress so throughout the shoot Riaz Shahid monitored the film on set. Neelo was reaching the boundaries of her success so leaving aside who so ever was the actor against her she never focused her attention on her acting performance. She did maximum films with Sudhir, Habib and Akmal but her relationship remained with them though friendly but very formal within all limits.
Riaz Shahid was deep, thoughtful but very unpremeditated, lighthearted and blunt writer, he was famous for his sarcastic remarks on set without any hesitation. Moreover, he declared acting as an artificial and mocking form of an art and declared writing as purely an innovative and creative activity. Because of his these thoughts and vocal attitude he was never close to any of the actor or actress and no actor was comfortable with him. But during the shoot of Badnam he closely observed Neelo to whom he had declared as showpiece but he changed his thoughts about her after the release of Beti. On the other hand Neelo who was also aware of this fact about Riaz Shahid, she contributed her best during the shoot of Badnam taking it as challenge. She wanted to negate the thoughts of Riaz Shahid with her acting skills but deep inside her soul she accepted the grip of Riaz Shahid in understanding the human behaviors.
Untimely death of Riaz Shahid darken the happy life of Neelo, as earlier mentioned that he was man of his own type, had very opened hand and never saved for tomorrow so Neelo who was left alone had no shelter with lot of financial constraints. She had many other options to get away with her worries but she took another bold decision of her life and that was to look after her family at her own to address the prevailing turmoil. She decided her comeback in the magic world of cinema, her decision was ok but the way she gave her reentry, indeed surprised everyone. In those days impropriety rather vulgarity had rapidly over shadowed the classic and artistic craft of cinematic. Film editor Rehmat Ali debut with Khatarnak as film director which was black and white film, having maximum vulgar colors he approached through his producer to Neelo for the lead role in film. Neelo who was out of main stream accepted the offer and on release film did a record business but she faced lot of criticism from serious minded film lovers. Being spouse of Riaz Shahid and after giving films like Zarqa and Ye Aman, Neelo’s appearance in such B grade films may be questionable and debatable issue. But she had her own priorities, her family’s obligations so no looking back she remained determined and committed, no hesitation at all to go to any limit for the betterment of her kids family.
Izzat was her next film with Waheed Murad after Khatarnak and then signed many other films like Heera with Sudhir, Masood Pervez’s Mera Naa Patay Khan. Dhan Jiggra Maa Da, Watan Eman, Athra, Rajjo, Sultana Daku, Khofnak which was made by team encourage with Khatarnak had same stuff but it didn’t click the film audience. But it did not affect the popularity graph of Neelo which was rising up with the passage of every day. Her comeback was taken very lightly by her colleague actresses which soon became biggest threat for all of them. There was long queue of her films like Ayash, Wardat, Kil kill mera naa, Malikzada, Tera vi jawab nai, Juram main keeta si, Danka, Sadqe Teri mout tu, Ajj diyan kuriyan, Ghunda, Merey Badshah, Nazrana, Chaman Khan, Inqalab, Sharif Shehri, Mout Meri Zindgi, Order, Heera Pathar and Zaki Jaral’s Khatra 440 which was released in September 3, 1982 was another Khatarnak type film but due to so many other reasons including appearance factor of Neelo this film proved to be a flopped film. After Khatra 440, she had saved enough to manage her financial constraints and her kids needed more time of Neelo so she diverted her attention towards home affairs. On the other hand film makers were also becoming reluctant to cast her in main lead role. Occasionally she still gave her entry in some of the film as a courtesy.
By late 60s Neelo was seriously thinking about her career and future matrimonial bondage. Somehow, after the dissolute episodes of Ratan Kumar, Darpan and Kamal, only Riaz Shahid was the gentleman who struck Neelo. Though this blunt writer was not at all financially compatible with her but the glamorous girl was getting overwhelmed with the dry philosophical banter of Riaz Shahid which he used to delivered during the shooting breaks. In her point of view the thing which differentiated him from all other film personalities around her was that Riaz Shahid never shown any desires to be fastened with her. He always conserved a decorum distance but at the same time he was there with his all-out earnest assistance at the time of need. Raiz Shahid was basically fetching Kashmiri guy with fair complexion, his dynamic personality with all his previous successes were captivating Neelo to focus her sight at Riaz Shahid. But she was unable to grasp any conclusion due to some obvious reasons. On the other hand Riaz Shahid who was also admirer of Neelo for her personality but never thought of getting this glamorous girl in his life. Always had the realization of his financial status especially the monetarist difference in between both of them so this datum kept him quiet for any initiative. Finally it was Neelo who instigated positive gestures to Riaz Shahid but the blunt writer was unable to respond positively even against his veiled longings. This puzzled state of affair further exasperated Neelo as she had observed that other fellows were waiting just for movement of her eyebrow. But this man was unique who was just reacting exceptionally.
