The television industry in Pakistan has produced great names that have left an everlasting impression on viewers with their acting talent. Khayyam Sarhadi was one such veteran artiste who brought to life countless screen characters, and was a stalwart of the old school of acting.
Born in then Bombay to Zia Sarhadi and Zara Sarhadi in 1948, Khayyam had it in his genes to become an entertainer par excellence. His maternal grandfather, Rafiq Ghaznavi, was a musician and since both his parents were writers, he was into showbiz from an early age. When the Ayub Khan regime imprisoned his father for his political views, the young Khayyam was packed off to the United States to study. From there, he received his Masters degree in cinematography and he travelled through Europe making documentaries before returning to Pakistan in the ’70s, after the death of his mother.
Once back home, Khayyam did some theatre before he was picked up by noted TV producer Yawar Hayat to act in his plays. Not only did he portray roles of substance throughout the next three decades, he also worked in Jamil Dehlavi’s films — he had a minor role in The Blood of Hussain (1980) and he portrayed Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar in Jinnah (1998).
Despite his father’s long-standing association with films, Khayyam Sarhadi bid adieu to Lollywood after some experiences turned sour. He bowed out after acting in a handful of films which included Bobby, in which he had a small role. His co-star from the film, Javaid Sheikh, remembers him as a versatile actor, “Khayyam was a lovely person to be with and he was an institution unto himself due to his vast experience. He portrayed every possible role an actor could wish for. One of his last plays — Anokha Laadla — is produced by my brother Saleem (Sheikh) and we are all saddened by his death.”
Actor Ahsan Khan remembers Khayyam Sarhadi as an actor who always improvised, “I always benefited from his fatherly figure as he cooperated with the juniors on the sets. Even in two of his last plays — Parsa and Dastaan — he was there to guide us and make us learn from him. His scripts were always written in Roman since he couldn’t read Urdu. Even that didn’t stop him from improvising, speaking his own lines at times which gave his acting the natural touch we all would die for. I am honoured to have shared the screen with him in Dastaan, Ghuroor and Imtihaan. Sadly, in Parsa, his character Joseph dies of a heart attack and that is also how he left us for good.”
Khayyam Sarhadi’s father, Zia Sarhadi, the famous writer-director-lyricist, had Indian classics Hum Log (1951), Baiju Bawra (1952), Footpath (1953) and Awaaz (1956) to his credits as a writer, lyricist and director, whereas he wrote Laakhoon Mein Aik in Pakistan. Carrying the Sarhadi legacy was a challenge for Khayyam who made his debut in the ’70s.
Umar Anwar, who directed Khayyam in Kaavish’s music video of Bachpan feels that he lived up to the expectations his father might have had from him. “Ever since I saw him in Mann Chalay Ka Sauda, I wanted to direct him. I got the chance to do so in the music video where he had to portray a father who loses his son due to his strict rules and regulations. Khayyam Saheb spent the night before the shoot developing the character of the father and kept asking me about the characteristics of the father he was supposed to portray. By the time we were ready for the shoot, he was not Khayyam Sarhadi but the character he had conceived. This is a quality of a true actor. Working with him was not only a learning experience but also a dream come true for me,” he said.
Director Mohsin Talat also feels honoured on being able to direct the veteran actor in a handful of TV plays. “He was a thorough professional and his command over expression, pauses and stresses was amazing. We never got bored in his presence since he used to spend time with us as a friend. Although I am young enough to be his son, he never let age affect our relationship and listened to us as any actor would. He always shared his life experiences and struggles with us, which benefited us both personally and professionally.”
With plays such as Aik Thi Maina, Daastan, Laazawal, Mirza and Sons, Suraj Ke Saath Saath, Mann Chalay Ka Sauda, Ghulam Gardish, Meri Zaat Zara-i-Benishaan and Parsa to his credits, Khayyam Sarhadi left us on February 3, after suffering cardiac arrest. He was the recipient of the Pride of Performance award by the Government of Pakistan, and also won fans all over the world with his natural acting and wizardry over expressions.
Khayyam leaves behind seven daughters, four from his marriage to actress Atiya Sharf and three from his second wife, actress Saiqa, along with a legacy of plays that will keep his memory alive for an eternity.
Director Mohsin Talat recalls, “In order to judge the greatness of an actor, one must first judge him as a person. For actors and directors, Khayyam Sarhadi was a teacher who gave lessons with every gesture and mannerism. All those who knew him were saddened by his death which is proof of how great an artiste he really was.”