Leading Ladies: Pakistan’s Veteran Female Directors

July 11, 2021

Sexism in a male-dominated industry hasn’t deterred female Pakistani directors from making their mark – ever. Instep celebrates some of the veterans and leaders of the field.

Leading Ladies: Pakistan’s Veteran Female Directors

The Pakistani entertainment industry may have seen innumerable ups and downs, but has persisted nonetheless, and survived.

It has seen, worked with, and thrived despite dictatorial martial laws, regulatory bans, censorship, fundamental violence, political turmoil, cinema burn-downs and demolishment. The industry has provided, decade upon decade, entertainment to a nation wrought with abject poverty, economic crises, and most recently, a full-blown pandemic.

Despite the evident sexism and not too many female role models known for their leadership behind the camera in the industry, there are several female Pakistani TV and film directors who seized their audience and won accolades with their incredible work. However, their achievements remain less talked about, especially when compared to their male contemporaries. Moreover, these directors have not had it easy, their journey has been challenging and we salute them for having paved the way for the next generations of female directors. Here are six women who have captained their ship with immense flair:

Sangeeta a.k.a. Parveen Rizvi

One of the pioneering film directors of Pakistan, Sangeeta carved a legacy in direction and creating socio-political, pathbreaking cinema that paved the way for niche filmmakers and constructed a bridge between commercial and critical success in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Daughter to Tayyab Rizvi (renowned film producer and distributor) and Mehtab Bano (prominent producer and screenwriter), Sangeeta, much like her parents, was fascinated by the world behind the camera and turned to direction in 1976. Her blockbuster hit film Society Girl was a bold, feminist narrative for the time, and earned her the Special Nigar Award for Best Director. Society Girl was the story of Julie (played by Sangeeta herself), who worked as a demure secretary by day and as a seductive club dancer by night to support her debilitated mother and younger sister. Sangeeta earned two more Nigar Awards for her film Muthi Bhar Chaawal in 1978, both as Best Supporting Actress and Best Director. The story of the film was based on the novel Ik Chaadar Meli Si penned by Rajendra Singh Bedi. She has also directed Punjabi pulp films like Sher-e-Lahore and Kuryan Shehr Diyan. It is a little-known fact that Sangeeta has over 70 films to her credit as a director in Urdu, Punjabi and Pashto. Her grit, rigour and spirit to tell unconventional stories and her canonical contribution during the resurgence of Urdu cinema in Pakistan’s film industry makes her a force to reckon with, even today.

Shamim Ara a.k.a. Putli Bai

After a stellar career as an actor, Ara turned to direction with her debut Jeo Aur Jeenay Do (1976). She then directed Munda Bigra Jaye (1995) which crossed a diamond jubilee back in the day when Pakistan was replete with single screen cinemas. Most of her signature films were women-centric and had a leading lady who possessed vigour and agency, a trait unseen in our industry’s women protagonists today. Her iconic ‘Miss’ series of films include Miss Hong Kong (1979), Miss Singapore (1985), Miss Colombo (1984), and Miss Istanbul (1996) and featured Babra Sharif combating gigantic thugs double her size with utmost swag. Sharif also featured as a protagonist in Ara’s powerfully novel action flicks, Lady Smuggler (1987) and Lady Commando (1989). Ara went on to win back-to-back Best Director Nigar awards for Haathi Mere Saathi (1993) and Aakhri Mujra (1994). Ara’s romantic drama film, Pal Do Pal (1999) is credited as the only Pakistani film to have music which was composed, produced and sung by the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, starring the likes of Resham, Meera and Shafqat Cheema among others. Her iconic contribution to Pakistan’s film industry makes her an unforgettable part of the Lollywood legacy.

The Pakistani entertainment industry may have seen innumerable ups and downs, but has persisted nonetheless, and survived. The industry has provided, decade upon decade, entertainment to the masses, and despite the evident sexism and not too many female role models known for their leadership behind the camera in the industry, there are several female Pakistani TV and film directors who seized their audience and won accolades with their incredible work.

