Even though Madhubala is considered the most beautiful Hindi film heroine ever, actress Shyama revealed that she and most of her colleagues, in fact, considered Bina Rai to be the most beautiful heroine in Hindi filmdom in their time, ahead of Madhubala.
Bina Rai was born Krishna Sarin on July 13, 1932 in Lahore and came from a typical Punjabi family that frowned on women working in films. While still in college, Bina filled up a form for a talent contest. Despite much opposition from her family, she still travelled to Bombay and what's more, won the contest and the first prize of Rs 25,000 - a huge sum in those days! The prize also included a lead role in Kishore Sahu's Kali Ghata (1951) opposite Sahu himself. Although she was active in college dramatics, her parents put their foot down as far as a career in films was concerned. It is said Bina went on a hunger strike to get them to agree. The ploy worked.
With Kali Ghata, Bina made an impact with her very first film and was touted as a star in the making. The film did well at the box-office aided by some fine music by Shanker - Jaikishen with songs like Dil Mein Tu Mere Dil Mein Tu, Unke Situm ne Loot Liya and O Kali Ghata Ghir Aayi Hai.
However, Bina's big breakthrough came with Anarkali (1953). Anarkali looks at the mythical and legendary love of Prince Salim (Pradeep Kumar), the son of Akbar with the court dancer Anarkali (Bina Rai), a commoner. When his father, Emperor Akbar (Mubarak), finds out, he is furious and does his best to thwart the romance saying a commoner could never be the empress of India. Salim, nevertheless, is adamant and rebelliously leads an army against his father. He is defeated in battle and brought before Akbar who sentences both, him and Anarkali to death. At the last moment, however, Akbar is unable to give the final order to the executioner to behead Salim and while freeing him tells him that Anarkali also is free. However, Anarkali has been taken to be entombed alive in a brick wall and by the time Salim reaches there, she is already sealed alive... Even though her dancing skills were questionable, it was to Bina's credit that she responded with a great performance and made the role her own and was forever identified with it, no mean feat considering Madhubala played the same role to brilliant effect later in K Asif's magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam (1960).
1953 also saw the release of Aurat where Bina acted opposite Premnath, the Indian version of Samson and Delilah. Though the film flopped, Bina and Premnath fell in love during its making and got married. They did a string of films together, Shagufa (1953), Prisoner of Golconda (1954) - an early colour film, Samundar (1957) and Chengiz Khan (1957) but never really clicked as an on-screen pair. In fact, on screen Bina's best pairing was with Anarkali co-star, Pradeep Kumar - a partnership that saw such films as Durgesh Nandini (1956), Hill Station (1957), Ghunghat (1960) and Taj Mahal (1963).
Other important films that Bina did include the BR Chopra directed Shole (1953) opposite Ashok Kumar, Gyan Mukherjee's Sardar (1955) opposite Dadamoni again, Madh Bhare Nain (1955) with Kishore Kumar, SS Vasan's Insaniyat (1955) - the only film to co-star Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar together, the thriller Marine Drive (1955) and Satyen Bose's Bandi (1957). Good as Bina was in these films, somehow she never quite captured the aura and magic of Anarkali.
Taking a break during which her second son, Monty, was born, Bina returned to the silver screen making a huge impact in Ghunghat. In a tale of mistaken identities and misunderstandings, Bina held the film together winning the Filmfare Award for Best Actress, but one has to add here that the decision looks a little unfair especially as she was up against Madhubala's brilliant act in Mughal-e-Azam.
Thereafter, the closest Bina came to matching Anarkali was in another historical drama, Taj Mahal, playing Mumtaz Mahal to Pradeep Kumar's Jehangir. The film, directed by M Sadiq, was a huge success at the box-office and Bina gave a fine performance as the Empress for whom the Taj Mahal was built. The film was further aided by a great musical score by Roshan with gems such as Jo Vada Kiya Woh Nibhana Padega, Jo Baat Tujhme Hai Teri Tasveer Main Nahin and Jurm-e-Ulfat pe Log Humein Saza Dete Hain. Strangely, she did just three films post Taj Mahal, her last release being Phani Majumdar's Apna Ghar Apni Kahani (1968) playing Mumtaz's long suffering mother.
Her son, Prem Kishen, tried his hand in acting in the 1970s and even had a huge hit with Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye (1977) but was unable to sustain his acting career. He became a successful producer launching the Cinevista banner that has produced several successful TV serials. Her grand-daughter Akansha too tired her hand at acting while grand-son Siddharth Malhotra is a filmmaker.
Bina Rai passed away in Mumbai on December 6, 2009 following a cardiac arrest.