Sabiha Khanum (Punjabi, Urdu: صبیحہ خانم, born Mukhtar Begum, 16 October 1935, Gujrat) is a Pakistani film actress. She was the leading star of Pakistani cinema in the 1950s and 1960s and continued to pay award winning roles for the duration of the 80’s and 90’s. She also acted in well respected and award winning television dramas.
Most of Sabiha’s movies were with her husband, the late Santosh Kumar (Syed Musa Raza). Sabiha and Santosh were highly regarded as the “perfect couple” and their fans were enthralled and delighted to see them acting together in award winning and wonderful films together.
Early life[ .]
Mukhtar Begum is the daughter of Mohammad Ali (Maahia) from Delhi and Iqbal Begum (Baalu) from Amritsar, Punjab, India. She was raised in a conservative rural environment by her grandparents, but got her first acting opportunity on stage in Lahore, after moving there to be with her father.
A cultural delegation visited a cinema house in Sialkot, Pakistan in 1948. Mukhtar Begum, who was part of the delegation, sang the Punjabi song “Kithay gae yoon pardesia way”from the film Sassi Punnoon (which starred Baalu and Aslam). The performance was praised, and soon Mohammad Ali introduced his daughter to a noted stage drama writer and poet, Nafees Khaleeli. Noting her determination, Khaleeli offered her a role in the drama But shikan, which she accepted. Nafees Khaleeli gave her the screen name of Sabiha Khanum.
Current life[ .]
She lives with her daughter in Leesburg, Virginia, USA.
On Nafees Khaleeli’s request, the film director Masood Pervez offered her a role in the film Beli, giving Sabiha her debut as a film actress in 1948. Beli was also the first film of Masood Pervez as director; the cast was Santosh, Shaheena and Sabiha.
Next Sabiha played the role of ‘Noori’ in famous director/producer Anwar Kamal Pasha’s silver jubilee film Do aansoo, starring Santosh, Gulshan Ara and Sabiha. Do aansoo takes a realistic approach to the tragedy both in scenery and characterization. The film was the crowning achievement of the then movie crew.
Sabiha gained immense prominence in her next movie Aaghosh, directed by Murtaza Jilani, starring Santosh, Sabiha, and Gulshan Ara. The secret of Sabiha’s success in the Pakistani cinema includes flexibility, rooted in love and understanding, in addition to the fact that she is an embodiment of courage, kindness and decency. In the annals of Pakistani film industry, she dazzled cine-goers in the 1950s. Her role, in the film ‘Ghulam’, released in 1953, directed by Anwar Kamal Pasha, with Santosh was excellent. Her motivation was always clear and resolute. Directors admired her ability to improvise because she was unquestionably talented and irrepressibly ambitious.
Her role in the film Gum naam is a testament to her magnificent artistic calibre. The movie was directed by Anwar Kamal Pasha, starring Seema, Sudhir and Sabiha. This film is a parable about a mentally retarded girl, smartly dubbed by Sabiha, is a pleasure to watch. Further, the interesting story actually carries the film through to the end.
The high profile reputation which Sabiha achieved in the 1950s and 1960s as an actress has increased manifold. She played the role of ‘Nooran’ in the romantic Punjabi film, directed by M.S. Daar. Her character in the film Dula Bhatti is, indeed, an achievement of a lifetime.
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 enjoyed a great future together, which destiny showers on very few film couples.
Movie-goers were treated to a succession of films about popular romance like the film Wada (Sabiha,Santosh). This film was followed by another spate of magnificent movies, which provided countless hours of pleasure to millions of their fans. Paasbaan, Sheikh Chilli, Aas paas, Sassi, Sohni, Choti begum, Daata, Hatim, Aaj kal, Dil mein tu, Ayaz, Mehfil,Pervaaz, Tufaan, and Pholay Khan are a few names to mention.
The push to reach the zenith did fire her imagination since her earlier days. Her genius in succeeding was largely based on 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, Shahenshah Jehangir, Pak daman, Anjuman, Sarfarosh, Inteqaam, Qatil, Sawaal, Commander, and Mohabbat.
Her unparalleled performance in innumerable movies is classic characterizations which viewers watch with glee to this day. Her 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 realized 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, Director Zia Sarhadi’s film Rah guzar, Director Zahoor Raja’s film Deewana and 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, and her face was lit by a smile. Her look is simple and it is simply everywhere. To talk of her in the twenty first century is to perceive the style and the substance of a graceful lady who defined two generations. Her four decades of meritorious work in the Pakistani cinema brought her numerous laurels from virtually everywhere. Her bright smile speaks for her in many ways. She 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, which she sang, sparked patriotism, renewed inspiration and symbolized in today’s terms the Pakistani dream of human achievement and the unrelenting march toward betterment:
- Sohni dharti Allah rakhay qadam 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 Yaad karoon tujhay sham saweray from the film Mauseeqar. As the final lyrics faded away that evening, the audience stood and applauded, paying her great tribute. Though most of the people, belonging to that ‘nostalgic era’ are now dead but her performance in the films speaks volumes.
Sabiha, who has been in the public eye for four decades, at last retired, and now lives with her eldest daughter in U.S.A. Her son and the youngest daughter are also settled there.