He made comedy look and sound like serious business. He was one of those rare actors who didn`t just learn and understand their lines, but could read what was written between the lines.
Many knew Moin Akhtar, who died of cardiac arrest on Friday, as an impersonator par excellence, as a mimic who could copy any dialect spoken in the subcontinent with effortless ease.
Few realised and acknowledged his innate ability to stress words where they needed to be stressed, and when to use an unstressed phrase where the script demanded it. He was an actor to his fingertips. Moin Akhtar was meant for showbiz!
With humourist Anwar Maqsood Moin Akhtar made a lethal combination and produced TV shows that trailed a blaze for comedy skit programming in Pakistan, redefining meaningful satire.
Their satirical sketches of known (and sometimes unknown) personalities ruffled a few feathers and at the same time made the entire country enjoy the bantering that both artistes tickled them with.
What they achieved as a duo on one-on-one talk shows (Studio 2 1/2, Studio Poney Teen, Loose Talk etc) and as members of a team in a unique TV play Half Plate could only be imagined by their predecessors and contemporaries. The acerbic wit, the delightful puns, the socio-politically charged repartee and the unforced acting with which they took many a person (or situation) to the cleaners was unprecedented in the context of Pakistan`s showbiz history.
Anwar Maqsood was so hurt and heartbroken by the loss of his dear friend and colleague that he was not in a position to talk to the media about the tragedy on Friday. All he could say was, “I was grief-stricken when Pakistan was cut in half in 1971. I`m again in mourning in 2011 when I`ve been cut in half.”
Moin Akhtar was not a highly educated man. He was not an uninformed or ignorant individual either. He was aware of the sanctity of words. That`s why one of his favourite comedians was film star Lehri.
He loved the way Lehri, without resorting to slapstick or risqué, cracked jokes and witty one-liners. He didn`t emulate Lehri`s style; what he did learn from him and inculcate in his art was decency and the consciousness that he shouldn`t hurt anyone`s feelings on the pretext of being funny.
Moin Akhtar himself had a long list of followers and disciples. Noted comedian Umar Sharif was more of a colleague and admirer than follower. On Akhtar`s death he said: “I had a good relationship with him.
I wrote a play for him in 1976 and ever since we became friends. I wrote for him till 1990, and one of our plays Bakra Qiston Per was a huge hit. We travelled together and had a great time.
He guided me a lot and was like a mentor to me. Whatever he taught me helped me, and is still helping me, a great deal in my career. He was a legend. His work will be seen, and learnt from, for as long as this world exists.
“You see, he was a great human being, because only great human beings do what he was meant to do. He was like a sheltering tree under which many artistes grew. His contribution to showbiz is enormous. When he started doing theatre, the stage business was all but dead. He revived it.”
Another aspect of Moin Akhtar`s life was that his art and personal traits were appreciated in equal measure.
Actress Atiqa Odho said, “He was a wonderful person. He encouraged juniors like me and treated them with affection. He maintained a professional relationship with them. He`s left us a bit too soon; I don`t expect to see another Moin Akhtar in our lifetime. He had God-gifted talents which cannot be replicated.”
Actor Khaled Anam said, “It`s a great loss. It`s an untimely death. He had a lot more to offer. He was still very young. I`m no-one to comment on his art, but the best thing I liked about him was that he was as a great human being.
I`d known him for a long time. He used to spend a lot of time with us when we did plays for Gripps Theatre. He was always in the process of learning.
Another important thing that people don`t realise is that he did a lot for the welfare of other artistes. He did many shows for Lehri sahib and Munir Husain and some others without damaging their self-esteem.”
Actress Ayesha Alam said, “I never had the good fortune to work with him but I`d met him on some occasions. He was an extremely polite and warm-hearted person. He`ll be hard to replace.”
Moin Akhtar contributed to the lives of millions of people by making them smile and laugh. His body may have left this mortal world. His soul will survive like the rich body of his work.