Cinema and oratory legend Zia Mohyeddin dies at 91

KARACHI: The cultural world lost a great icon with the passing of Zia Mohyeddin, a renowned actor and orator, in Karachi on Monday morning.

According to his family, Mohyeddin, 91, had been receiving treatment in a hospital and was on life support at the time of his death at 6:30 am.

Born on April 7, 1931 in Faisalabad (then Lyallpur), Mohyeddin was a prolific performer with a career spanning over six decades. He was a beloved figure in the world of theatre, film, and TV, and was deeply revered by all who knew him.

Mohyeddin received his theatrical education at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London, considered one of the leading institutions for actors, in the early 1950s.

He rose to international prominence for his role as Tafas in the 1962 classic “Lawrence of Arabia.” Directed by David Lean and starring Peter O’Toole, the film was a critical and commercial success, and Mohyeddin’s portrayal of an Arab guide won him accolades and fans around the world.

The film remains a classic of cinema and a testament to Mohyeddin’s talent as an actor.

He also worked with Fred Zinnemann in the 1964 film “Behold the Pale Horse” and Jamil Dehlavi, a British film director, in the 1992 film “Immaculate Conception.”


Beyond his work in movies, Mohyeddin was a prolific performer in other media as well. He was a noted stage actor, appearing in numerous productions in Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

He returned to Pakistan in the late 1960s and hosted “The Zia Mohyeddin Show” (1969-73), an immensely popular talk show, on Pakistan Television.

However, after the military coup in 1977, he developed differences with the administration of Gen. Zia ul-Haq and returned to Britain where he produced “Here and Now” (1986-1989), a multicultural programme, for Central Television, now ITV.

Known as one of the world’s foremost reciters of Urdu prose and poetry, Mohyeddin was also a regular performer on radio and television, and his work in these mediums further cemented his place as one of Pakistan’s greatest cultural ambassadors.

In 2005, he, at the request of then-president Pervez Musharraf, established the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi. He served as its chairman initially, before assuming the role of president emeritus.

In its short journey, NAPA boasts renowned alumni, such as Fawad Khan, and has established itself as a leading institution in the field of performing arts.

His students say Mohyeddin remained dedicated to the arts throughout his life, observing that his legacy will endure as a testament to his talent and passion for the industry. In the eyes of his admirers, his passing marks the end of an era in the world of entertainment.

“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, the actor, told Al-Jazeera.

In recognition of his contributions to the industry, Mohyeddin was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan’s highest civilian honours, in 2012.

In a condolence message, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “Zia Sahib possessed a wealth of exceptional qualities that captivated individuals for over five decades. Countless students under his guidance will preserve his legacy. May Allah bless them with elevated status.”

Former prime minister Imran Khan said Mohyeddin “was a highly cultured person, extremely well-read [especially] in Urdu literature and an institution in the world of entertainment. He will be missed.”

His funeral was held at Imambargah Yasrab in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) neighbourhood of Karachi.

Muhammad Ahmad Saad
Muhammad Ahmad Saad
The writer is a former member of the staff.


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