Sahira Kazmi

Known for creating strong feminine as well as feminist narratives, Sahira made her debut as a director when she launched the series Hawa ke Naam. The series raised questions around women’s social image, their rights and the pressures they have to live up to. When Kazmi joined PTV as a director, she directed several progressive cult classics for television. Sahira was a veritable revolutionary when it came to telling stories. Her drama Tapish centered around a student leader who is raped because of her political activism, while Hawwa ki Beti revolved around the gruelling life of an orphaned young girl. Her play Zaibunisa dealt with domestic abuse, Aahat and Nijaat touched upon previously taboo themes like family planning. Her most popular and cherished piece of directorial work remains the medical romantic drama, Dhoop Kinaray (1987), which was scripted by the legendary Haseena Moin but also talked about the plight of bomb blast victims: topical and on-point for the time. Sahira Kazmi is not only revered for her craft, she is also renowned for telling stories that raise uncomfortable questions and subvert societal norms.

Samina Peerzada

Though Samina Peerzada remains more popular as an actor, her work as a director is no less commendable. She began in 1976 with Nazdikiyan, after which she started directing for PTV and made her feature film debut with Inteha (1999). The fact that the film was based on the taboo topic of marital rape caused the film to be removed from cinemas until Peerzada managed to get a stay order from the court, after which it was re-released. Inteha became very successful and went on to receive nine national awards following which Peerzada went on to direct Shararat in 2003.

Sakina Samo

With the arrival of a new millennium, Sakina Samo returned to the industry to produce and direct several award-winning dramas. Among her most notable works is an hour-long telefilm titled Kaun Qamar Ara, which was nominated for every single category at the second Hum TV Telefilm awards. A poetic two-character story which featured veteran actor Shakeel and Faiza Hassan as a couple set against the backdrop of pre-partition India, this telefilm bagged Samo the award for Best Director, Bee Gul the Best Telefilm Writer and Faiza Hassan the Silver Telefilm Award. In 2011, Samo received the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz in recognition of her work in the Pakistani entertainment industry. In 2014, she directed her fifth collaboration with Umera Ahmad, Mohabat Subh Ka Sitara Hai which received both critical and commercial acclaim. Most recently, she directed and produced her first feature film, Intezaar (2020) which has also been scripted by Bee Gul. Featuring Samina Ahmed, Khalid Ahmad, Kaif Ghaznavi and Raza Ali Abid in prominent roles, it is a bittersweet yet poignant take on family, life and relationships, particularly the relationship between elderly parents and their children.

Sultana Siddiqui

Before she became the first woman in Asia to launch her own TV channel, Siddiqui directed several plays for television, including Marvi, Zara Si Aurat, Dil Da Mamla, Yeh Zindagi, Doosri Dunya, Qismat Ke Sitaray, Sassi Punnu, and Thori Si Mohabbat. She made waves with her colossal comeback as a director on mainstream television with her drama serial Zindagi Gulzar Hai in 2012 after a decade-long hiatus from direction. The story revolved around a single mother, her three daughters and the journey of the fiercely independent and occasionally bitter eldest daughter, Kashaf. Featuring stars like Sanam Saeed, Fawad Khan, Samina Peerzada, and Wasim Abbas, the play, written sensitively by Umera Ahmed, was not only a massive hit in Pakistan but went on to be aired in several countries in the West, in South Asia and in the Middle East. It was a potent work which eased and softened Pakistan’s cultural and artistic image across the border, as well as brought global prominence to Urdu dramas.

This list is by no means complete, comprehensive, or absolute: it focuses on the veterans who steadily and extensively contributed to Pakistani mainstream television and film over the past few decades. There are several others who went down the same path, breaking new ground, and adding their voice to the conversations women yearn to have: but that, readers, is a story for another day.

Afreen is a creative writer and digital media professional with an interest in Film, TV and Pop Culture. She can be reached at

Leading Ladies: Pakistan’s Veteran Female Directors