Pakistan’s comedy king Safeerullah Siddiqui, popularly known by fans as Lehri, passed away in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Liaquat National Hospital Thursday morning.
After discussing the 83-year-old actor’s deteriorating health with his doctor, Lehri’s family decided to take him off the ventilator at 9:42am. The legendary film actor, who is best known for his humorous roles, had been put on the ventilator since several weeks and was hospitalised due to acute chest congestion and low blood pressure.
“His condition wasn’t improving but I had my hopes high, which is why I never removed the ventilator till now,” Dr Abdul Manan told The Express Tribune at the hospital. “His age, coupled with too many internal infections, just quickened the process. There were three infections out of which two were treated but I believe the time had arrived. And even though we tried our level best, God had His final say. What could we do?”
Present in the ICU ward was a teary-eyed Asad Mehboob, the eldest son-in-law of the comedian, as well as Lehri’s sons, daughters and daughters-in-law. As they stood by his side, the women recited Quranic verses and wept as the ailing actor’s breathing slowed and blood pressure fell.
As the actor breathed his last, a chorus of cries broke out as emotional family members consoled each other. “When my biological father passed away years ago, I told him I felt like an orphan,” cried his daughter-in-law Naheed Rehan. “At that time, he calmed me down and said, ‘Abhi mein zinda hoon (I am still alive)’. Now, I’m an orphan in the true sense of the word!”
Lehri’s nephew Shoaib Siddiqui was also present at the hospital. “[Lehri] made the world laugh and us too,” he said. “But with the passage of time he had become very religious. I will miss him because whenever I had a social issue or a problem that I couldn’t deal with, I would rush to him and he would gladly solve all my issues.”
Outside the corridor on the first floor of the hospital, women wailed inconsolably and men made plans for the actor’s funeral and last rites. Asad Mehboob was on the telephone informing friends and relative, “Papa chalay gayey (Papa is gone)!”
As the media poured in from various quarters and tried to reach the first floor, the hospital’s strict security measures kept journalists out of the ICU ward.
Lehri’s funeral prayers took place on the same evening at Masjid-e-Baitul-Mukkaram in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, and he was buried at the Yasinabad Graveyard.
Remembering the man who made millions smile
One of Pakistani’s most celebrated comedians has made his final transition. But despite having left this world, the man who made millions laugh with his witty dialogues and clever delivery lives on in the hearts of fans and the film fraternity.
“In the late ‘60s, his house was close to mine but I never realised what a big actor resided nearby,” producer Kazim Pasha recalls. “Later, I found out what a somber and great actor he was; the way he uttered sentences was beautiful – his phrases forced one to smile.”
Born in British India in 1929, Safeerullah Siddiqui moved to Karachi after partition and began working as a stenotypist during his teenage years. Side by side, after completing his hours at the office, he would make ends meet by selling hosiery items in Saddar. His big break came in the 1950s, when director Sheikh Lateef decided to make Anokhi. Lateef’s niece Sheila Ramani came from India to play the lead female role in the film, while actor Shad was chosen to play the hero, as his previous film, Naukar was a box office sensation. After bagging the role of a comedian in the film, Siddiqui was christened Lehri, the name that became his identity during his 38 years in the film industry.
Out of the 225 films that Lehri made in his career, his comic roles in Mera Ghar Meri Jannat, Tasvir, Tum Salamat Raho, Ishara, Nai Laila Naya Majnon, Tum Milay Pyaar Mila, Bahadur, Saiqa, Naukar and Zameer won him outstanding appreciation and fame.
Reflecting on the comedian’s career and work, veteran film actor Nadeem Baig says, “Lehri sahib was a big actor. I was a fan even before I joined the industry. I was lucky to have worked with him as such actors and comedians are not born every day,” adding that his film Dillagi was a “big contribution to his credibility and creativity”.
While the vast majority of Lehri’s roles were in Urdu films, the actor also worked on some Punjabi productions. Commenting on his acting skill and talent, Urdu and Punjabi film actor Ghulam Mohiuddin says, “His comedy performances have been great — he would be serious the whole time and then suddenly utter a hilarious dialogue and make us laugh.”
Despite not having played the lead role as a film’s hero — since the comedian’s role is usually a smaller one — Lehri found his place in the hearts of his million admirers. While his last film Dhanak was released in 1986, his contributions to Pakistani cinema earned him an award from the film industry in 1993.
Summing up Lehri’s memorable gift to cinema, veteran comedian and actor Rauf Lala says: “For so many years, he worked in the film industry and remained the king of Urdu comedy in Pakistan. From the utterance of dialogues to his gestures, we [comedians] have learnt a lot from him. His films and shows will always be remembered. The country has lost a treasure [with his death].”
