Rehana was a top actress of Hindi cinema in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She is regarded as Hindi cinema’s first ‘jhatka queen’, her dances catering to the frontbenchers or the ‘chavani class’ as they was called then, while being labelled vulgar by the educated gentry! Today when one looks back, however, one finds her dances and stagey eye-popping acting pretty harmless wondering what the furor was all about. Rehana, however, loved her sex-pot image and is known to have quipped, “Am I Sexy? Good, I like that!”
Rehana was born, it is thought, in 1931 although there seems to be some confusion over her birth name. While some sources say she was born Mushtar Jahan, others say she was born Rehana Anjuman Chowdhury. What is certain, though, is that she was the daughter of a manufacturer of Moradabadi silverware who owned a factory in Lucknow. And that Rehana began her career while still a child as a dancer on the stage. From the tender age of five, she was trained in Kathak by none other than the legendary Shambhu Maharaj. Maharaj was associated with the great Kajjanbai’s touring company and would sometimes take his pupils for rehearsals when the company was in Lucknow. On being asked to dance at Kajjanbai’s house, Rehana made quite an impact and was taken in as a member of Kajjan’s company. As a member if the troupe, Rehana travelled not just the length and breadth of India but even abroad. On her return to India, Rehana joined ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), which had set up by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment to British troops during World War II.
After been seen dancing at a party where there were several people from the film world, Rehana began her screen career with dancing roles and small supporting roles in films like the KL Saigal-Suraiya starrer Tadbir (1945) and Adab Are (1946). She was then cast as one of the leading ladies in the Prabhat drama, Hum Ek Hai (1946) co-starring Dev Anand, Kamala Kotnis and Rehman. The film was the beginning of a fruitful partnership – in more ways than one, it is said – with the debutant director of the film, PL Santoshi, a partnership that would go on till 1952 through films like Shehnai (1947), Khidki (1948), Sargam (1950), Chham Chhama Chham (1952) and Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo (1952).
Shehnai and Sajan (1947), both made for Filmistan, were Rehana’s breakthrough films that made her a star. The former, pairing her with Nasir Khan, also established director PL Santoshi and music director C Ramchandra, whose super-hit song for the film Aana Meri Jaan Meri Jaan Sunday Ke Sunday was hummed though out the country. Sajan saw her paired with Ashok Kumar and remains one of her most well-known films.
Rehana entered the best phase of her career from 1948-1951 as she did a variety of films paired opposite most of the top heroes of the day – Prem Adib (Actress (1948)), Raj Kapoor (Sunehre Din (1949), Sargam (1950)), Dev Anand (Dilruba (1950)), Shyam (Nirdosh (1950), Surajmukhi (1950)), Shekar (Ada (1951)) and Premnath (Sagai (1951)).
Two of her biggest hits in this period were Sargam (1950) and Sagai (1951). However, most of the films preferred to capitalize on her seductive dances rather than make any great acting demands on her. In particular, C Ramchandra’s light-hearted ditties in these films went extremely well with her ‘dance moves’, which drove the male public, in particular, go wild.
However, post Sagai, Rehana’s career sharply went on the decline as films like Rangeeli (1952), Chham Chhama Chham, Hazar Raaten (1953) and Samrat (1954) all sank at the box-office. Many of her films were also attacked by the film critics of the day, one of whom while reviewing Rangeeli wrote, “In India when a director finds it difficult to make a picture with some intelligence he makes a picture with Rehana. Since intelligence is not easily available to our directors, Rehanas have virtually become substitutes for intelligence in the Indian film industry.”
Soon, Rehana found herself playing second lead in films like Dhola Maru (1956) and Delhi Durbar (1956). In fact, Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo, starring Rehana, Sadhona Bose and Ranjan even had the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting overturning the Universal certificate granted to the film and banning it altogether citing its ‘low moral tone’. The ban was later revoked but killed any chances the film might have had at the box office. With her career on the decline in India, Rehana migrated to Pakistan with the hope of continuing her career there. Her last released film in India was post her leaving India, Mehfil (1957).
Sadly, Rehana’s films in Pakistan like Shalimar (1956), opposite Sudhir, Wehshi (1956) and Apna Paraya (1959) failed at the box office. The only successful film she really had in Pakistan as leading lady was Raat Ke Rahi (1960). Aulad (1962) was also successful at the box-office but by then she was no longer leading lady and Nayyar Sultana played the heroine of the film. She did do another film, Aankh Aur Khoon, around this period co-starring Syed Kamal, but sadly for her, the film remained unreleased. On the personal front, Rehana married the producer of Raat Ke Rahi, Iqbal Shehzad, but it was a short-lived affair. After separating from him, she married businessman Sabir Ahmed. She had a cameo dance number in the Zeba-Syed Kamal-Mohammed Ali starrer Dil Ne Tujhe Maan Liya (1963) after which she faded away from the film scene.
Rehana resurfaced in Pakistan in 1995 as a member of the jury for the Nigar Awards, their equivalent of the Filmfare awards. After her husband’s death, she lived a largely secluded life. It is said that she had begun teaching the holy Quran to children in her later years.
Rehana passed away in Pakistan on April 23rd, 2013.