Sabiha Khanum: Portrait of an actress

By Anis Shakur
Friday – June 19, 2020
NEW YORK (United States): Bhabi meri bhabi tum jeeyo hazaroan saal, Bhiya hamara yuheen tumhara rakhay sada khayal - Renowned English writer, Samuel Johnson, said, “There can be no friendship without confidence and no confidence without integrity.” That said let us see how Sabiha managed to carve out her fabulous career by winning friends with confidence based on integrity.

Iqbal Begum (Baalu) and Mohammad Ali (Maahia) had a daughter, Mukhtar Begum, who was born in 1934, in Gujrat, Punjab.

The daughter of promising parents, young Mukhtar already had the self-motivation to move forward in the entertainment world.

A cultural delegation visited a cinema house in Sialkot, Pakistan in 1948. Mukhtar Begum, who was part of delegation, strode confidently onto the stage to render this Punjabi song: 'Kith hay ghae yoon pardesia way' The film 'Sassi Punnoo', stars: Baalu, Aslam).

The listeners were stunned, then filled the hall with tumultuous applause and excited chatter.

Small wonder: Hardly any child stars in living memory (with the exception of Noor Jehan) sang as well as she did then.

Looking into Mukhtar Begum's innocent eyes, her father was overcome with joy.

Soon Mohammad Ali (Maahia) introduced his daughter, Mukhtar Begum, to a noted stage drama writer-cum-poet, Nafees Khaleeli.

Overwhelmed by her determination, Khaleeli offered her a role in the drama 'Buth shikan'. She enthusiastically accepted the offer.

Additionally, Nafees Khaleeli changed the name of Mukhtar Begum to Sabiha Khanum.

Bhiya kay dil par Rani bun kar bhabi raaj chalaye
Bhabi ka pyara raaj dulara dewar mauj uraye
Yehe dua hai yehe tamanna sada raho khush haal

The following is a fresh look at Sabiha, and why we still admire her.

Sabiha’s superb performance in 'Buth shikan' set the tone for her future movie career.

Moreover, such focused determination took her where she wanted to go-to the top.

On Nafees Khaleeli's request, the film director Masood Pervez offered Sabiha a role in the film ‘Beli'.

Hence, as a film actress Sabiha made her debut in 1948. ('Beli' was also the first film of Masood Pervez as director. Cast: Santosh, Shaheena, Sabiha).

The film 'Beli' was a harbinger of better movies ahead.

Next, Sabiha played the role of 'Noori' in director Anwar Kamal Pasha's silver jubilee film 'Do Aansoo', starring: Santosh, Gulshan Ara, Sabiha.

Sara ghar day jisay salami bhabi wo perchum hai
Pyar bahan ka maan ki mamta duno ka sangum hai
Is surat ki is seerat ki milti naheen mesaal

'Do Aansoo' takes a realistic approach to the tragedy both in scenery and characterisation.

The film was the crowning achievement of the then movie-crew.

Sabiha gained immense prominence in her next movie which was 'Aaghosh' (Director: Murtaza Jilani, stars: Santosh, Sabiha, Gulshan Ara).

The secret of Sabiha's success in the Pakistani cinema includes flexibility, rooted in love and understanding.

Next to all of that is the fact that Sabiha is an embodiment of courage, kindness and decency.

In the annals of Pakistani film industry, Sabiha stands out. Sabiha dazzled cine-goers in the 1950s.

Additionally, her role in the film 'Ghulam' is highly laudable (released in 1953, director: Anwar Kamal Pasha, stars: Santosh-Sabiha).

Her motivation was always clear and resolute. Directors admired her ability to improvise.

She was unquestionably talented and irrepressibly ambitious.

Her role in the film 'Gum naam' is a testament to her magnificent artistic caliber. ('Gum naam' director: Anwar Kamal Pasha, stars: Seema-Sudhir-Sabiha).

Mein is ghar kay sukh ki khatir hans kay sau dukh jheloon
Is duniya say hansee khushi ki sari daulat lay loon
Tum say tumhari khushiyaan cheenay kis ki hai ye majaal

The film 'Gum naam' is a parable about a mentally retarded girl, (smartly dubbed by Sabiha) is a pleasure to watch.

Further, the interesting story of 'Gum naam' actually carries the film through to the end.

The high profile reputation which Sabiha achieved in the 1950s and 1960s as an actress has only increased.

Sabiha played the role of 'Nooran' in the romantic Punjabi film 'Dula Bhatti', directed by M.S. Daar. Sabiha's character in the film 'Dula Bhatti' is, indeed, an achievement of a life time.

Sabiha was cast opposite all renowned actors of her time. However, she will be remembered most for her films with Santosh Kumar.

Along the way, she found the love of her life-Santosh Kumar.

Once married, they had a great future together.

