“On the sets of Daldal, he said ‘Zahid, don’t ever sell your voice cheap, voices like ours are rare and expensive’.” — Zahid Ahmed —Photos: White Star
“On the sets of Daldal, he said ‘Zahid, don’t ever sell your voice cheap, voices like ours are rare and expensive’.” — Zahid Ahmed —Photos: White Star

While most actors touch the lives of the audience with their powerful performances, there are a few, such as Abid Ali, who touched our very souls. His untimely death on September 5 left everyone in tears, especially those accustomed to seeing him on television and films in various avatars during a glorious career that stretched over four decades. His exit has certainly left a void; actors like Abid Ali come but once in a lifetime.

Born in Quetta, Balochistan, in 1952, a young Abid Ali moved to Lahore and impressed audiences with his maiden TV appearance in Jhok Sayal (1973). His stint with Radio Pakistan, and later with PTV, made him understand the importance of using his vocal talent.

Renowned TV director Ayub Khawar remembers the days spent with Abid Ali when they were neighbours in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi. “Abid Ali was a versatile actor who knew how to use his voice, as well as facial expressions, to improve his performance. His eyes spoke even when he wasn’t delivering dialogue, and that’s what made him one of the few actors who could act without speaking.

“We befriended each other way back in 1975, when we settled for a brief time in Rawalpindi after our respective marriages — he and Humera were the hit couple in those days. Abid Ali left for Lahore after some time as it was budding with work, and the next time I saw him, he was all over television screens playing the angry young man Dilawar in [the hit PTV serial] Waaris.”

From Waaris to Heer Maan Ja, the enigmatic and generous Abid Ali inspired generations of artists. His co-stars and directors pay tribute to the visionary actor, director and producer who passed away on September 5

Talking of Waaris, Abid Ali’s angry young man character not only made him a crowd favourite but his work ethic won him many friends in the industry as well. Uzma Gillani, who also played a part in Waaris and knew Abid Ali for nearly 50 years, termed her co-star a master of his craft. “Abid Ali is the name of an institute when it comes to acting. Human beings leave this world but institutes such as Abid will remain till the end of this world. He was my friend and colleague since 1972-73, and we worked in many plays during the ’70s and the ’80s. I think he tried to build a standard of acting because he was a master at it, and will continue to live amongst us through his work.”

Qavi Khan, saddened by his peer’s death, said that he still had a lot to learn from Abid Ali who respected his seniors like no one else. “Abid Ali and I had been friends for a very long time. We couldn’t work much together because we were similar actors, and directors either cast him or me. It was during Tanveer Jamal’s Godfather that we finally managed to spend some time together, and I found him to be a very humble and respectful person. Despite his popularity, he used to give me immense respect as I was a few years senior to him, something many others wouldn’t.”

Although Sohail Asghar arrived comparatively late on the drama circuit, he soon became Abid Ali’s closest friend. The two shared the screen in two of the biggest plays of the late ’80s, and strengthened their bond after they moved to Karachi for work. “He was not just a senior but an elder brother to me. I shared the mini-screen with him in Pyaas and Khwahish while we were in Lahore, and enjoyed a friendship that continued till his last breath. I will miss him in the remaining years of my life, every single day.”

Not only did Abid Ali act in some of the biggest drama serials, he also helped devise a road map for private productions in Pakistan. He took the first step towards production with Dooriyan, and went on to deliver hits such as Dasht and Doosra Aasmaan. He also acted in scores of films from the late ’70s and as recently as 2019, that added to his fan base. His performance in Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani and Karan Razdan’s Mr Bhatti On Chutthi won him praise not only from across the border but internationally as well, and won him countless awards.

“Abid Ali is the name of an institute when it comes to acting” — Uzma Gillani
“Abid Ali is the name of an institute when it comes to acting” — Uzma Gillani

Abid Ali remained faithful to the small screen despite working in over 200 films. He tasted success as a producer with Dasht and Doosra Aasmaan, the former highlighting Baloch culture and the latter being the first mega-cast drama to be shot abroad.

Atiqa Odho, who went on to become the national sweetheart after Dasht, recalls the visionary producer-director who was way ahead of his time. “As a producer and director, Abid Ali had the vision to create projects such as Dasht at a time when we didn’t have any musical plays on air. We still don’t, but others should take a lead from Dasht’s success and follow Abid’s vision and create plays that support a strong marriage between storytelling and music.

As a producer and director, Abid Ali had the vision to create projects such as Dasht at a time when we didn’t have any musical plays on air. We still don’t, but others should take a lead from Dasht’s success and follow Abid’s vision and create plays that support a strong marriage between storytelling and music.” — Atiqa Odho

“Abid Ali will always be remembered for his timeless performances as an artist, and the industry is poorer after losing him for sure. I was fortunate enough to work in two mega-projects with Abid, Dasht and Aan, and both were very good experiences as these projects stood out amongst the clutter of average projects.”

Nida Mumtaz, who played a double role in Dooriyan, recalls Abid Ali as a wonderful co-star and director, the first to call the shots outside of PTV. “Abid sahib and I worked together a lot during the late ’80s when we were part of films such as Gharibon Ka Baadshah, in which I played the role of his daughter, and TV dramas Pyaas and Khwahish, followed by Dooriyan in the early ’90s. He was one of my early mentors in the field. Many people miss him as he had helped them in the early part of their careers.”

