It may be true that time is cruel to lady film stars, but it’s never as cruel as the industries that employ them. Take, for example, the case of Punjabi superstar Sultan Rahi, who, throughout his career, blew through a series of favored leading ladies, all of whom putatively outgrew their charms as Rahi continued to go strong. And keep in mind that Sultan Rahi looked like this:
Further keep in mind that this picture of Rahi is from 1981, when he was entering the fourth decade of his astonishing 600+ film career. And, had he not been killed in 1996, he would no doubt still be going strong today as a scowly, pointy bag of bones.
Maula Jat. Aasia’s retirement in 1980, after only a ten year run in the industry, left a vacancy that was ultimately filled by one of Rahi’s most enduring and influential leading ladies. That leading lady was Anjuman, who had begun her career in Urdu language films, but transitioned to the Punjabi film industry for her debut opposite Rahi in Sher Khan.
Hunterwali, she also established herself as an action hero in her own right, displaying a rough-and-tumble physicality that was previously unheard of in Pakistani cinema, where the heroines of action films were typically consigned to the role of adoring cheerleaders for their macho leading men.
As you have probably already guessed, I watched Sher Khan without the aid of English subtitles, and so it presented itself to me as little more than an impenetrable procession of different pairs of men yelling at each other. Of course, given the type of film that it is, one need only be patient until the narrative fat boils down to a rivalry between Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi with Anjuman in the middle. The three actors are clearly in the full bloom of mega-stardom here, and are each, delightfully, given screen introductions that are thunderously iconic. In fact, Rahi -- who here basically reprises his Maula Jat role, gandasa and all, albeit under the name “Sultan” -- gets what is by far the most over-the-top intro I’ve yet seen him receive, with every hysterically pitched signifier in the Punjabi cinema arsenal put to the task of communicating that his arrival on the scene is indeed a very big deal (yes, there are lots of thunderclaps):
As for Qureshi, who plays an imposing police captain, we see all of the activity in a bustling town square go into freeze frame as his feet trod purposefully by, and get a weird POV shot that incorporates his sunglasses before finally seeing his face:
That said, for many of us, the cultural hurdles will come early in Sher Khan, specifically in an opening scene where a leering bandit breaks into a family’s home and tries to make off with their teenage daughter. We see the father pick up a pair of scissors, and fully expect him to attack the bandit, but instead he hurls the blade into his daughter, who breaks free from her captor and runs tearfully into her father’s arms, only to die soon after from her injury.
Mustafa Qureshi: He likes kittens, just like you do!