An Evening with Living Legend Zia Mohyeddin

Rotary Club of Karachi had an Independence day fellowship dinner on 14th August at the Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi. The keynote speaker and guest of honor was Mr. Zia Mohyeddin, a living legend.

Zia Mohyeddin, now a legend in his lifetime, is a man of many parts. His long career spans acting, directing, writing, broadcasting and a wide range of aesthetic disciplines.

Born in Faisalabad, he graduated in 1949 from Government College, Lahore. Starting as a broadcaster on Radio Pakistan, he moved later to Radio Australia, and then to England where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

On his return to Pakistan, he plunged into producing, directing and acting in Urdu and English plays to try and establish the institution of serious theatre in Pakistan. Unfortunately, support from the market simply wasn’t there. Two years later he went back to London on a British Council Fellowship to study methods of directing. He worked for a while, as a guest director at the Guildford Repertory Theatre. It was there that he was picked up to play ‘Dr.Aziz’ in a production of ‘A Passage to India’ at the Oxford Playhouse.

The production was so successful that it was transferred to London’s West-End and later to Broadway. He was the first Asian to have his name up in lights in the West-End and on Broadway. Zia Mohyeddin’s performance launched him as a leading actor on the British stage. He made many memorable stage appearances in London and New York, both in classical and contemporary works notably, Mosca in ‘Valpone’, Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and the ‘Guide’. He has been seen in such films as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Khartoum’ ‘Work is four letter Word’ ‘Deadlier than the Male’, ‘Sailor from Gibraltar’ and more recently, Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. His television appearances in England are too numerous to be listed.

In 1970, he came Pakistan on a sabbatical from his successful acting career and presented the now legendary “Zia Mohyeddin Show” on television. Later, he accepted the post of Director at the PIA Arts Academy about which surprisingly little is known within Pakistan. ‘The challenge intrigued me!’ he says. His tutelage created a remarkable ensemble that carried the songs and dances of Pakistan to rapturous accolades of audiences in many countries.

When PIA withdrew its support from the Academy, he went back to England and resumed his work there. He worked in stage plays and films less frequently and used television as his main medium. His weekly cultural programme, “Here & Now”, presented and produced by him, had a continuous ten-year run. He set up and produced Britain’s first Asian soap “Family Pride” in which he also starred.

Zia Mohyeddin is the founder of Reader’s Theatre in Pakistan. He started with short selections from English poetry which he read out over Radio and television in England. One critic noted, ‘His voice, it must be mentioned, is worth a profile by itself: a cross between dark brown velvet and gravel moving gently in honey.’ Later he adapted the discipline of the Western genre of ‘reading’, to Urdu prose and poetry. In Lahore his “Evening with Zia Mohyeddin” has become an annual fixture and he has been delighting audiences with a new repertoire for the last twenty five years. Apart from the 25 CD’s of his ‘readings’ in Lahore, Zia Mohyeddin has also recorded all of Iqbal’s Urdu poetry and two CD’s of a selection of Ghalibs’s ghazals.

In 2004, the President of Pakistan entrusted him with the task of setting up the National Academy of Performing Arts. The Academy (NAPA) was inaugurated in Karachi, 2005, with Zia Mohyeddin as its President and CEO.

He is also the author of two books: ‘A CARROT IS A CARROT ’, a collection of Memories and Reflection and ‘THEATRICS’ a collection of essays on different aspects of theatrical art. His new book ‘A God of My Idolatory’ will be out in the next two weeks.

Zia Mohyeddin is the recipient of Hilal-i-Imtiaz, one of the highest civilian awards.