Sherwani worked with some of the best producers in the country including Mohsin Ali, late Shereen Khan, late Shehzad Khalil, Sultana Siddiqui, Zaheer Khan and Sahira Kazmi. She also worked with some of the best writers of her time including Fatima Surraiya Bajiya, Haseena Moin and Anwar Maqsood.
The role of Apa Begum in Haseena Moin’s Tanhaiyaan was undoubtedly the most famous of her career where Shahzad Khalil cast her as a tough taskmaster who ill-treated her employee, Buqrat, played by Jamshed Ansari. She logically argued (and winning in the end, of course) with him as to why he should get bus fare when walking can improve his health and solve the problem. Her character wanted her brother (Qazi Wajid as Faran) to marry a dominant woman which, fortunately, does not happen.
As Ghazi Apa in Uncle Urfi, she stood between the two love birds, quarrelled regularly with Hasnat Bhai (Jamshed Ansari again) and was the dominant force behind the extremely funny Shaheer Bhai (Qurban Jilani). Azra played the selfish mother of Sitara (Atiqa Odho) in Sitara Aur Mehr-un-nisa and the despised mother-in-law aka Saliha Begum of Mahboob Ahmed (Shakeel) in Aangan Terha with Bushra Ansari and Saleem Nasir as Akbar, the live-in Man Friday with a passion for classical dance.
Then she was the villainous Mai Jaina in Mera Naam Mangu in the early 1970s — a play about professional beggars — while she excelled in Haseena Moin’s Parchaiyaan as part of a star cast comprising Rahat Kazmi, Sahira Kazmi, Shakeel and Talat Hussain. She held her own in Bajiya’s Afshaan, with fellow cast members Shafi Mohammad, Shakeel, Qazi Wajid, Ishrat Hashmi and Begum Khurshid Mirza. In short, her histrionic talent set the standards for character acting on Pakistan television.
Azra Sherwani worked with actors of all generations — from Qazi Wajid, Subhani Ba Yunus, Imtiaz Ahmed, Begum Khurshid Mirza, Qurban Jilani, Shakeel, Shafi Mohammad, Talat Iqbal, Anwar Maqsood, Akbar Subhan, Behroze Sabzwari, Shahnaz Sheikh, Marina Khan, Ishrat Hashmi, Jamshed Ansari, Babar Ali, Mazhar Ali, Mishi Khan, Atiqa Odho, Sania Saeed, Sajid Hasan and Sadia Imam.
When the advent of private productions brought about the decline of quality plays on PTV, Azra Sherwani sustained for some time, working in plays such as Kanwal, Bajiya’s Ghar Ik Nagar and Sultana Siddiqui’s Doosri Duniya. Her most memorable role during the later part of her career was that of Khala Khairan in Riffat Humayun’s serial of the same name. Her character was such that she quarrels with Qazi Wajid, a tenant in the house of Khala’s folks who refuses to either leave or pay the rent.
- Dhoop Kinarey (1987)
- Tanhaiyaan (1986)
- Uncle Urfi (1972)
- Aangan Terha
- Sitara aur Mehr-un-nisa
- Khaala Khairan
- Doosri Dunya
Qazi Wajid, who worked with her the most from 1970s to 2000, said she was a sincere actress and an amazing friend with whom there was not a single moment of boredom. “We were waiting for her to pay us a visit since she was in the US with her son but instead, she bid farewell and left us all.”
Playwright Haseena Moin remembers her as an irreplaceable asset who always delivered the very best when it came to acting. “She was a lively character, very sweet and full of life. On the set, she was Azra apa but when the camera rolled, she became the character she was playing and no one could say that she was the same person. All her characters in my plays had shades of positive and negative characteristics and handling them was her forte. She was one of those people who acted for their love of acting and not because of money, which is quite opposite to the acting scenario right now. Getting an actress of her calibre is not only difficult but also impossible. The best thing about her was that she had no issues about her educated background as she easily donned the character of an aaya (Fazeelat) in Dhoop Kinaray while was also the rich begum sahiba (Apa Begum) in Tanhaiyaan.”
Badar Khalil was all praise and said she knew Azra Sherwani even before her marriage to Shahzad Khalil. “To me, she was a great human being and I can’t forget the way she loved me and my husband. She was very upset when my husband passed away since she regarded him as her son and also since he was the one who introduced her on television. After his death, she refused to work for TV for sometime since she felt that she couldn’t go near the TV station without Shahzad there. I still can’t believe that she is no more among us.”
Behroze Sabzwari became quite emotional when asked about her and said she was a great lady and learned people like her should grace acting since the art needs them. “I knew her for more than 30 years and I can’t forget the love she gave to me. She was jolly on the set, while brave and loving in real life. She treated me more like a son than a colleague as I was very young when I started acting. She was with me when we did Mera Naam Mangu and Saleem Ahmed’s Tabeer and Bajiya’s Aabginay. All those who worked with her miss her but to me, she will always remain special.”
Azra Sherwani was also associated with advertising and was part of renowned advertising agencies, churning out memorable commercials on TV and the print media as a member of the creative and client management departments.
Her viewers remember the pan-chewing, sari-clad and dominating Apa Begum who showed her anger by repeatedly saying: “Warna mujh se bura koi nahin hoga.” There was no one better than her when it came to character acting as she always portrayed her characters to perfection, making them memorable and lively.