TALAT Hussain
TALAT Hussain

ONE of the most distinguished thespians of his generation, Talat Hussain breathed his last on Sunday morning. He was 83. He is survived by his wife, three children, and legions of fans who followed him throughout his storied career as a proponent of the dramatic arts, par excellence.

Often described by his admirers as the “Pakistani Laurence Olivier”, Mr Hussain’s measured delivery and masterful use of the pregnant pause etched his performances into the minds of viewers.

Roles such as the character of Alijah, which he played in Hameed Kashmiri’s TV series, Kashkol, highlighted his versatility as an actor on the small screen.

A master of voice modulation, he was also a familiar sight on PTV during the month of Muha­rram, rendering the marsiya as only he could, capable of bringing the audience to elation or tears with the power of his delivery.

Early life

Mr Hussain was born in Delhi, undivided India, on Sept 18, 1940. After the partition of the subcontinent, his family opted to cross the border and settle in Karachi where his mother, Shaista, joined Radio Pakistan as a broadcaster.

A decade or so later, Hussain — who obtained his bachelor of arts degree from Islamia College — had developed a penchant for performing arts, and in the early 1960s received an opportunity to play a relatively significant part in the film Chiragh Jalta Raha.

A couple of years later, he joined Radio Pakistan as a voiceover artist and in 1967, after the advent of television in the country, began acting in TV plays — Arjumand being one of his initial television jobs as an actor.

In no time, he became a reputed artist. After playing important roles in a few films, in 1971 he had his first international project, a Turkish movie titled Malkoçolu Ölüm Fedaileri.

His thirst for learning more about the art form took him to the UK in 1972 where he enrolled himself in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. In England, he worked in TV series and radio plays including It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Crown Coat.

A rising star

After returning to Karachi, Mr Hussain appeared in several TV serials and series. At the time, he was, arguably, the most recognisable face and voice of the Pakistani TV industry. His performance in the series Bandish, Parchhayan and Hava’en were liked immensely both by the viewers and critics.

It didn’t take him long to work in some more international ventures; the Indian film Sautan Ki Beti in 1989 (co-starring Rekha and Jetendra), British television series Traffik (1989) and the British-Pakistani film Jinnah (1998) being three of them.

In Jinnah, he essayed the part of a soft-hearted migrant in love with Pakistan and its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He also won an award for his supporting role in the Norwegian movie Import-Eksport.

He was also bestowed with a Pride of Performance award.

 Talat Hussain relives his days as a drama artist at the Radio Pakistan studio, on M.A. Jinnah Road in Karachi.—Arif Mahmood / White Star
Talat Hussain relives his days as a drama artist at the Radio Pakistan studio, on M.A. Jinnah Road in Karachi.—Arif Mahmood / White Star

Teacher, writer

Mr Hussain loved to work on stage and acted in a number of dramas. This was one of the reasons he joined the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) as a teacher.

He also led the Arts Council of Pakistan’s theatre department, too, as its director.

Talking to Dawn, the council’s president Ahmed Shah, with whom Mr Hussain had a close association, said the late actor had served the council in the capacity of its vice-president, and as a member of its governing body or several occasions.

In a statement, Napa said that he had joined the academy from the very beginning, in 2004, and remained associated with it until his ailing health prevented him from actively working. It also announced three days of mourning.

Mr Hussain had a deep interest in literature. As a young artist, he used to frequently visit eminent scholar and poet Qamar Jamil’s place, which was a hub for Karachi’s literary luminaries.

Recalling a memory of the late Talat Hussain, veteran actor Javed Sheikh told Dawn: “When I joined Radio Pakistan he was my senior. We worked together on radio, TV and film on many projects.”

“I remember we were doing a play for TV called Das Bonay (10 midgets) based on an Agatha Christie story. I hadn’t learned my lines because of which the director was cross with me. Talat sahib took me to a corner, encouraged me and told me that learning lines was essential. I remembered that and it worked for me in my career. Much later when we were working in a film called Halchal. I memorised a two-page scene and delivered it in one go.”

Not many are aware of the fact that he wrote short stories, some of which — Sanduq and Taza Bastiyan — were dramatically read last month at the Arts Council by two of his theatre students. He had once told this writer that he was working on two novels.

A decade back, Mr Hussain contracted a skin disease. And for the last couple of years, dementia had set in. He was a sensitive soul who was always willing to lend an ear and a helping hand to a colleague, friend or even to an acquaintance in distress.

Mr Hussain was laid to rest in the Defence Phase VIII Graveyard.

Condolences and tributes

As news of his passing became public, people from all walks of life paid rich tribute to the giant of stage and screen, saying that another one of the ‘greats’ had shuffled off this mortal coil.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called him “a legendary actor” and prai­sed his quintessential dialogue delivery. The prime minister said Mr Hus­sain’s acting skills “won the hea­rts of drama and film fans worldwide”.

His contributions to theatre, film, TV and radio will always be remembered, the PM said, adding the void created by his death could never be filled.

Acting President Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani hailed the late actor’s “invaluable contributions” to arts will always be remembered.

He prayed for the late actor and his family to bear this loss with patience.

Federal Minister for Infor­ma­tion, Broadcasting and Culture Attaullah Tarar also expressed his heartfelt condolence.

The minister lauded the late actor’s stellar performance in the popular Channel 4 series Traffic and other TV dramas. “Talat Hussain will always live in our hearts.”

The chief ministers of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab also expressed deep sorrow and grief over the eminent actor’s death.

UK diplomat Jane Marriott recalled Mr Hussain’s foray into London’s West End and UK radio and TV, calling him “a legend in Pakistan and mentor to many”.

Actor Behroze Sabzwari recalled his experience of working with Mr Hussain and hailed his services to the theatre industry.

Praising Mr Hussain’s dialogue delivery, Sabzwari said, “I can’t recall how many times I’ve tried to speak like Talat bhai in dramas but I can’t.”

Actress Bushra Ansari called Mr Huss­ain the “king of the world of voice”.

She noted: “Very few artists speak the Urdu language in such a brilliant, clear and beautiful manner, and also speak English in the same clear and beautiful way.”

Actor Adnan Siddiqui, in a post on X, said that the passing away of Mr Hussain “felt like a personal loss”.

“He was there not as a co-actor but [as a] guiding force when I did my first-ever play,” he said, adding: “Another of the greats gone.”

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

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