Munawar Sultana (1924–2007) (her name in all her films opening credits), also written as Munnawar Sultana, or Munawar Sultana was an Indian cinema actress, who acted in Hindi/Hindustani films. She is cited as one of the "popular" actresses of late 1940's to early 1950s period, along with Noor Jehan, Swarnalata and Ragini. Her forte was playing roles of a selfless woman, enduring the rough treatment meted by her husband and family, but who eventually "brought her erring husband back home".
She came into prominence with Mazhar Khan's Pehli Nazar (1945), her first film in a leading role. A discovery of actor-producer-director Mazhar Khan, she became inundated with film offers, becoming one of the busiest actresses by 1949, along with other leading ladies like Suraiya and Nargis. Some of her successful films were Pehli Nazar, Dard (1947), Elaan (1947) Kaneez (1947), and Babul (1950).
Munawar Sultana was born on 8 November 1924, in Lahore, British India, into a strict Punjabi Muslim family. According to an interview with son Sarfaraz and daughter Shaheen, conducted by Shishir Krishna Sharma, Munawwar's father was a radio announcer. Munawwar wanted to become a doctor but was side-tracked by an offer in films. This was a small role in the film Dalsukh Pancholi's Khazanchi (1941), where she played a barmaid, and had a song "Peene Ke Din Aaye" picturised on her. She went by the screen name Asha for this period. According to Patel, Munawwar came to Bombay from Lahore courtesy the actor-director Mazhar Khan in 1945. She became popular with her film Pehli Nazar, a role she stated was one of her favourites.
In 1945, she was visited in Lahore by produce-actor-director, Mazhar Khan, who contracted her on a monthly fees of Rs. 4000 plus an apartment, and brought her to Bombay. Munawwar's first film with Mazhar was Pehli Nazar, where she was cast opposite actor Motilal. In the popular song "Dil Jalta Hai Toh Jalne Do" (Let the Aflamed Heart Burn) play-backed by singer Mukesh for Motilal, Khan focused on Munawwar's close-ups during the picturisation.
Following Pehli Nazar, she was kept busy through 1947-1949 working in several films. Baburao Patel wrote in the cine-mag Filmindia 1949, about her being one of the most over-worked actresses along with Suraiya and Nargis.
In 1947, Munawar acted in four films, Dard, Elaan, Andhon Ki Duniya and Naiyya. Dard was directed by Abdul Rashid Kardar under Kardar Productions. In spite of no big stars in the film, it turned out to be a surprise "musical hit" at the box-office. The hero of the film was Kardar's brother Nusrat (Kardar), while Suraiya played the second lead, with Munawwar Sultana as the main heroine. Munawwar lip-synched three songs voiced for her by Uma Devi, a Naushad discovery. The song "Afsana Likh Rahin Hoon" became a big success. Elaan garnered positive reviews for Munawwar. A Muslim social, the film was praised for its “progressive attitude” towards the need of education. It was directed by Mehboob Khan and had Surendra as the male lead.
1948 saw Munawar in four more films. Parai Aag was produced by Great India Pictures and directed by Najam Naqvi. The film starred Munawar with Madhubala and Ulhas. Sona (Gold) was another Mazhar Khan directed film for his Mazhar Arts Production. Majboor was a Bombay Talkies production, under the direction of Nazir Ajmeri. It had Shyam opposite Munawwar with music by Ghulam Haider. Bombay Talkies had gone through several changes following Himanshu Rai's death, and Devika Rani's partnership with S. Mukherjee had produced several box-office hits. With first Mukherjee, and then Devika Rani leaving as head of production of Bombay Talkies, Ashok Kumar and S. Vacha returned to Bombay Talkies and took over control. Their first film was Majboor. The story was an "inter-communal" love story, with a Muslim boy falling for a Hindu girl. Munawwar formed a "hit-pairing" with Shyam in this film, while Lata Mangeshkar came into prominence under the music direction of Ghulam Haider. Meri Kahani was directed by cameraman Keki Mistry and produced by Sharaf for Super Team Federal Productions (Bombay). The film co-starred Munawwar and Madhubala with Surendra. A comedy of errors, it has the hero in a double role leading to mistaken identities.
1949 was Munawar's busiest year with seven releases. Dil Ki Duniya was directed by Mazhar Khan for his Noble Arts Production. It co-starred Geeta Bali and Mazhar with Munawar. The film was praised for its "versatility" and "well-balanced production values", along with good performances by Munawwar, Mazhar and Geeta Bali. The film was claimed to have done "well" at the box-office. Her standout film that year was Kaneez, directed by Krishna Kumar for Caravan Pictures. A Muslim social, it had Munawwar with Shyam, and Kuldeep Kaur. She played a suffering woman married to a way-ward husband, who eventually returns to her. It was described as one of her best roles.
Out of her four films released in 1950, Munawar's most notable film was Babul (Father's House). She acted opposite Dilip Kumar and Nargis in this love triangle. Directed by S. U. Sunny, the music was composed by Naushad. The film became a major success at the box-office. She acted in a few more films till 1956, with Jallad being her last appearance.
From 1950, Munawar's career slowed down and she acted in fewer films. She met her husband Sharif Ali Bhagat, a businessman, on the sets of a movie for which he provided furniture. He produced two films with Munawar in the lead, Meri Kahani (1948) and Pyar Ki Manzil (1950). Following the sudden death of her husband in 1966, Munawar managed her family of four sons and three daughters.
In the last eight years of her life, Munawar suffered from Alzheimer's disease. She died on 15 September 2007, at her home in Ambedkar Road. Pali Hill, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.