The final bow: Zia Mohyeddin’s enchanting voice will stay with us like the ghost of a rich past


Sleeves would unroll, postures corrected, whispers in slang held back, those leaning on to others found firm footing, and fumbling sentences took flight as the word got out that Zia Mohyeddin has entered the building

In the past decade or so, the Hindu Gymkhana premises that now houses the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) dared not to echo improper delivery and incomplete sentences

For the winds might conspire like the many Greek deities and inform the Dionysus in charge about the sin, the only difference was that in return the sinners would not receive a punishment or a curse but a lesson in how to be the best version of themselves

Such was the charm, vibe and often ‘terror’ of Mohyeddin’s presence, who was the President of the Institute and the person primarily responsible for teaching voice and diction

   Before Napa, he was known as Pakistan’s greatest thespian, broadcaster, and actor, a master orator who could summon Shakespeare’s tricksters and Ghalib’s angels all in one breath, that too with the comfort of a marathon runner, breathing new life into dead poets who once formed a living society

A RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) graduate who performed hundreds of shows at the West End, produced a number of successful TV productions, before returning to Pakistan to serve its culture, language and art

The Laylpur-born Zia Mohyeddin has now left the building and the world’s stage after a successful fight of 91 years

In his time before entering the building and after leaving it, the master thespian was able to cultivate a heritage brimming with cultural richness, top-notch content, immaculate expression, deep thinking and a bittersweet relationship with the next generation of performers

While it will be his immersive recitations and all the talking his eyes did with a light glass frame resting on his nose that he will be remembered for, his greatest contribution to Pakistan would be all the students he taught and mentored

These students, though few in number, are going to form some of the most exceptional acting, voice and writing talent in the next 20 years and each one of them would their souls to the master who taught them how to keep dancing in the dark

In a 2013 conversation with The Express Tribune, Mohyeddin pointed out that talent is not the issue in Pakistan, a lack of professionalism is

“In Pakistan, if someone is playing a drunkard, he feels it’s a necessity to drink before the performance even if the role doesn’t demand it – just so he can get his act together

Drinking is not the real problem the core issue is the lack of professionalism,” he said

As much as Moheyddin despised the gradual decline of society’s aesthetic sense and artistic standards, he kept on coming back to the Pakistani media ecosystem, if not as a mainstream actor than as an independent artist and the voice behind some of the most successful ad and social campaigns

In 1992 he worked in Jamil Dehalvi’s Immaculate Conception playing the role of Khwaja Sira, the cast also included Shabana Azmi, James Wilby and Mellisa Leo

Mohyeddin wrote three books as well, the most popular amongst them ‘A carrot is a carrot’ was published in 2008 and featured personal and professional memories with a dash of literature and theatre

He kept on doing recitations throughout his career like a soldier keep practicing his aim, and boy to all our great fortune, he never fumbled and always flourished

At the same time, he never left the theatre and every year you’d see him direct one of the great works at Napa, the last two being Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and King Lear in Urdu

In 2013, he also directed Waiting for Godot in English and was incredibly clear that the reason he chose his daughter Aliya to play the ghost was strictly out of professional necessity

All these salient aspects are mere fragments of Mohyeddin’s powerful and surgically picky catalogue of work, some of which took a toll on his personal life too, which he talks about rather openly in the 2022 documentary on his life ‘From a lover to the beloved’

It can easily be said that a generation of artists to come will be like dwarves to his gigantic aura

Mohyeddin’s combination of taste, culture, wit, wisdom, language and the urge to transfer all that into newer saplings required grace, patience and a Sisyphean commitment to the cause

 No wonder, he only had bad things to say about contemporary Pakistani TV and the deteriorating state of the Urdu language

Such commitment to one's love for the arts needs both disconnect and disenchantment from the mainstream and only visionaries can translate that indifference into a lot more than just a personality type or a flex; Zia Moheyddin turned his dissatisfaction into an academy

Let alone talent, show me a man, woman, or a non-binary stakeholder in the contemporary creative scene, with similar principles and I’ll happily accept that Hum TV dramas have empowered women, Tehzeeb Haafi is the natural consequence of our poetry journey, Tabish Hashmi is Moin Akhtar’s replacement and thumri daadra didn’t die of an organised crime at the hand of music gharanas

Puritans might feel that all that is crass or ordinary about today’s cultural landscape shouldn’t be mentioned in a tribute to Moheyddin but this kitsch and almost scripted glorification of the formula is what the master actually stood against

All these are symptoms or perhaps eventualities of a time that Mohyeddin saw coming and lived through in his own uniquely elitist and occasionally ‘condescending’ ways

The master thespian had such a deep connection to the arts and culture education that hardly a week before his sad passing, the now gracefully-wrinkled and slender Moheyeddin took the Napa stage to share important lessons for aspiring artists

“Our societies still have a lingering suspicion that actors, and musicians too for that matter, do not have a proper job and therefore do not do any real work

We still regard an actor to be a vagabond and a wastrel

I am aware that our efforts can only bear fruit in a less intolerant society

I see no way out of the mediocrity which currently rules our perceptions and imaginations unless we give up making compromises

We are now living in a devastatingly tortuous period

I can offer you no words of wisdom that can mitigate the anguish we’re surrounded with

I can only hold on to my belief that work is life and there is no point in life other than work

”   With these fine words, Mohyeddin clinched our society’s many hypocrisies in his frail fist, out in the open sky, in front of students, parents and teachers, like Oedipus set to accept the curse in front of his kingdom

Those who understood him felt a balm on their bruises and those who didn’t, marveled at the comfort, clarity and crispness with which a 90-year-old can hold his forte

He may have passed away but his bewitching voice will stay with us like the ghost of a rich past

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Date:15-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link