Zaheen Tahira
Zaheen Tahira

RENOWNED television, radio, film and theatre artiste Zaheen Tahira passed away on Tuesday, bringing curtain down on a career that lasted nearly 50 years.

She started her career with radio, then shifted to TV and even worked in a few films. With the passage of time, she became everyone’s favorite Tahira Apa and gained the reputation of being one of the most respected actors in Pakistan.

She leaves behind a large number of fans who grew up watching her plays on PTV and other channels. She suffered a heart attack on June 23 and despite rumours of her death on social media, she came back strongly like most of her iconic TV characters and was discharged from the hospital. Sadly, she left for her heavenly abode in the early hours of Tuesday morning, joining the likes of her co-stars Qazi Wajid who passed away last year and director Syed Atif Hussain who died a couple of months ago.

Born in the Indian city of Lucknow in 1940, she migrated to Pakistan with her family at an early age and became part of the Radio Pakistan family in her 20s, like most of the aspiring actors of that time. When TV came to Pakistan, particularly Karachi, in the late 1960s, she made her TV debut and impressed all with her dedication and command over the language. She played the mother of Nausha (portrayed by Behroze Sabzwari in the 70s version) in Khuda Ki Basti when it was aired in 1969, and became a household name after that. She was part of many hit TV dramas during the 70s, playing Javed Sheikh’s mother in Fatima Surayya Bajiya’s Shama, one of her most popular serials.

With the advent of colour TV, she became a regular on TV plays and even played the wife of late Saleem Nasir (Dastak), Qavi Khan (numerous plays, including Babban Khala Ki Betiyan) and other actors of her time. Since her husband was based in the Middle East during the 80s, she stayed away from TV for a few years but made a comeback after his death for the sake of her children and continued to act till her last breath.

Whenever the directors at the Pakistan Television were in need for a mother in the 1980s or the 1990s, or a positive role that required an actress who could play a motherly character, Zaheen Tahira was their first choice. She had no qualms about playing the character of a poor or a rich woman because she could adapt to both kinds of roles, and that was what made her everyone’s favourite even when she started doing grandmother roles in the latter part of her career.

Her most popular plays include Amawas, She Jee, Chaandni Raatain, Dil Diya Dehleez, Tair-e-Lahooti, Masi Aur Malka, Meray Qatil Meray Dildar, Umm-i-Kulsoom. Babban Khala Ki Betiyan was her final serial in which she played the titular mother of six daughters.

Her last play Barfi Laddu is currently on air and incidentally, she again plays the mother of Behroze Sabzwari in it, the only difference being that her character this time doesn’t rebuke him, but forgets about him due to her short term memory loss.

Zaheen Tahira acted in over 700 drama serials in lead and supporting roles and had the chance to work with the best directors, including Ishrat Ansari, Iqbal Lateef, Bakhtiar Ahmed, Qasim Jalali, Zaheer Khan, Mohsin Ali and Javed Fazil. She shared the screen with iconic TV actors Qazi Wajid, Zahoor Ahmed, Mehmood Ali, Rizwan Wasti, Javed Sheikh, Bushra Ansari, Asif Raza Mir as well as Sultan Rahi in film Sadak in which she played Babar Ali’s mother.

She had the honor of playing grandmother to nearly all of the first-tier actors of today and they all respected her because of her professionalism, her dedication and above all, her motherly attitude to all. Apart from winning the hearts of all who are fans of Urdu dramas around the world, she won a lot of official awards, the most prestigious being Tamgha-i-Imtiaz conferred on her in recognition of her work in the entertainment industry in 2013.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2019