After the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947, one has seen Indian and Pakistani actors visit each other’s countries off and on to act in films. If actress Ragini was among the earliest to have visited India in the early 1950s to make Insan (1952) and Chamki (1952), in recent times, we have seen Pakistani actor Fawad Khan make quite a name for himself in India with Khoobsurat (2014) and Kapoor & Sons (since 1921) (2016). Similarly, we have seen Naseeruddin Shah visit Pakistan to lend his talent to films like Khuda Kay Liye (2007) and Zinda Bhaag (2013).
One of the earliest instances of Indian artists acting in Pakistani films came in 1955-6, when actresses Sheila Ramani and Meena Shorey went over to West Pakistan to make the films Anokhi (1956) and Miss 56 (1956) respectively.
Sheila Ramani had broken through making a sizzling impact as dancer Sylvie with Navketan’s Taxi Driver (1954) and was still looking for a firmer footing in the Hindi film industry when the call to make Anokhi came. Ramani’s family came originally from Sindh and had migrated to India due to the Partition. Beginning with the Filmistan production, Anand Math (1952), Ramani had begun life as an actress in India.
Ramani had family ties to Anokhi. The film’s producer, Sheikh Latif, was her uncle, which probably explains why she agreed to do the film in the first place, apart from the fact that the film revolved totally around her. Besides Ramani, Anokhi had another Indian contribution in that Timir Baran co-scored the music of the film along with Hassan Latif. Anokhi had veteran actor Shah Nawaz directing the film with the former manager of Lahore’s Regal Theatre, Shad, co-starring opposite Ramani. Future star, Nayyar Sultana, played the key supporting role of Ramani’s younger sister.
However, unlike its title, Anokhi was hardly a one of a kind film. It was, in fact, a total rehash of the Hollywood film, The Fabulous Señorita (1952). And what’s more, Bollywood had already discovered The Fabulous Señorita first and reworked it as Albeli (1955) with Geeta Bali playing the title role!
The Fabulous Señorita is a light-hearted musical-comedy film that starred vivacious Cuban actress Estelita Rodriguez. Directed by RG Springsteen, the film sees Cuban lass Estelita (Rodriguez) covering for younger sister Manuela (Rita Moreno) – who’d rather elope with her boyfriend than go to college – by pretending to be both the sisters even as she falls in love with a visiting American professor! There is enough craziness, confusion and mayhem including a much talked about spanking scene even as the story shifts from Cuba to America with Estelita having to continue the impersonation of her ‘identical twin sister’. Finally, once the entire mess is sorted out, you predictably have the customary happy ending with both gals getting their guys!
Anokhi released in Pakistan on January 21, 1956. Sadly for Ramani, it proved to be just a one-off movie outing for her across the border as the film, in spite of having some solid base material to play with, proved to be less than average fare. A reviewer of the film noted that “The makers of Anokhi have missed the other important features of The Fabulous Señorita. The plot of that film was brief and compact, the picture moved at a brisk pace, the timing was precise and slick, and the acting was fairly good. In Anokhi, the plot is lengthy and slightly loose, the film moves leisurely, the effort to regulate timing is weak, and there is not much in the acting. Another odd feature of Anokhi is a half-hearted attempt to bring the events and characters in accordance with Pakistani requirements. Either the plot should have been adapted wholly, or left, as it was, in the Latin-American back-ground. Partial adaptation does not create a favorable impression and certain incidents seem incongruous in the changed setting.”
Commercially too, the film failed to make any noise at the box office. Today, Anokhi is largely remembered in Pakistan as being the debut film of comedian Lehri and playback singer Ahmed Rushdi while some old-timers recall its melodious musical score. In particular, the song Gaadi Ko Chalana Babu became extremely popular and remains a favorite with the older generation in Pakistan even today while another well appreciated song from the film was the night club number Deep Bujhe.