Movie-goers were treated to a succession of films about popular romance like the film 'Wada' (Sabiha-Santosh).

The film 'Wada' was followed by another spate of magnificent movies, which provided countless hours of pleasure to millions of people:

'Paas baan', 'Sheikh chilli', 'Aas paas', 'Sassi', 'Sohni', 'Choti Begum', 'Daata', 'Hatim', 'Aaj kal', 'Dil mein tu', 'Ayaz', 'Mehfil', 'Pervaaz', 'Tufaan', and 'Pholay Khan’.

The push to reach the zenith did fire her imagination since her earlier days. Her genius in succeeding was largely one of character-patience, self-discipline, rationality and inner resolve.

Moreover, her independence of mind and ability to focus on her work also served her well.

Sabiha's achievement along with Santosh Kumar in the following films is still a worthy yardstick:

'Saat lakh', 'Darbar', 'Sardar', 'Saltanat', 'Mukhra', 'Muskurahat', 'Rishta', 'Hasrat', 'Ishrat', 'Shikwa', 'Teray baghair', 'Mauseeqar', 'Dulhan', 'Kaneez', 'Dewar bhabi', 'Shaam Dhalay', 'Shahen Shah Jehangir', 'Pak Daman', 'Anjuman', 'Sarfarosh', 'Inteqaam', 'Qatil', 'Sawaal', 'Commander', and ‘Mohabbat'.

Her unparalleled performance in innumerable movies are classic characterisations which viewers watch with glee to this day.

Sabiha's role in the film 'Anjuman' was not only unique for her, but a real life test of integrity, as well.

Confidence in one's own judgment, she realised early on, is what matters most. She won the hearts of her fans with her role in the following films:

Director Hasan Tariq's films 'Tehzeeb' and 'Ik gunah aur sahi'.
Direcor Zia Sarhadi's film 'Raha guzar'.
Director Zahoor Raja's film 'Deewana'.
Director Jameel Akhtar's film 'Aik Raat’.

Sabiha, the first lady of the Pakistani silver screen, won the pride of performance award from the government of Pakistan in 1986, and her face was lit by a smile.

Her look is simple-and it is simply everywhere.

To talk of Sabiha in 2020 is to perceive the style and the substance of a graceful lady who defined two generations.

She received the encomiums from her admirers whenever she won the Nigar awards:

Sabiha won the Nigar award for best actress for the film 'Saat Lakh' in 1957
Sabiha won the Nigar award for best actress for the film 'Shikwa' in 1963.
Sabiha won the Nigar award for best actress for the film 'Dewar bhabi' in 1967.
Sabiha won the Nigar award for best actress for the film 'Aik gunah aur sahi' in 1975.
Sabiha won the special Nigar award for her thirty years of acting career in 1981.
Sabiha won the Nigar award for best supporting actress in director Hasan Tariq's film 'Sungdil' in 1982.

Most importantly, the President of Pakistan conferred on her the “Pride of Pakistan,” in 1986.

Sabiha's 42 years of meritorious work in the Pakistani cinema brought her numerous laurels from virtually everywhere.

Her bright smile speaks for her in many ways.

Sabiha also appeared in drama serials from Karachi and Lahore television stations.

She depicts the wit and homespun wisdom of ordinary Pakistanis.

Her brand of patriotism and her down-home style had wide appeal.

The following two national songs recorded in Sabiha's voice, sparked patriotism, renewed inspiration and symbolised in today's terms the Pakistani dream of human achievement-and the unrelenting march toward betterment: Sohni dharti Allah rakhay qadam Aabad tujhay.

Jug, jug, jeeye mera pyara watan lub pay dua hai dil mein lagun.

In Anwar Maqsood's stage show, 'Silver Jubilee', she rendered the following song from the film ‘Mauseeqar':

'Yaad karoon tujhay sham saweray’.

As the final lyrics faded away that evening, the audience stood, applauding insistently.

Ironically, most of the people from the 'nostalgic era' are now dead.

But Sabiha's past performances in the films speaks volumes nonetheless. Sabiha who have been in the public eye for more than four decades retired and lives with her eldest daughter in United States of America (U.S.A).

Additionally, Sabiha's son and youngest daughter have also settled in the U.S.A.

For quite some time, Sabiha suffered from kidney ailment. However, all her pain and suffering came to an end on Saturday, June 13, 2020.

She passed away in her Virginia home in USA, at 86 years of age.

In Sabiha Khanum, the movie-goers have fuelled a legend that will continue to live in the hearts and minds of innumerable movie-goers, long as the Pakistani public round the globe watch her movies.

Info: Eminent storyteller, Anis Shakur, is a Pakistani born United States (US) citizen. He works for the US federal and State government. He resides at a stone-throw distance from the darting shores of the Atlantic ocean in New York, for the past three decades.