In Dulari (Darling) a Punjabi movie released in 1987, the omnipresent Lala of Punjabi action, Sultan Rahi, plays second fiddle to the big-hearted (and big-hipped) Anjuman, who works overtime in a double role as sisters Salma and the eponymous Dulari.

Throughout the 1980s, when Punjabi films dominated Pakistani cinema, there was no bigger female star than Anjuman. Along with leading men Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi and the silver-toned singer Noor Jehan, Anjuman was part of the golden formula that made Punjabi action movies so lucrative.

Anjuman, the granddaughter of the last Nawab of Bahawalpur, began her performing life as a dancer. On the recommendation of 1960s starlet Zeba, who was impressed by Anjuman’s moves, the young, southern Punjabi woman took her initial turns in several unheralded Urdu features before striking gold in 1979 with Waadey ke Zanjeer (Chains of Promises) alongside the dreamy Waheed Murad.

It has often been noted that it was Anjuman’s raw sex appeal that drew and grew her audience. No doubt, her ample bosom and thunder thighs whose risque movements she synchronised to dramatic effect in perfectly timed jerks and jolts were hard to ignore. During that most dire of decades, the ’80s, Pakistanis took their titillation wherever and however they could get it.

But Anjuman was much more than a Multani nautch girl, as Dulari magnificently demonstrates. Director Haider Chowdhary, a prolific veteran of Punjabi films, gave his leading lady an expansive canvas on which to work. As twin sisters Salma and Dulari, Anjuman was able to channel the essential bipolarity of Pakistani womanhood.

As Salma, she was the conservative, submissive demure sharif ladki, and as Dulari, the indomitable self possessed social rebel. In the latter guise, Anjuman fills the screen with a presence that is simply magnetic. She swaggers and preens in outrageous get ups (slim-fit jeans with rolled cuffs; gaudy head gear; sparkling evening frocks with puffy shoulder pads) but doesn’t miss an opportunity to dish up sharp-tongued retorts or shatter society’s glass walls and ceilings. Dulari fearlessly spits her paan into the face of a village big shot, takes unsuspecting strangers to the cleaners and uses her fists and feet with as much skill and effect as Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.

Very early on in the show, after Dulari fleeces an anxious motorist of all his cash, the police decide to take action. In a frantic chase through the streets of Lahore, Dulari is able to duck into the city’s premier concert hall, the Alhamra Arts Centre, where she takes to the stage.

Mera Laung Gawacha, Dulari (1987).

Mera Laung Gawacha (My Nose Ring is Lost) opens with a series of Anjuman’s famous moves and close shots of her ankles and bangled wrists. She proceeds to entertain the audience with a highly stylised folk dance complete with wonderful cardboard bullocks and mango trees. The dancing is good but nothing extraordinary and certainly not as accomplished as the acting that is to come.

What really makes this song a standout (and what made it one of the biggest hits of the ’80s) is the singing of Musarrat Nazir. A leading lady in her own right in the ’50s and ’60s with many outstanding films to her credit, Nazir retired from acting in 1965 after marrying a foreign-settled accountant. For years she disappeared into the void of life in Canada. But in the early ’80s, unable to remain in the shadows any longer, she returned to Lahore to revive a public career.

Almost instantly, Nazir found work as a singer. Her playful voice was not as dynamic as some but was easy on the ears and TV on which she was a frequent performer, enhanced the appeal by showing off her statuesque form and sparkling eyes to great effect. Sadly, after some rather embarrassing public episodes involving the imbibing of alcohol she was repatriated by her husband back to suburbia.

The song itself is a traditional Punjabi engagement song, and Nazir’s rendition was already immensely popular when it was picked up for Dulari. Nazir fills the tune with crisp phrasing and ample coquetry. The music complements with lilting flutes, snappy rubab runs and fine Punjabi percussion, including a frenetic dholak solo.

All in all, Dulari is a double treat. Anjuman’s fulsome natural dramatics and Musarrat’s suggestive folk song prove yet again that even amidst Lahore’s mass produced Punjabi output hide many charms that are well worth seeking out.

Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, is out now from Speaking Tiger.

A version of this story appeared on the blog and has been reproduced here with permission.