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Farewell to a Legend

As a society, it is our collective duty to celebrate the iconic thespian Zia Mohyeddin and take his artistic legacy forward.

March 2023

Zia Mohyeddin left this world exactly how he desired - in his working boots. He lived life on his own terms and left rather abruptly. Only this time he won’t return to the stage. Zia Mohyeddin played an impeccable inning. He mastered the art of theatrics to a level where his words and performance became the standard for the rest to follow.

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts London, Zia Mohyeddin’s career spanned six decades. He inspired generations of admirers and students alike. He popularized the art of literary renditions to an extent where it became an acknowledged form of performance. One of the most notable contributions of Zia Mohyeddin is the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) that he spearheaded and led after being chosen for this task by late General Pervez Musharraf. Ironically both the gentlemen responsible for the establishment of NAPA left the worldly stage within a span of one week.

To celebrate the life of Zia Mohyeddin, NAPA organized a 5-day Zia Mohyeddin Festival from February 22 to February 26. Each evening of the festival was carefully planned and curated. There were screenings of plays Zia sahab directed at NAPA as well as some films / video montage compiled in his memories and selected films that he acted in. On the first night there was a panel discussion featuring board members of NAPA and senior current and former colleagues. Chairman NAPA Board of Directors, Syed Jawaid Iqbal, Board Members Javed Jabbar and Mahtab Rashdi, former Chairman of the Board Dr. Ishrat Husain, former Director Programmes and Administration Arshad Mahmood and Head of Theatre Arts Khalid Ahmed participated in the discussion that was moderated by CEO NAPA, Junaid Zuberi. Chairman NAPA Board Syed Jawaid Iqbal proposed institution of Zia Mohyeddin Chair at the University of Karachi, a proposal seconded by everyone present.

The second night focused on Zia Mohyeddin as a person, as a father, as a husband, as a friend and as a mentor. Besides his immediate family members, panelists included senior poet Zahra Nigah, veteran actors Munawwar Saeed and Sania Saeed, senior journalist Peerzada Salman, senior NAPA graduate Fawad Khan and musicologist, curator and recordist Sharif Awan. The session was moderated by senior NAPA alum Bakhtawar Mazhar.

On the third day, after the screenings, senior graduates of music department led by Ahsan Bari presented some original compositions followed by a kathak dance recital on verses recited by Zia Mohyeddin. Senior dance instructor and practitioner Mohsin Babar performed the piece he had himself had choreographed.

Fourth evening of the festival featured conversations by staff of NAPA that had served Zia Mohyeddin with immense dedication for many years. The conversation became emotional as the staff fondly reminisced the time spent with Zia sahab. NAPA staffer Akbar Islam moderated the conversation.

The festival culminated on Saturday February 26 with a panel discussion featuring Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah, Chairman NAPA Board of Directors Syed Jawaid Iqbal, President SZABIST Shahnaz Wazir Ali, President Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu Wajid Jawad and seasoned banker Muneer Kamal. CEO NAPA Junaid Zuberi moderated the discussion. Chairman NAPA Board Syed Jawaid Iqbal strongly recommended institution of Zia Mohyeddin Chair at the University of Karachi to the Chief Minister who promised to get this done. Shahnaz Wazir Ali spoke at length about the English plays and films Zia Sahab did that made him an internationally-acclaimed celebrity, perhaps the best known from Pakistan. Wajid Jawad and Muneer Kamal both focused on the art of literary renderings popularized by Zia Mohyeddin and paid glowing tribute to him on his work to promote Urdu literature. Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah recalled his last meeting with Zia Mohyeddin at NAPA convocation in January. He said like everyone else, he was always in awe and admiration of Zia Mohyeddin and his impeccable literary readings that had no parallel in Pakistan.

The festival paid befitting tribute to the man who defined performing arts in Pakistan and set standards for all performing artistes to follow. As a society, it is our collective duty to not only celebrate the iconic thespian but to take his artistic legacy forward. Besides setting Zia Mohyeddin Chair, there is a need to regularly hold regular discussions and dialog on promotion of Urdu language and diction and inflection with the objective of transferring the art and nuances to the coming generations. May the great artiste and his work live on.