Stars remember Lehri
Talat Hussain – TV actor: He was a very humane [and caring] person with a great sense of humour and satirical skills. His style was very different and he stuck to it. There is no doubt that he was a big actor who kept the tradition of real comedy alive in the sub-continent.
Bushra Ansari – TV actor and comedian: A big actor has left us — no other stars have sprung [in the entertainment industry] like him. We had very little interaction, but when we did on the sets of TV drama “Aangan Tehra” and some other skits in Karachi, he showed me what a pleasant human being he was, who sported a flair for dressing up suitably. However, when I saw him bed-ridden, he looked tiresome and depressed.
Qavi Khan – Film and TV actor: In performing arts, there are different styles and ways of performing. As far as other comedians are concerned, no one was able to match the impact Lehri made [on the audience]. In terms of performance, mental and physical delivery [execution], each scene Lehri did had a direct effect on the audience; something which separated him from other comedians.
Shabnam – Stage and film actor: We are all getting old now and I don’t know what life has in store for us. I hope he gets a good place in heaven. Since this morning, I’ve been very disturbed after hearing this unfortunate news.
Did you know?
Lehri won the prestigious Nigar award for 12 movies from 1963 to 1986 and set a record. Up until 1999, no other Pakistani comedian was able to break his record.
Lehri worked on 225 memorable movies over a film career spanning over 38 years.
Late prime minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly provided him a monthly stipend of Rs2,500 during her first tenure, which he continued to receive without any increase.
Life and filmography
Lehri was no doubt an unparalleled comedian and actor of Pakistan. He won great acclaim for his roles and many lauded him on his unique style of delivering a dialogue. Along with humorous roles, Lehri also played a few villainous and serious roles in films over the years.
1929: Safeerullah Siddiqui was born in British India.
1956: He began his career by acting in the hit film Anokhi and adopted the name Lehri.
1963: Lehri won the prestigious Nigar Award for the first time for Best Comedian in the film Daman. He went on to win 11 more such awards during his career.
1986: Lehri acted in his last film Dhanak
1993: A special award was given to Lehri by the Pakistani film industry for his splendid 38 years of acting.
2012: In August, Lehri was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Liaquat National Hospital
2012: September 13, Lehri passes away
1959 Faisla, Apna Paraya
1960 Insaaf, Noukri, Yeh Duniya
1961 Insaan Badalta Hay, Zamana Kya Kahe Ga
1962 Dosheeza, Anchal
1963 Teen Aur Teen, Qatl ke Baad, Ishq Par Zor Nahin
1964 Touba, Choti Ammi, Ashyana
1965 Shabnam, Kaneez
1966 Jokar, Ruswai, Koun Kisi Ka, Taqdeer
1967 Bahadur, Main Wo Nahin, Sajda, Devar bhabi, Wohti, Aag Ka Darya, Hamraz, Aag
1968 Doosri Maa, Balam, Aik Musafir Aik Haseena, Shehnai, Yaar Dost
1969 Tum Miley Pyar Mila, Nai Laila Naya Majnoon, Pia Milan Ki Aas, Jaisey Jantey Nahin, Mahmaan, Dil Daikey Dekho, Baharain Phir Bhi Aaingee
1970 Anjan, Shama Aur Parwana, Lori, Jaley Na Kyoun Parwana, Mohabbat Rang Layegee, Anjuman, Gharasti
1971 Rim Jhim, Do Baghi, Dunya Na Maney, Afshan, Rootha Na Karo, Yeh Aman, Tahzeeb
1972 Dhamaka, Main Bhi To Insaan Hoon
1973 Sehrey Key Phool, Dulhan Raani, Society, Anhoni, Nadya Key Paar
1974 Dil Lagi, Subha ka Tara, Chahat, Babul Mor Muharaan, Sharafat, Neelam, Nanha farishta, Phool Mairey Gulshan Ka
1975 Paisa, Piar Ka Mousam, Mohabbat Zindagi Hay, Gumrah, Shareef badmash, Dilnasheen, Anari, Isar, Soorat Aur Seerat, Roshni, Badal Gaya Insaan, Zanjeer, Masoom.
1976 Zubaida, Moam Ki Gurya, Koshish, Daagh, Aaj Aur Kal, Wada, Daikha jaayga, Insanyat, Jeo Aur Jeenay Do
1977 Uf Yeh Beevian, Sangam, Jawani Deevani, Jeeney Ki Raah
1978 Amber, Abshar, Kabhi kabhi, Prince, Mousam Hay Ashqana
1979 Mr.Ranjha, Ab Ghar Janey Do, Chaltey Chaltey
1980 Zameer, Bandhan, Saima, Badnam
1981 Dil Aik Khilona, Kiran Aur Kali
1983 Mang Mairi Bhardo
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2012.