Ask anyone one in Pakistan who is Zia Mohyeddin and the instant answer would be that he once hosted the famous Zia Mohyeddin shows on the PTV, or lately he is engaged in narrating poetry of Ghalib and many other renowned poets. But the true fact is that Zia Mohyeedin is much more than what people in Pakistan know about him. He is “Tafas” in david Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, he is “Zobeir Pasha” in Khartoum, “Prince Ali” in Honey for the Prince, broadcaster in a number of British radio channels, including the Buzz inaugurated lately and a number of films at his credit.
He was born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan in 1933. But soon in his early youth he went to England, where his inborn abilities to act and speak were polished and refined at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London from 1953-1956. Following important stage roles in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Julius Caesar” in 1957, he made his West End debut in A Passage to India in 1960. He made his film debut in Lawrence of Arabia in 1963, playing the role of Tafas (the Arab guide who is shot by Omar Sharif for drinking water from the wrong well.). He then made numerous TV and film appearances, and starred as Dr Aziz in the 1965 BBC television version of A Passage to India. Other epic films followed with supporting roles in Behold a Pale Horse (1964) and Khartoum (1966). He returned to Pakistan at the request of the Bhutto regime in the late 60s and set up the PIA Arts and Dance Academy, which received critical merit for its classical as well as folk dances and music. Highly critical of the political regime, he returned to England within a few years and resumed his career there, appearing in the highly touted miniseries “The Jewel in the Crown” (1984), among others. He has since traveled the world promoting his Urdu poetry and prose recitations to international acclaim.
He is one of a handful of Pakistani actors working in English-speaking films, who has built up an imposing list of credits — usually not playing a denizen of Pakistan. He has appeared prominently in such International productions as Sailor From Gilbraltar (1967) (fourth billed behind Jeanne Moreau, Ian Bannen and Vanessa Redgrave) and Deadlier Than the Male (1967). And in A Boy Ten Feet Tall (1966), Zia Mohyeddin again enjoyed featured billing in the role of “The Syrian.”
He returned to Pakistan in the late 60’s. There he founded and ran the PIA Arts and Dance Academy, and hosted his own TV talk show. Around this time he met and subsequently (in 1973) married the famous Kathak dancer Naheed Siddiqui. It was during this time that he presented ‘the Zia Mohyeddin Show’ which was telecast from the Pakistani television. Hence, Zia became the voice of Pakistan’s first talk-show host. It is said that Zia Mohyeddin Shows were a cue for the beginning of the stage shows on television in Pakistan and gave birth to many hosts and comperes like Moeen Akhtar, Naeem Bokhari, Anwar Maqsood and many others. Zia Mohyeddin took great pains in making the stage show successful by inviting famous personalities from different walks of life. For instance, people like Josh Malihabadi, Ibne Insha, Mrs Nusrat Bhutto, Jamiluddin Aali, cricket player Saeed Ahmed and film star Mohammad Ali graced the show whose viewership was more than that of any other programme or drama of PTV. Also it was during these shows that Khush Bakht Shujahat, Moeen Akhtar, Khalid Abbas Dar, Naheed Siddiqi and Runa Laila entered stage life and were polished to become instant stars.
In 1970, Zia became the actor – producer – director – of the first and the last Urdu film of his movie career, ‘Mujrim kaun’, which was released in Pakistan. The popular song, ‘Hoantoan pay tabassum nazar sehmi, sehmi, ho gaye ray mujhay kyon ghalat fehmi’ was rendered by Ahmed Rushdi and pictured on Zia. However after difficulties with the regime Mohyeddin returned to England in the late 1970s, shortly followed by his wife. But despite his absence from the country, his famous “Theka” and “Shakira ki Maan ye boli, apni larki kay leye bur chaheye” in his singing voice, is still fresh in the minds of millions of Pakistanis.
Zia Mohyeddin has a rich, commanding and mellifluous voice, which he very skillfully uses to inspire his audience. His recitation glows with a special liveliness that is characteristically his own. Apparently, Zia is a fabulous speaker. There is such vitality and imagery in his persona. Maybe that is the reason why his accomplishments leapt over so many national boundaries and still retain an atmosphere of long ago. He is often invited to recite poetry of famous poets specially organized to pay homeage to the great names. He has to his credit translations followed by Arabic recitations of “Surah Fateha Rehman” (Arabic Reading by Qari Sadaqat Ali) Surahs: Fateha, Rehman, Muzammil, Mudassir, Qayamat, Infitar, Inshiqaq, Alaq, Zilzaal, Qariah, Nabaa, Nazia, Abas.
In February 2005 President Pervez Musharraf invited Mohyeddin to set up and act as Chairman of the National Academy of Performing Arts in Karachi. Zia, now 73, has still the same spirits and vibrancy in his performance and continues to do much more for the progress and development of performing arts in Pakistan.