Talat Hussain is a dreamer. Living in a world beset with faults, his sensitive nature rebels now and then. Yet he continues to nurture a hope that things will become all right, being the eternal optimist. But can one be satisfied with life with so many obstacles and pitfalls in it? His answer is a clear yes as he has done what he wanted to do with it, unlike most people. There were influences that helped him along, such as his father, PTV director Fazal Kamal and Hasan Askari, his literature teacher. However, the one regret that he feels strongly is that if the film industry had survived he could have done something substantial in it.
Acting is the only profession, feels Hussain, in which one takes the audience’s money and gives them life’s reality in return. It is the toughest profession as the artist has to be a first class magician to make people appreciate him. Having established himself in it, he decided that he needed to learn further and went to England in 1972 to study acting. He had just got married and took his wife Rakshi with him.
The actor joined the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, working, meanwhile, as a waiter and dishwasher to make ends meet. He joined BBC and did supporting roles in theatre plays and TV channel ATV after completing his courses. His wife had decided to do her PhD in psychology during this time, but their daughter Tazeen was born. After five years, they returned, because he wanted to continue his career in Pakistan.
Bestowed with an impressive voice, Hussain admits it has played a major role in his acting career. He was short and dark compared to the tall and fair artists around him, but he made a niche for himself due to his talent and voice. Who can forget his serials, such as Kashkol, Perchayan and Insan aur Admi? His voice was used for the Urdu version of Jesus.
His interest in acting was due to his mother being a broadcaster in India and then at Radio Pakistan, Karachi, when they migrated to Pakistan. He thus had a glimpse of the performing arts from close quarters. His father created an atmosphere for reading and acquiring knowledge at home. He made Hussain read David Copperfield with him and that helped in his pronunciation and love for literature. He loved to sing so his father bought a harmonium, but his mother didn’t allow it. So he started painting as he loved that too, and took part in a competition and got the first prize, but a famous artist changed the jury’s verdict which broke his heart and he stopped painting. He was also a good cricketer but his urge for acting had an edge over sports.
Hussain’s love for acting developed due to film watching as he was given three rupees by his father to watch a film fortnightly. His father was extremely lenient, and so his home environment was a loving yet disciplined one. Following in his mother’s footsteps, though she had tried her best to discourage him, he joined Radio Pakistan and the natural next step was to join PTV when it appeared.
He had done theatre earlier, with The Thing being his first play at the PACC in 1963. Presented by the Arts Council it was written by Saeed Ahmad and directed by Younus Saeed. A theatre group from Canada was visiting at the time and they performed the play together which was a huge success. Arts Council was a thriving place, with artist Sadequain having his corner under the stairs.
Fazal Kamal, Aslam Azhar and Zaka Durrani had joined Nippon as directors, a Japanese channel in Lahore, opting for Hussain as its announcer. He refused as he was doing well as an actor. But when Nippon became PTV in 1965 and the war began, he immediately went to Lahore to do two plays.
Having worked in foreign films Hussain’s experience with European directors has been fantastic. “They treat you with respect”, he says and are thoroughly professional and very obliging. He has films Jinnah and Traffick to vouch for.
Hussain has received many awards but the one he is really proud of, is for his role in a Norwegian film. He got a call from Norway in 2006 asking him to work in the main role. The film Import-Eksport was completed in a month and he received the Amanda Award which is also known as the Scandinavian Oscar. The whole jury had voted unanimously for him for his outstanding performance.
His views on the deteriorating TV plays are clear. Media in his heyday felt responsible for young people. Today the ethical code has disappeared and money plays a more important role. The plays also guided people, there was no rating then. Now ratings play an important role and thus the rat race for what is popular. When there was radio only, one used their imagination. Today, says Hussain, channels are producing so many plays that creative imagination has shrunk. PTV should have played its role but it went down and it also failed to maintain an archive of old plays. He states, “When people stop caring about their traditions archives become obsolete.”
Art reflects the socio-economic situation of a country, says the actor, and when moral and ethical values are lost to material gains, art goes out the backdoor. These days TV is the domain of the corporate world, and where black money is made white. Things will improve eventually as the youth will realise that quality is the key to a good presentation.
Being part of the faculty at the National Academy of Performing Art (Napa) where he teaches acting, Hussain says it is very encouraging to see that there is an organisation for students in the performing arts. Former students are in the media now and Napa’s repertory theatre is doing a lot of plays.
His pauses have made him famous too. And the man responsible for it was Moin Akhtar. Hussain used to sit at Zelin’s Coffee house in the ’60s with his friends. One day a thin, small statured young man who was sitting there mimicked his style and pause which Hussain liked. This was the to-be famous Akhtar and the celebrated pause started in serial Insan aur Admi in which his character spoke slowly and developed a pregnant pause as he had to be careful of what he said. Akhtar took it from there. “He was the best stand-up comedian in the subcontinent, a polished compere and mimic,” says Hussain.
His passion these days is writing. A novelette is nearing its end and his two novels which are in the pipeline have a historical background. As he says he is a perfectionist it will take about two years to complete them, and hopes his imagination remains the way it is now.
One would have thought that with such a famous father at least one child would have followed in their father’s footsteps. Talat Hussain says his family hasn’t really been interested in acting except for Tazeen, but she got married and left television.
His younger daughter Rohaina did just one serial and his son is now interested in film making and has done a course in it, presently working in a multinational after his MBA. His wife has taught in Karachi University and IBA and is now a consultant. He proudly says she is the person who has made them complete with her presence and love.