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.
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.
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.”
Sarhadi?” I ask.
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.
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.”
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
“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.”
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.
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
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.”
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.”
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.