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EDITORIAL: Zia Mohyeddin who passed away in Karachi at age 91 is fondly remembered by several generations of Pakistanis for his many talents.

In the heady early 1970s he hosted a charming talk-cum-variety show on PTV featuring people from different fields and delighting his audience with poetry readings, backed by live music, in his inimitable style. By then, he had perfected his craft at Radio Pakistan and Radio Australia, followed by a stint at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and making his mark on stage and television in England.

He had also played small but unforgettable roles in films, debuting in the Oscar winning epic Lawrence of Arabia’, Behold a Pale Horse, and Khartoum. Years later, he starred in Hollywood’s trio Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala production Bombay Talkie and Jamil Dehlavi’s famous Immaculate Conception.

Although in his show he stayed away from politics, he had no patience for Gen Ziaul Haq regime’s anti-intellectual and philistine attitude towards artistic freedoms, and went back to London. There he did films and TV serials also producing and hosting a TV talk and variety programme.

What his disreputable namesake did to this society he would write in an essay: “the power of authority over belief in the present-day is vastly greater than before. No one can deny, in the face of evidence, that it is easy to produce a population of fervent patriots.” Add to it fervent extremists nurtured by the Zia regime and sustained by others, and it all rings so true in today’s Pakistan.

In mid ‘90s Zia settled back in Pakistan, and in 2005 gladly accepted Gen. Musharraf’s offer to set up the National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi, which he soon brought to completion. Heading the Academy, he trained young students in different disciplines of the performing arts.

Erudite in both English and Urdu, he also took classes on diction. What that meant was pointed out by one of his students in a TV entertainment show when she proudly asked her interlocutors to check how she had pronounced Urdu word mas’alan rather than plain maslan.

Zia Mohyeddin’s love of the arts and the need to teach what he had learned during his decades of experience has enriched many lives. He may have had some disappointments, but more than compensated by many moments of elation in his theatrical career as well as teaching at the Academy that kept him active till the last few days of his life.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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