Khayam Sarhadi  


                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Back to News


IWell-known actor Khayyam Sarhadi died at Lahore on Thursday 3rd February, 2011. He was about 70.

His daughter Zille Sarhadi said that he suffered the heart attack during the shooting of a drama, and was pronounced dead in a hospital.

Funeral prayers were held at his residence, 406-DD, Defence Housing Authority, after Juma prayers on 4th February, 2011.

Son of pre-partition film producer and lyricist Zia Sarhadi, Khayyam Sarhadi acted in a number of popular PTV dramas like Man Chale Ka Sauda, Sooraj Key Saath Saath and Deep Se Deep Jale.

Since he was educated in England, he could not read Urdu and had to get his dialogues rendered in Roman.


His father was a progressive person who produced three films, Hum Loag, Footpath and Awaz, before the partition. He also wrote lyrics for films like Lal Haveli, Jugnu and Anokha Pyar.

He started his career from theatre and later joined Pakistan Radio but he got fame from number of TV plays like “Waris”, “Anokha Ladla”, “Man Chaley Ka Sauda”, “Sooraj Key Saath Saath” and “Deep Sey Deep Jaley”. The actor also performed in three movies including “Dakoo” and “Bobby” but he left the film industry. Since he was educated in England, he could not read Urdu and had to get his dialogues rendered in Roman.
The actor is survived by two widows and three daughters. Khayyam Sarhadi was first married to TV actress Atiya Sharaf and then to film star Saiqa. His daughter Zille Sarhadi is an actress and model.

The Inherited Talent - A Long Innings: Khayyam Sarhadi

“I have seen you on television for as long as I remember watching television itself.” I say to the veteran actor as we sit down on a quiet afternoon for this interview, overlooking the creek and those of the mangrove trees still left there. He nods. It looks like he acknowledges albeit with a touch of embarrassment.
I then ask him if he has any links with the ‘Harkatul Mujahideen Al-Almi.’ He is shocked. “Don’t you know there is a ‘Khayyam Sarhadi’ belonging to that group who was arrested on September 11 this year? The only difference is that there is a ‘Nawab’ prefixed to his name,” I inform him, recalling the name that had struck me after reading the news item in a national daily. We laugh about the coincidence, although, perhaps it is no laughing matter.

“So you do actually belong to the ‘Sarhad’’ don’t you?” I ask, to which he replies that his paternal grandfather was from Peshawar; he imported green tea from China, while his maternal grandfather, Rafiq Ghaznavi, (the famous music director) was from Afghanistan, but worked in Bombay (Mumbai). “My father was sent to Bombay in the early ‘30s, to look after the tea business there.”

“Zia Sarhadi?” I ask.

“Yes, but his name was Fazl-e-Qadir; he changed it to Zia Sarhadi, as most people in Bombay were known by their places of origin…Jalandhari, Lyalpuri…” He then spoke at length about his parents.

I only vaguely got to know the purpose of Sarhadi’s visit to Karachi: recordings for serials, one directed by actor-turned-director Mahmood Akhtar, and another one by Mehreen Jabbar.

Sarhadi’s father was a story-writer, lyricist and director. Well known for his Hum Log (1951), the film that won a number of awards in the Russian film festival held during the early fifties. Also for Baiju Bawra (1952) for which he wrote some spirited dialogues, and for several such landmark films. “My father was associated with the leftist group in Bombay that was active in IPTA – an Indian Peoples Theatre group that included people like Raj Kapoor’s father Prithvi Raj, Balraj Sahni, Durga Khote and others. When Dad wrote his first film script – a story called Mun Mohan - he got in touch with director Mahboob, who took him to a financier for the film. He listened to it rather indifferently. Suddenly, during the story-reading session, they heard someone sobbing from one of the rooms inside the house. It appeared that the daughter of the financier had been listening to the story and was immensely moved by it. The man was then convinced that the film would be a success.”

I conjecture that it was perhaps natural that the son take after his father and enter the world of showbiz. “No, it wasn’t that simple,” Sarhadi says with a misty look. “My mother wanted me to be what I am. She has been dead for thirty years now;” he looked to his right towards the sea and continued, “buried there in Manora. She is the most wonderful person I have ever known, and I have a most unique relationship with her. Believe it or not, I still speak to her…” I am unprepared for this, but I let him speak without interrupting. “After she was dead, I asked her whether I should enter television and the theatre. Her answer was positive.”
“From Bombay, where I was born and grew up, we came to live in Lahore for some time and then moved to Karachi in 1956. My mother, Zara Sarhadi, who was a writer as well, started the PECHS Girls School here together with Begum Majeed Malik and others.”

Apparently, life became hard for the family as Ayub Khan’s martial law cracked down on communists and Zia Sarhadi was hounded. The young Khayyam, at age fourteen, was sent to the USA by his mother. He relates how miserable he was in New York City where he was living with his father’s cousin. He wrote long letters to his mother about the endless boulevards and sky-high buildings of NYC, and how much he missed her. “Those were tough days. Communication was not easy. I lived from letter to letter. When my mother wrote back – and she had a unique style – I found solace and lived on for a few more weeks until her next reply. Did I tell you I left my uncle’s house and was on my own? It was not easy, but I learnt a lot of lessons quite early in life.” However, coaxed by his mother, he went on for a Master’s degree in cinematography in the US.
“I was also in Germany for some time where, together with a friend, I made some documentaries, sneaked into Yugoslavia during Tito’s rule there, and staged a few plays as well. I don’t think I have come across better actors and plays since those days in Yugoslavia.”

He came back from the US when his mother died. Staying behind, Sarhadi decided to see the country and bought a Khyber Mail train ticket from Karachi to Peshawar. On the way, he got down at Lahore and asked a tonga driver to take him to Gulberg. The family had lived there briefly several years ago when his father was making a film in Lahore. On reaching his old neighbourhood, he sought out architect Nayyar Dada who he had known during that brief period spent in Lahore.

“Dada then informed other friends who had known me, including Sarmad Sehbai, who took me to PTV the following day. I was sitting with Sarmad when the producer of a Punjabi comic play offered me a role in it.” Sarhadi could neither speak Punjabi, nor read the Urdu script. Nevertheless, the producer and those present in the room were bowled over when, after listening to the script, Sarhadi mimed his part. Thus began his journey into television.

Dr. Anwar Sajjad, who was a fan of Sarhadi’s father, then asked him to play a part in an Urdu stage play, Aik Thi Maina, which he had written. “Samina Ahmad, Shujaat Hashmi and other co-actors helped me learn the lines for that play. My first wife, Atia, also acted in that play.”

Sarhadi has four daughters, one from his previous marriage, who is a doctor in the army, whereas the other three were born after he married film actress Saiqa. “She had come to watch a stage play in which I was acting. Atia and I were going through our divorce during that period. Saiqa met me back-stage, and in a few days we realised that we were made for each other. We have been married for twenty-two years now.”

Sarhadi’s father died in Madrid, Spain, where he was visiting his daughter. Sarhadi says his father left him a dozen film scripts which, some day soon, he will use for his own productions. It seems that a fourth generation of artists is now in the making. “My youngest daughter, Zharghuna, just thirteen, wants to become a director.”

Khayyam Sarhadi firmly believes that art has to be nurtured on the physical starvation of the body. “Only then can the finer senses develop, mature. One has to taste hunger and poverty first.” Perhaps his daughter would adopt her father’s philosophy, and direct the films scripted and left behind by her grandfather.