This article has been written by Author, film historian and our mentor Arunkumar Deshmukh ji. We thank him for writing this biography and sharing it for the website.
By – Arunkumar Deshmukh
When W Z Ahmed set up his film production company, Shalimar Pictures, Moshin Abdullah joined him in the same capacity which he was holding in Bombay Talkies and shifted to Poona (Pune) with his wife Shahida. Probably it was during this period that W Z Ahmed came to know about Shahida and offered her the lead role in his first film ‘Ek Raat’ (1942). Even though her husband was connected with Hindi films and her sister-in-law (Husband’s sister), Renuka Devi ( Begum Mirza) was an established actress in Bombay Talkies, Shahida was not interested in pursuing a career in films. It was her husband who persuaded her to take the lead role in ‘Ek Raat’ (1942) offered by W Z Ahmed. Saadat Hasan Manto, in his book ‘Stars From Another Sky’ has pointed out that for Moshin Abdullah, Shahida taking up the role in the film was a necessity as he was always short of money due to his gambling habit.
Before the film went on floor, a massive publicity of the film with Shahida getting her screen name ‘Neena’ as a mystery woman was launched, with giant billboards on the roads of Karachi- without showing her face. This created a suspense and she started getting fan mail too, before her film was released. The film was first released in Karachi on 18th July 1942 where it ran for 9 weeks. With the positive feedback from the cine goers, the film was next released in Hyderabad (Deccan) followed by an all-India release. The film was a box office success.
W Z Ahmed announced his next film ‘Man Ki Jeet’ (1944) with Neena and Shyam in the lead roles. However, in the meantime , he released a quicky , his second film ‘Prem Sangeet’ (1943) with Neena and Jairaj in lead roles without much publicity as there was no more mystery about Neena. His concentration was now on ‘Man Ki Jeet’ (1944). She was quite good looking. In 1945, she was voted ” The best dressed beauty of the Indian film world” award from I.F.J.A. She worked in only 5 films, Ek raat-42, prem Sangeet-43, Man ki jeet-44, Prithwiraj Sanyogita-46 and Meerabai-47. One more ambitious film was planned and announced- Shri krishna Bhagwan, in which she was to play Radha. However due to Partition and their migration to Pakistan, this was cancelled.
W Z Ahmed in his capacity as a producer-director was virtually in full control of Neena. Her husband Moshin Abdullah being removed from Shalimar Pictures for not doing his allotted work, had lost his grip over his wife. On the other hand, Neena found wide differences in attitudes towards her of W Z Ahmed who was courteous and her husband who was not only swindling her money in gambling but he was also a womaniser. Slowly, she became close to W Z Ahmed. In 1946, Neena divorced her husband and married W Z Ahmed.
After the partition, both W Z Ahmed and Neena migrated to Pakistan lock stock barrel, leaving the staff of Shalimar Pictures in a lurch as many of the staff had not received their salary for months. In August 1948, Bombay High Court adjudged W Z Ahmed, the sole proprietor of Shalimar Pictures as insolvent. Thus the saga of a ‘mystery woman’ of Hindi films ended in mysterious circumstances.
Although, Ahmed was declared as insolvent, the workers of Shalimar made an attempt to revive the Shalimar pictures company. They pooled their resources and Bharat Vyas produced a movie,” Rangeela Rajasthan ” in 1949, under the banner of Shalimar pictures. Many ex employees like Bharat Vyas , S K Pal and Shyama Dulari etc worked for free. However this last attempt was also not enough to save the company and it was sold out, to pay the dues of suppliers etc.
In Pakistan, she worked for her husband’s 2 films ( Roohi-54 and Vaada-57). The third film remained unfinished, and she retired to remain a housewife-a second time. She died somewhere in April 1990, in Karachi.
Waheeduddin Ziauddin Ahmed, the smart brain behind showing tempting dreams to a housewife and making her an actress in 5 films, died in a hospital in Lahore, after a prolonged illness, on 15-4-2007. It was/is believed by some even now that Neena sang her own songs initially. However, during one of his visits to India , Ahmed made it very clear that ALL songs including those attributed to Neena were sung by Sitara Kanpuri only. This is recorded in Listener’s Bulletin no.134 of July 2007. So, there should be no doubt whatsoever about this. After his death in Lahore, the leading Newspaper of Pakistan, ” The Dawn” wrote a short obituary on him, on 17th April 2007. It throws light on his work. Here it is..
“W.Z. Ahmed, 91, one of the most outstanding film directors of the subcontinent, passed away at a local hospital late on Sunday night ( 15-4-2007). He was suffering from an infection of the lung. He was laid to rest at the Bagh-i-Rehmat graveyard on Monday afternoon.
After coming up with a series of films in only five years, Wahiduddin Ziauddin Ahmed, was not as prolific as some of his successors in the film industry. He directed-produced five films before the partition of the sub-continent: ‘Aik Raat’, ‘Mann Ki Jeet’, ‘Prem Sangeet’, ‘Prithaviraj- Samyukta’ and ‘Mira Bai’ — all released between 1942 and 1947.
After partition, he made just two films ‘Roohi’ and ‘Wada’, while a third one, ‘Wafa Ki Ada’, remained incomplete. The country’s environment was obviously not suited to his brand of cinema and his creation as one of his masterpieces, ‘Roohi’, has the distinction of being the first-ever film to be banned in Pakistan. The government said the film generated ‘class hatred’, and if that was not bad enough, portrayed a ‘rich married woman having an affair with a young, unmarried man’.
The ban was later revoked and ‘Roohi’ was released in 1954. The same year W.Z. Ahmed was at the forefront of the campaign against the screening of Indian films. The protest was known as ‘Jaal agitation’ after a Dev Anand-starrer of the same name that had been imported out of East Pakistan’s quota — a limited number of Indian films were allowed into Pakistan until then — and then brought over to West Pakistan. The protest led to the arrest of Mr Ahmed and many others in Lahore.
Mr Ahmed owned the Shalimar Pictures in Pune and another studio in Madras before 1947. Some very famous writers and lyricists worked for Shalimar, including Josh Malihabadi, Krisan Chander, Ramanand Sagar, Akhtar-ul-Iman and Sagar Nizami. He established the W.Z. Studio at Wahdat Road in Lahore after some years after partition. He spent many years of his life pursuing the ideal of a filmmakers’ cooperative.
Sanaullah Khan Gandapur, who worked as an assistant to W.Z. Ahmed, remembers his guru as an excellent story-writer and a director with a vision and skill to mould actors according to his requirement. “He was a man of diversified interests and immense knowledge,” Mr Gandapur says.
Mr Ahmed was born in Gujarat, India, in 1916 where his father was a senior police officer. He is said to have been moved into filmdom by K.L. Sehgal’s Dev Das. It is said Mr Ahmed went to watch DevDas and was so disappointed with the production that he decided to direct films himself.
He married twice. His first wife was a daughter of Sir Ghulam Husain Hidayatullah. Later on, he married Shahida, who acted in films under the adopted name of Neena. She died a few years ago (April 1990). Mr Ahmed had a son, Fariduddin Ahmed, and a daughter, Afia Rabbani.
Fariduddin Ahmed, well known as Farid Ahmed, was a talented filmmaker who married television and stage actor and producer, Samina Ahmed. Farid died in 1993.
(based on information gathered from The all India Film Directory and who’s who-1946, some Pakistani sites and my notes )