In an interview with the Rajya Sabha Television show Guftagoo in 2013, legendary Hindi film actress Shyama reminded the anchor Irfan about the adage that stars are born, not made. “I never needed to be taught [about acting]... I was confident and didn’t need to think too much,” she said.
Shyama died in Mumbai on Tuesday at the age of 82. She had over 140 films to her credit, including Aar Paar (1954), Bhai-Bhai (1956) and Sharada (1957). She is survived by her sons Farooq and Rohin and daughter Shirrin.
Shyama was born as Khursheed Akhtar in Lahore on June 7, 1935. She made her debut as a teenager in a qawwali in Shaukat Hussain Rizvi’s Zeenat (1945). She was renamed Shyama by the filmmaker Vijay Bhatt, and appeared in numerous films in the 1940s and mid-’50s.
Shyama’s best-known film is Guru Dutt’s Aar Paar (1954), in which she plays the spirited daughter of a garage owner who falls for an ex-convict (Guru Dutt) working for her father. The song Sun Sun Sun Zalima, featuring the lead pair, is one of the highlights not only of Shyama’s career but also of Hindi film music.
In a career spanning 40 years, Shyama played a range of roles. In Bhabhi (1957), for instance, she plays a scheming sister-in-law who plots to separate brothers. Shyama cites this role as one of her favourites alongside Aar Paar, Sazaa (1951), and Sharda (1957).
Sharda, a remake of the Tamil hit Edhir Paradhathu (1954), is the story of a woman (Meena Kumari) who marries the father of her lover (Raj Kapoor). Shyama plays the woman who marries Kapoor’s character.
In Sazaa, Shyama was directed by the renowned cinematographer Fali Mistry, whom she would later marry. “You are most photogenic, I don’t need special lighting for you,” Mistry apparently told Shyama during a photoshoot. When asked what her weaknesses were for the Guftagoo show, Shyama didn’t cite cars, jewellery or perfume. “My greatest weakness was always Fali,” she said.