With this Neelo had the realization that in spite of all her successes she had become a money minting machine for the persons surrounding her and that to with all double standards, full of artificial affections and eager just for materialistic and feminine longings. She found that Riaz Shahid was above of all these things, sometime even bullying but never found him making strategies for covetous benefits, no lust for wealth or woman. He was contented with his old-fashioned family house of Mohni road and upon his conservative thoughts. She also heard him commenting that “An actress cannot be good wife or mother” at the same time so far she analyzed that Riaz Shahid was fulfilling all the pre-requisite she had made in her mind for future spouse so all these mix thoughts perturbing Neelo.
In 1966, king of Iran Raza Shah Pehlvi visited Pakistan for his reception government official approached Neelo for her dance performance in musical evening arranged in the honor of Iranian king. This type of message also conveyed to mostly artists including Noor Jahan who all started preparations for the function. Riaz Shahid also came to know about this news about Neelo since it was an official order instead of request so he asked her to refuse to participate. Accordingly Neelo sent the refusal message but its reaction was abrupt and she was compelled to do that. And district police will make sure on the implementation of the order. She was worried but received another message from Riaz Shahid in which he again mentioned that now it’s my order not to participate in this function. On other hand official pressure was so much that Neelo had no other option except to commit suicide. She took sleeping pills and once her room was opened she was found unconscious and was evacuated to hospital where it was confirmed that she had tried to commit suicide. Riaz Shahid once came to know, immediately rushed towards hospital and he remained there till the time she was out of danger and subsequently discharged from the hospital.
Next day the news was published as main headline of every leading newspaper with the background story and image of Neelo was elevated in the minds of general public. Habib Jalib wrote a poem in the backdrop of this incident:- Tu ke na waqif adab e shehanshahi thi, raqs zangeer pehan kar bhi keya jata hai, (subsequently once Riaz Shahid produced Zarqa he included the same poem and picturised it on Neelo with little bit change in first phrase). After this incident now Riaz Shahid was equally feeling the same about Neelo as she used to be. Soon they agreed to get married. Neelo was Christian but she gave another proof of her loyalty and sincerity with Riaz Shahid by embracing Islam and changing her name to Abida Shahid. After marrying Riaz Shahid faced lot of criticism from all walks of life but he was determined. His family accepted the arrival of film actress in their house as Neelo not only converted her religion but also announced not to work for any film anymore. As it is saying that wife brings the prosperity to husband’s house what exactly happened in Riaz Shahid’s house. He had established himself as writer after Farangi and Shaheed now he planned his next project as direction of film which was about Palestinian girl’s story and named it as Zarqa. For the cast of film which he had finalized less heroine of the film that was yet to be decided, no actress at time was meeting the pre-requisite of his new character. He discussed it with Neelo who was pregnant at that time but showed her willingness to act as heroine of the film. Riaz Shahid included Habib Jalib’s poem with a little bit change and picturized it on Neelo. Shooting of film was completed and on released it hit the box office. Riaz Shahid was so emotionally involved that once Neelo was blessed with a daughter he named her Zarqa basing upon his affection for Muslim and Palestine.
After the release of Zarqa, Riaz Shahid produced and directed other projects as well where as Neelo resigned from her actress career and focused her all attention towards her family and making her house as small paradise which they bought in Gulberg, Lahore. After sometime she was blessed with two more sons one after the other and her family was completed. Riaz Shahid was very busy and committed in making another patriotic film Ye Aman but was facing many hurdles especially from Censor Board and was very perturbed. Then one fine day she came to know about the ailment of Riaz Shahid who was suffering with Leukemia (blood cancer), he had already known the details of his disease but intentionally hide the fact from everyone including Neelo. But now he was on the last stage of his disease, Neelo utilized her all out efforts but Riaz Shahid died on October 1st, 1972.
As regard to her children’s grooming is concerned, Neelo ensured provision of quality life style with best possible education within and outside the country to her kids. She primed her three children almost exactly the way as Riaz Shahid perhaps desired. After seeing the progression of her children one can easily established this fact that Neelo’s step after the death of Riaz Shahid was wonderfully precise, may be dire need of that time.
Ma’am, salute for your services for Pak Cinema, with devotion you raise the family of Late Riaz Shahid and specially for being mother of versatile, dynamic artist Shan who is indeed recognition of Pakistan!
Latest News / Events
Begum Riaz Shahid (Neelo) had undergone a knee surgery in Lahore. After initial recovery she was shifted from hospital to her house. Due to her increasing weight she had developed this ailment but now she is improving after this operation. (March 2013)
This feature (article) need additional input so if you have some details about it, you may assist by sharing the information. Please support us in compiling the first ever directory of Pakistani cinematic and its related artifacts.