Undoubtedly, Moin Akhtar was a comic genius. He had comedy lovers across Pakistan and beyond guffawing at his natural wit long before Pakistani entertainment became what it is today - glamorous, glossy, heavily-financed and yet often mundane. Moin began his foray into Pakistani comedy back when all we had was theatre and the one TV channel. But for a genuine entertainer like Moin Akhtar, this platform was more than enough to win over the audiences. Pakistanis the world over grew up rollicking to his uncannily accurate impersonations and hilarious dramas. His death this Friday, due to a coronary heart failure, has left his fans and friends shocked and grief-stricken.
Scriptwriter Anwar Maqsood once said about him, “Moin Akhtar is one of the rare entertainers who doesn’t need to be told how to enact a comic script. Most actors have to be instructed on dialogue delivery and timing. But Moin has always had the comic acumen to know exactly how to carry out a parody. All I have ever had to do is give him a script and he’ll transform it into an uproarious, unforgettable performance.” Anwar Maqsood wrote the scripts for most of Moin’s most memorable roles and often appeared alongside him on television. Saddened by the shock, he was unable to comment on his friend’s death.
And not just Maqsood but the entire Pakistani entertainment fraternity were dejected at his sad demise. As veteran actor Qazi Wajid tearfully commented, “I worked alongside him throughout my career and now that he’s gone, I feel all alone.”
Comedian Omer Sharif was just as desolate. “Moin Akhtar was like a brother to me,” he said. “I acted in my first commercial play, Bionic Servant, with him. His death is a sad loss for me and also for Pakistani entertainment on the whole. He was one-of-a-kind, comedians like him are rare.”
Looking back at Moin’s long, laughter-laden career, it’s hard to single out his best performances. There are just too many! He received both the Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Pride of Performance awards for his exceptional work.
In the popular stage drama ‘Budha ghar pe hai’, he matched wits with Pakistan’s other ace comedian, Omer Sharif. On TV, he took on one hilarious avatar after another. In the drama ‘Eid train’, he enacted a leery, flirtatious old man to the hilt. In the comic sitcom ‘Sach much’ he became a pot-bellied Memon balancing two wives. In the hugely popular ‘Rozi’, he took on the role played by Dustin Hoffman in ‘Tootsie’, of a struggling actor who manages to get hired by dressing up as a female. With a tousled wig in place underneath a dupatta and a flutter of his false eyelashes, Moin added yet another sensational hit to his repertoire. Frequently, he worked alongside actors like Bushra Ansari, Zeba Shehnaz, Ismail Tara and Shakeel, raising the bar for Pakistani comedy.
However, most of Moin’s best work was probably alongside Anwar Maqsood. The discerning, sharp-witted scriptwriter and the intuitive comedian formed a matchless combination as they teemed together in one show after another. Maqsood would always be the interviewer and Moin the interviewee, taking on different characters in each episode. He would come up with hilariously belligerent answers while a deadpan-faced Maqsood would furrow his brows. Maqsood’s script, of course, played a huge role in the success of these shows, merging slapstick comedy with a healthy dose of sugarcoated sarcasm. Nonetheless, Moin’s impersonations were also pure genius. Years ago, the two teemed up for the controversial ‘Studio Dhai’, which was banned because of its bold digs at the government. Lo and behold, soon after, the two were back with an equally audacious script in ‘Studio Ponay Teen’.
‘Loose Talk’, the pair’s most recent venture, ran to rave reviews for around 400 episodes with Moin masquerading from characters ranging from a corrupt police officer to a Bengali baba to a tormented husband. Anwar Maqsood stopped penning the show when Pakistan was hit by floods last year, saying that with most of his audience rendered homeless, he didn’t have the heart to continue on with ‘Loose Talk’. But, of course, he would have eventually bounced back with yet more question-answer skits. Except, now with his best performer gone, an Anwer Maqsood show will never be the same again.
Then again, Pakistani comedy will never be the same again without Moin Akhtar. His loss has been felt deeply by the Pakistani entertainment industry as well as Urdu-speaking audiences all over the world. A legend, he will always be remembered for his comic talent and the laughter he brought to our eyes, time and again.