Actresses belonging to the new generation, such as Saba Qamar, also had the honour of sharing the screen with one of the most versatile actors produced by Pakistan. The actress who played his trophy wife in the recently concluded Bunty I Love You sums up Abid Ali’s death as the loss of a gem. “Words can surely not express the loss of Abid Ali sahib. In Bunty I Love You, he played my husband. He was such a great actor, one who always brought so much light to everyone around him.”

Abid Ali shifted to Karachi in early 2000, and became part of the Karachi drama scene both as an actor and a producer. Adnan Siddiqui, who worked with him in a handful of plays, recalled the times when he was a newcomer sharing the screen with a legend. “We worked together for the first time in Ghulam Gardish and, although I was a newcomer, we clicked. He never interfered with the director and kept to himself, but always went out of the way to support youngsters. As a producer and director, you can never ignore or overlook his immense contribution. Making Dasht in those days forever changed the audience’s perception of our TV dramas.”

Humayun Saeed, Abid Ali’s co-star in Mehndi and Tum Ho Kay Chup, to name a few, termed him as a wonderful actor and cook. “We used to have dumpukht at his place that he used to cook himself. I worked with him in a number of serials and always found him affectionate and helpful. I still remember the moment when he advised me to look manly during a scene where I was supposed to cry uncontrollably. He was a highly learned individual, a great director, a popular actor besides being a great human being.”

As for his stint with the big screen, Abid Ali took on roles that others shied away from. At 31, he played veteran actor Nadeem Baig’s father, the latter was 42 at the time. He went on to act in over 200 films, sharing the screen with Afzal Khan aka Jan Rambo in one third of them. The Donkey King star termed it his luck that he managed to share the screen with the legendary actor in so many films. “From my first film Uroosa, where he played Nadeem sahib’s friend, to Moosa Khan where he played Saima’s father, I think I worked with him in nearly 50-60 films. I played his son, his son’s friend, his friend’s son in films, and I still remember his smile and his professionalism.”

A young Abid Ali impressed audiences with his maiden TV appearance in Jhok Sayal (1973)
A young Abid Ali impressed audiences with his maiden TV appearance in Jhok Sayal (1973)

Veteran actors Ghulam Mohiuddin and Jawed Sheikh are also all praises for Abid Ali’s work ethics and persona. They worked with him in countless films and on TV as well, with Ghulam Mohiuddin mentioning their travelling together round the world, and Jawed Sheikh making a special mention of his punctuality.

In one of his final plays on TV — Aangan — Abid Ali inspired a generation of actors, including writer/actor Mustafa Afridi, Ahsan Khan and Madiha Rizvi among others. Mustafa Afridi, who played his son besides writing the script, termed him as one of the best mentors around. “In one of my plays, he did art direction of his room himself and even brought the props from home. He used to tell us after shooting that he still fears Qavi Khan and gets nervous around him. He mentioned the great actor not as a friend or a colleague, but like an obedient son describing his accomplished father.”

Ahsan Khan and Madiha Rizvi termed his brilliant acting as an asset that they will miss in the days to come. While Ahsan played his son-in-law and later grandson in Aangan, Madiha recalled her last drama with him, in which Tauqir Nasir will now take his place. “He was so professional that in his last days on the set of Jhooti, when he was suffering from 102 fever, he didn’t call in sick and continued to work like it was no big deal.”

As a character actor, he was always there with an advice or two for the up-and-coming actors. Zahid Ahmed, one of the known faces of today, disclosed that Abid Ali sahib gave him the best advice ever. “On the sets of Daldal, he said ‘Zahid, don’t ever sell your voice cheap, voices like ours are rare and expensive’.”

Armeena Rana Khan, who played his daughter-in-law in the same drama described him as a thorough gentleman. “The first thing that struck me about him was his humility when we were working together on Daldal. He was kind, considerate and taught me a lot. He was a legend, and Pakistan has sadly lost one of its most illustrious stars.”

Ali Rehman Khan and Hareem Farooq, who shared the screen with Abid Ali in Dayar-e-Dil (DED) and Heer Maan Ja (HMJ), also remembered their favourite co-star and father-figure. Ali Rehman Khan said he would always remember him as one who encouraged young artists to do better. “He loved talking and to be heard, and I used to keep my ears open to his advice. Trust me, I gained 1,000 years of wisdom just by being in his company.”

Hareem, on the other hand, shared an incident that describes his generosity of spirit. “There was a scene between me and Abid sir in DED where we both had dialogues, and when I was done with my lines, I was waiting for him to say his. But he didn’t, and after a moment the director called ‘Cut’. I looked up at him curiously and he was smiling at me. He patted my back and said you will go places, and then he told the director that the scene should go without his lines. That was my second scene I shot with him, and what an appraisal that was!”

Abid Ali was a director’s dream, said Haseeb Hasan who called the shots in Tum Ho Key Chup and Dayar-e-Dil. “Abid sahib was actor extraordinaire and human being, and I got to learn a lot from him. In fact, he made both the characters of my serials unforgettable.”

Mohsin Talat who directed Abid Ali in four serials termed his company as priceless. “We travelled together and spent three weeks to a month abroad, and it was during that time we got to know Abid sahib. He was not just a great actor but a great person who knew how to carry himself, and imparted wisdom whenever he could.”

Azfar Jafri, who directed the revered actor in his last film HMJ, said that Abid Ali will forever live in our hearts through his eminent work for television and cinema. “I feel very fortunate to have worked with an institution like him, to learn from him, and now to cherish the fond memories he has left behind.”

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 15th, 2019