LAHORE: Legendary television and stage actor Begum Khursheed Shahid died peacefully in her sleep early morning in Lahore. She was over 95.
Her son, well known actor Salman Shahid, and his wife Tahira Ali, were by her side. She enjoyed music till her last days, even when she could not speak much. She also leaves behind her only grandchild Maha, daughter of Salman Shahid and journalist Beena Sarwar.
Awarded the Pride of Performance late in her career at a time when it held no meaning for her, she was renowned for her no-nonsense character, powerful, sensitive stage and television portrayals and for her professionalism. She was also an accomplished singer and tanpura player who famously accompanied the great classical singer Roshan Ara Begum.
Their relationship began when an awestruck Khursheed Shahid helped Roshan Ara Begum put on her shoes after a mesmerising performance at the Lahore Arts Council in the pre-Alhamra days. For Khursheed Shahid, Roshan Ara Begum was ‘Didi’.
Khursheed Shahid began acting as a child. She and her sisters would play characters from the Ram Leela pageant in pre-partition Delhi. Their father Mohammad Khan was a civil servant working with the Postal and Telegraph department, with the title ‘Khan Sahib’ bestowed by the British.
Khursheed was in grade six when Congress leader Aruna Asif Ali visited her school looking for young talent and selected her. Hearing her sing at All India Radio, composer Feroze Nizami gave her a poem to learn. When he asked her to come the next day so that he could compose it, she said she could do it herself – and did. She knew nothing about raagas but what she produced was, he said with astonishment, “pure Raag Darbari”.
It was at All India Radio that she met the man she would marry, Saleem Shahed from Sialkot, who left Pakistan to become a prominent broadcaster at BBC in the 1960s. The couple lived separately after he went abroad but never divorced.
After her husband left for England, Khursheed Shahid moved in with her parents at their flat in Lakshmi Mansion, Regal Chowk, Lahore. Sadat Hasan Manto was a neighbour.
Continuing to live and earn as an actor, Khursheed Shahid brought up their only son Salman as a single mother at a time when this was practically unheard of, retaining her dignity and commanding respect, forging the way for other women.
Khursheed Shahid’s parents Mohammad Khan, a Mohmand from Badaber village, and Zainab Bibi, a Lodhi Pathan, both from NWFP, held progressive values and believed in education for girls. They supported her singing endeavours and her gradual foray into acting in All India Radio’s feature programmes.
Khursheed was the last remaining sibling of four older sisters and a younger brother. The family had moved to Lahore after Partition of 1947, braving the dangerous train journey. Khursheed began singing at Radio Pakistan and also took formal classical music lessons there.
By the time Aslam Azhar invited her to work for the newly started state-run TV, she was confident enough in her status to agree on the condition that she would be the highest paid actor, a condition he accepted. Her first state-run TV play was a comedy (“Ras Malai”) but she is better known for dramas including classics like “Fehmida Ki Kahani Ustani Rahat Ki Zabani” that had viewers in tears.
She also worked in feature films including by Khurshid Anwar, and a Punjabi movie by Ashfaque Malik. Her stage plays include performances with traditional theatre at the Arts Council Lahore, as well as with activist theatre groups like Ajoka and Tehrik-e-Niswan.
Known to be a thorough professional and hard worker, she took pride in never using glycerine to fake tears. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only close friends and family will attend the funeral.
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