Zia Mohyeddin, legendary Pakistani artist and orator, dies at 91

The celebrated performer died in a hospital in Karachi where he was on life support.

Zia Mohyeddin
Mohyeddin was founding chair and later president emeritus of Pakistan's premier National Academy of Performing Arts [File: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Zia Mohyeddin, one of Pakistan’s greatest figures in arts and culture, has passed away. He was 91.

The legendary actor, orator, author and broadcaster died on Monday morning in a hospital in Karachi where he was on life support.

In a career spanning more than six decades in various disciplines, theatre remained Mohyeddin’s lifetime passion. As the founding chair and later president emeritus of Pakistan’s premier National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), he mentored some of the country’s biggest acting talents.

Born in 1931 in Faisalabad city in Pakistan’s eastern province of Punjab, Mohyeddin studied theatre at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), one of the world’s foremost acting schools.

Among a few Pakistanis to have performed in theatre and films outside the country, Mohyeddin delivered some of his most memorable performances in the Hollywood epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Behold the Pale Horse (1964) and Bombay Talkie (1970).

He also starred in British director Jamil Dehlavi’s Immaculate Conception (1994) and the critically acclaimed mini-series, The Jewel in the Crown (1984).

Zia Mohyeddin
Mohyeddin, centre, with actors Virginia McKenna, left and Dame Sybil Thorndike during the filming of BBC TV drama, A Passage to India, in Tunbridge Wells, England [File: Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images]

He authored two books: memoir A Carrot is a Carrot (2008), and The God of My Idolatry, a collection of essays published in 2016.

Mohyeddin was a recipient of two of Pakistan’s top civilian awards: the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2003 and the Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2012.

In a condolence message, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “Zia Mohyeddin introduced a new style of hosting in Pakistan and his acting internationally brought laurels to the country. As president of the NAPA, he performed a great role in training the next generations of actors.

“It is sad that a man with such beautiful qualities has left us.”

Popular Pakistani actor Fawad Khan, a NAPA graduate who was associated with Mohyeddin for more than a decade, told Al Jazeera the thespian’s death felt like he has lost his own father.

“I don’t have enough words to express my word and sorrow at his passing. He helped me at every stage. His life was all about theatre, the all-encompassing passion he had for it. It kept him alive,” Khan said.

The actor said Mohyeddin was famous for his wit and one-liners, yet the seriousness he brought while working at NAPA will be his lasting legacy.

“Some years ago, he was rehearing with us on stage when he suddenly fainted during a recitation. We all got worried but thankfully, he recovered soon. The incident never appeared to have scared him,” he said.

Culture commentator and noted theatre critic Amina Baig said watching Mohyeddin perform for decades was “strangely reassuring”.

“He may not have known you and you might have never spoken to him, but he had a shared love for theatre, and knew, within the NAPA grounds, that the art was being passed on and hence preserved. He of course lives on through his work, his students, and successors, and hopefully, a continuously thriving theatre industry in Pakistan,” the Karachi-based critic told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera