Zia Mohyeddin: demise of an icon

ByShahmir Kazi

works in the private sector with interest in socio-political affairs


February 18, 2023

Zia Mohyeddin demise of an icon

Shahmeer Kazi expresses condolences on the death of a legend

Zia Mohyeddin demise of an icon had become a legend in his lifetime and was considered a stalwart in the fields of arts and literature. At the end of his life, he was on a life support machine in a local hospital and passed away at the age of 91. He was an internationally recognized artist and his style was widely emulated. His reputation was unparalleled in broadcasting, poetry and prose recitation, acting, and theatre director.

He was also instrumental in setting up the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) and in the process mentored hundreds of students now working in TV production and related disciplines. His presence on stage and TV was considered awesome and he radiated a confidence that was infectious and played wonders with any project he laid his hands on.

Born on 20 June 1931 in Faisalabad he appeared on both Pakistani cinema and television as well as on British cinema and television throughout his career. He began his journey from Radio Pakistan in 1949 and continued mesmerizing vast audiences with his acting, recitation, and Marsiya Goi.

He also has the distinction of being the first Pakistani ever to work in Hollywood. In Hollywood, he got the opportunity to work in the very famous Lawrence of Arabia with highly acclaimed director David Lean. He followed up by acting in Behold the Pale Horse in 1964 with director Fred Zinnemann and later Immaculate Conception in 1992 with director Jamil Dehlavi.

He made his West End debut in A Passage to India playing the role of originating the role of Dr. Aziz, from April to December 1960 at the Comedy Theatre, running for 302 performances. His other stage performances were also wide and varied including Long Day’s journey into night, Julius Caesar.

General Zia-ul-Haq Return To the UK

Interestingly he acted in an Urdu film Mujrim Kaun pitted against stalwarts of the time such as Allaudin and Rangeela but the mystery thriller failed despite its excellent music. Zia Mohyeddin was an inspiration to many, including actor Waheed Murad who was introduced by him on stage in 1957.

A trendsetter for talk shows in Pakistan his signature show The Zia Mohyeddin Show was very popular in its day and was telecast between 1971 and 1973. He was appointed director of the PIA Arts Academy from 1973 till 1977 but his differences with the military regime of then General Zia-ul-Haq forced him to return to the UK in the late 1970s.

Once in the UK, he worked in Birmingham where he produced Central Television’s flagship weekly multicultural program Here and Now from 1986 and 1989. He worked as an actor in the UK for years before he made his return to Pakistan in the mid-90s and re-launched his iconic show but found his audience occupied elsewhere.

However, An Evening with Zia Mohyeddin remained an annual fixture in Lahore for over 35 years where the thespian would read Urdu prose and poems. A disciple of the Western genre of reading he introduced the youth to legends like Ghalib, Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid, Shaukat Thanvi, Ibn e Insha, and Patras Bokhari.

With his command of chaste Urdu and his inimitable style made his programs a must-watch kind of category. He gave Urdu poetry and prose recitations the excellence they deserved. His readings of English letters and literature were a treat to the ears of all kinds of audiences.

Zia Mohyeddin Demise Of An Icon

He was known for his intellectual qualities and his literary tastes were superb. He was equally comfortable with both English and Urdu literature. His forte however was an exquisite rendition of Urdu prose that he used to recite with soft music playing in the background. Renditions were usually brimming with accented inflections, dramatic pauses, and varied nuances which made them exceptionally attractive.

His readings reflected his delineated choice of literary masterpieces pointing to his profound interest in the literary genre. It was quite natural that he authored books which he did by authoring three books namely A Carrot is a Carrot, Theatrics, and The God of My Idolatry that speak volumes about his grip on the language as well as his specific and endearing style of writing.

In February 2005, he was mandated to establish the NAPA in Karachi of which he remained president emeritus since its inception. The government of Pakistan awarded him the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2003 and in addition, he was honored with the Hilal-i-Imtiaz Award in 2012 for his contribution to the arts which is rated as the second-highest civilian honor in the country. The Weekender


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