Zia was a Hindi-Urdu director and scenarist. He was Peshawar (now Pakistan) born like Prithviraj, Raj Kapoor, and Dilip Kumar. He started his film career in 1933, assisting non-Urdu speaking directors and artistes with East India Film at Calcutta. Soon he moved to Sagar pictures where a chance meeting with Mehboob Khan, the future movie Mughal of Indian Cinema, gave him a real break. Zia not only wrote the story and lyrics of Mehboob’s Manmohan, but also acted in it. His screen presence impressed no one, but his dialogue-writing drew attention. His association with the Indian Progressive Theatre Association (IPTA) and his command of the Urdu language were great assets when it came to writing film with social comment like Mehboob’s Behan, besides Jagirdar, Kal ki Baat, Jeevan Saathi, Shaheed, Ghareeb, Elan, Anokha Pyar, Dil ki Dunya and Khel. He also directed three important films Hum Log, Footpath and Aawaz in India based on anti-capitalist subjects, and also wrote the dialogues for Baiju Bawra (1952).
In the sixties, Zia Sarhady bid farewell to Bombay and arrived in Lahore. In Pakistan Zia made Rahguzar (Pathway) in Lahore in 1960 and then after a gap of almost fourteen years, directed Shehr aur Saey at Eastern Studios Karachi. The latter was financed by a young enthusiast called Aftab Mangi, who also acted as the hero in the film. Both movies were mere shadows of Sarhady’s past work. His greatest contribution to Pakistan Cinema is his story and screenplay for the all time classic Lakhon Mein Eik. Perhaps he came here to write just this tragic and sensitive tale of love. Very few people in the sub-continent could have conceived such an objective and unbiased testimony to the catastrophe of the exodus in the aftermath of independence. It is a pity, that in the mid-eighties, during the martial law rule of General Ziaul Haq, the disillusioned Zia Sarhady had to seek political asylum in England. His son Khayyam Sarhady is a well known actor of the Pakistani mini-screen. Zia Sarhady died in 1997 in Spain where he was visiting his daughter.