Waheeda Rehman has acted in more than 90 movies across languages. The Federal takes you through 10 of her iconic films
Waheeda Rehman (85), who is being honoured with this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke Lifetime Achievement Award, has acted in more than 90 films across languages. She made her debut at the age of 16 in Telugu film Rojulu Marayi (1955), a silver jubilee movie, which was remade in Tamil as Kaalam Maari Pochi in 1956. Rehman played a dancing child artiste in the film. Her last outing was the 2021 sports drama Skater Girl, a coming-of-age film, in which she plays a benevolent Maharani.
Rehman was born in a Tamil and Urdu-speaking family in Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu. Her father, Mohammed Abdur Rehman, was the District Magistrate, who would be posted in several places. As a child, Rehman and her three elder sisters were trained in Bharatanatyam in Chennai. She studied in St. Joseph’s Convent in Visakhapatnam when her father was posted there in the then-Madras Presidency. She had taken up Rojulu Marayi after she lost her father in 1948. But in the year it was released, she lost her mother, Mumtaz Begum.
Having acted alongside Dev Anand in CID, Rehman rose to prominence with her collaborations with filmmaker Guru Dutt. Then, she acted in Khamoshi opposite Rajesh Khanna which became her career’s biggest hit. In 1974, Rehman married Shashi Rekhi, known by his screen name Kamaljeet, her hero in Shagoon (1964), a businessman who had earlier tried to make it in films and moved to Bangalore. 1964 was also the year Guru Dutt, who had fallen in love with Rehman while he was married to the playback singer Geeta Dutt, died. Rehman has two children: Sohail Rekhi and Kashvi Rekhi, both of them are writers. The Federal takes you through Waheeda Rehman’s 10 best-known films:
1. CID (1956): A crime thriller directed by Raj Khosla and produced by Guru Dutt, CID marked Waheeda Rehman’s debut in Hindi cinema. In the film, which primarily revolves around a police inspector named Shekhar (Dev Anand), who is assigned to investigate a murder case, she plays a supporting role as Kamini, the good-hearted moll. But her luminous face and her terrific screen presence caught the attention of filmmakers, paving the way for her illustrious career, which made her one of the most iconic actresses in Indian cinema. CID is celebrated for its suspense, astute direction, and memorable music by O.P. Nayyar, and the lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri and Jan Nisar Akhtar: its hit songs include Leke Pehla Pehla Pyar, Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan, Ankhon Hi Ankhon Mein, and the playful Kahin Pe Nigahen Kahin Pe Nishana, which immortalised Shamshad Begum, one of the first playback singers in the Hindi film industry.
2. Pyaasa (1957): Waheeda Rehman was only 18 when Pyaasa was made. Directed by Guru Dutt, it revolves around an unsuccessful and idealistic Urdu poet Vijay (Guru Dutt) in Calcutta. His socially relevant poetry is often unappreciated in favour of superficial, romantic works. Waheeda Rehman delivers a career-defining performance as Gulabo, a golden-hearted prostitute, who helps Vijay get his poetry published, and falls for him. Vijay’s former girlfriend Meena (Mala Sinha) marries a publisher named Ghosh for financial security. Ghosh hires Vijay as a servant to know more about him and Meena. A case of mistaken identity leads to Vijay being thought of as dead. Ghosh, who makes a killing by publishing Vijay’s poems, refuses to recognise him, and he is sent to a mental asylum Vijay escapes to be at the memorial service for the ‘dead’ poet. Ultimately, disgusted by the hypocrisy around him, he declares he is not Vijay, and leaves with Gulabo to start a new life. Its songs like Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To Kya Hai, penned by Sahir Ludhianvi, symbolised a sense of disillusionment and criticism of a society that values materialism over genuine human emotions and creativity. A classic considered to be one of the best films of Indian cinema, it was remade into the Telugu film Mallepoovu (1978).
3. Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959): Directed and produced by Guru Dutt, Kaagaz Ke Phool is a tragic masterpiece of Indian cinema on the pain of lost love and the passage of time. Waheeda Rehman’s role as Shanti, a talented but ill-fated actress, is one of her most memorable performances. The film delves into the harsh realities of the film industry and the personal sacrifices made by artists. Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt), a troubled film director, falls in love with Shanti and transforms her into a famous star. Suresh Sinha’s wife (Kumari Naaz), meanwhile, is unhappy with his relationship with Shanti. Their relationships form the central conflict in the film, where love and ambition clash with social expectations and family disapproval. Guru Dutt’s direction, the haunting music by S.D. Burman, and the poignant lyrics by Kaifi Azmi made Kaagaz Ke Phool a timeless classic. Some of its soulful songs, like Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari and Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Hasin Sitam, reflect the changing dynamics of friendship and loyalty, and the tyrannies of time.
4. Guide (1965): Directed by Vijay Anand, Guide showcases the remarkable chemistry between Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman. This adaptation of R.K. Narayan’s novel of the same name tells the story of Raju, a tourist guide who transforms into a spiritual guide for Rosie (Waheeda Rehman), the repressed wife of a wealthy and rigid archaeologist, and a talented dancer Waheeda Rehman’s portrayal of Rosie is exceptional; she skilfully depicts her character’s journey from a struggling artist to a liberated woman. It was Waheeda Rehman’s second film with Dev Anand. Later, she would do other films with him, like Solva Saal, Kala Bazaar and his directorial debut, Prem Pujari. Guide boasts of a melodious soundtrack composed by S.D. Burman, and timeless songs like Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai and Piya Tose Naina Lage Re, penned by Shailendra, who wrote lyrics for several successful Hindi film songs in the 1950s and the 1960s.
5. Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960): A romantic drama, Chaudhvin Ka Chand, directed by Mohammed Sadiq, features Waheeda Rehman as Jameela, the epitome of grace and beauty. Set in Lucknow, the film revolves around the friendship and love between two friends (Guru Dutt and Rehman Khan) who fall for the same woman, and end up in an accidental love triangle. Waheeda’s ethereal presence adds depth to the film, and the qawwali sequence Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho(a romantic ballad sung by Mohammed Rafi), remains an iconic cinematic moment. A super-hit at box-office, it became one of the top-grossing films of 1960. Its other notable songs composed by Ravi with penned by Shakeel Badayuni include Mera Yaar Bana Hai Dulha, a joyous celebration track, Dekh Aasmaan Mein Chand Taare, a romantic duet by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle, and Balam Se Milan Hoga, another heartfelt rendition by Mohammed Rafi.
6. Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962): Directed by Abrar Alvi and produced by Guru Dutt, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is a classic that showcases Waheeda Rehman’s versatility as an actress. Her role as Jaba, a lonely and neglected wife, is hauntingly poignant. Based on a 1953 Bengali novel by Bimal Mitra and set in Calcutta during the last years of the nineteenth century, the film explores class disparity, marital discord, and the decline of a feudal aristocracy in Bengal in post-independence India. Jaba is married into a wealthy zamindar (landlord) family, where she struggles to find her place amidst the complex dynamics of the household. Her character is marked by her curiosity, vulnerability, and desire to break free from social norms. Jaba’s character serves as a poignant representation of the changing times and the aspirations of women in a patriarchal society. Its songs, composed by Hemant Kumar, and featuring lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni, effortlessly complement the film’s narrative, adding depth to its emotional core. Notably, Geeta Dutt’s soulful rendition of songs like Na Jao Saiyan Chhuda Ke Baiyan captures the melancholic essence of Jaba’s character, echoing her yearning for her husband’s affection. In contrast, the playful and melodious Bhanwara Bada Naadaan Hai highlights the simpler joys of Jaba’s village life.
7. Ram Aur Shyam (1967): In this delightful family drama, directed by Tapi Chanakya, Waheeda Rehman plays the role of Anjana ‘Anju,’ the daughter of the wealthy Mr Gangadhar (Nazir Hussain). The film is known for its dual role concept, with Dilip Kumar portraying twin brothers. Anjana is the love interest of one of the titular characters, Shyam. Waheeda Rehman’s chemistry with Dilip Kumar is one of the highlights of the movie. A remake of Chanakya’s 1964 Telugu film Ramudu Bheemudu, it was the second highest-grossing Indian film of 1967, domestically in India and overseas. Its music was composed by Naushad, with lyrics written by Shakeel Badayuni. Notable songs include Aaj Ki Raat Mere Dil Ki Salami Le Le, a lively wedding celebration song by Mohammed Rafi, and Main Hoon Saaki Saaki, a soulful Lata Mangeshkar rendition that beautifully conveys the film’s emotions.
8. Khamoshi (1969): In Khamoshi, directed by Asit Sen, Waheeda Rehman shines as the dedicated and compassionate nurse Radha at a mental hospital presided over by the dictatorial Colonel-Doctor (Nasir Hussain), an ex-army doctor. The film, which stars Rajesh Khanna (and Dhamendra in a guest appearance) explores the emotional complexities of a nurse-patient relationship, and Waheeda’s nuanced performance tugs at the heartstrings. The film’s music by Hemant Kumar, especially the haunting Tum Pukar Lo, adds to its emotional depth. The film is especially remembered for its music by Hemant Kumar and lyrics by Gulzar in songs such as Tum Pukaar Lo... Tumhara Intezaar Hai sung by Hemant Kumar, Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi by Kishore Kumar and Humne Dekhi Hai In Aankhon Ki Mehekti Khushboo sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Though what really made this film stand out was the B&W cinematography by Kamal Bose.
9. Kabhi Kabhie (1976): Produced and directed by Yash Chopra, Kabhie Kabhie is a musical romantic drama that features Waheeda Rehman in a supporting role as Anjali’s mother. The film revolves around love, relationships, and the complexities of marriage. Written by Pamela Chopra, it stars an ensemble cast, including Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Raakhee, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh. This was Yash Chopra’s second directorial film with Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in the lead roles after Deewaar (1975) and was particularly noted for its soundtrack compositions by Khayyam, and lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. The title track, Kabhie Kabhie Mere Dil Mein Khayal Aata Hai, sung by Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar, remains an iconic romantic ballad. The film’s soundtrack, featuring songs like Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon and Tere Chehre Se Nazar Nahin…, speak volumes about the timeless quality of its music. Kabhi Kabhie earned an estimated ₹40 million at the box office, becoming the eighth-highest grossing Hindi film of the year.
10. Rang De Basanti (2006): In Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, Waheeda Rehman plays the character of Mrs. Aishwarya Rathod, the grieving mother of Flight Lt. Ajay Singh Rathod (Madhavan), who tragically loses his life while serving in the Indian Air Force. Her character is marked by the pain of losing her son, and she represents the anguish and sorrow experienced by countless mothers and families who have lost loved ones in service to the nation. Rang De Basanti explores themes of patriotism, youth activism, and the connection between the past and the present. Its soundtrack has been composed by A.R. Rahman, with lyrics by Prasoon Joshi. Notable songs include Luka Chuppi, a soulful track sung by A.R. Rahman and Lata Mangeshkar, and Khoon Chala, a powerful song by Mohit Chauhan.
Compiled by Nawaid Anjum