Mohammad Ali

'Lion of Lollywood'
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The Independent Online

Mohammad Ali, actor: born Rohtak, India 1935; married 1968 Zeba (one adopted daughter); died Lahore, Pakistan 19 March 2006.

With appearances in over 100 Urdu films, Mohammad Ali was the undisputed "Lion of Lollywood", Pakistan's film city of Lahore, impressing audiences for nearly three decades with his acting versatility, rich baritone and towering personality. Starting his film career as a villain, the handsomely flamboyant and powerfully built Ali graduated to sensitive and, in later years, character roles in films which play in innumerable halls around Pakistan even today to packed audiences.

Ali was born in 1935 in Rohtak in northern India into a middle-class, religious family. After Independence, he migrated to the northern Pakistani city of Multan and completed his education locally. Then, in the early 1950s, he moved to Hyderabad and in 1956 joined Radio Pakistan, where his booming voice and perfect Urdu diction invited immediate notice and made him a local celebrity. At Hyderabad he also indulged his fascination and love for classical Urdu poetry by dressing up as Ghalib, the famous 19th-century poet and dilettante at a symposium and rendering his dreamy verse to perfection.

In 1962, the film producer Fazal Ahmed Karim Fazli successfully cast Ali as a villain in Chirag Jalta Raha ("The Flame Continued to Burn") alongside the leading lady Zeba, whom Ali married six years later, adopting Samina, her daughter from a previous alliance. A series of villainous roles followed for Ali in Bahadur ("Brave"), Dal mein kala ("Something Fishy") and Dil ne tujhe maan liya ("My Heart has Accepted You") before featuring, much to the surprise of audiences, as the leading man in Shararat ("Mischief") and later Khamosh Raho ("Keep Quiet") in 1964.

His sensitive performance in the last film earned him the first of seven Nigars, Pakistan's highest cinematic award, leading to a long journey through innumerable hit movies before he retired in 1989 following Kiraya ka Katil ("Hired killer"). Ali also acted in several films in Punjabi and Pushto, the language of the Pathans of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and southern Afghanistan. He played a small role in just one Bollywood film, Clerk (1989).

According to one account, Ali owed 17 rupees (less than a quarter of a penny) to Radio Pakistan Karachi's cafeteria from his early, penury-ridden days as a broadcaster, but urged the eatery owner to retain his name on the debtors' list to remind him of "bad times". He said he was willing to pay as much money as the café demanded for that "honour".

A highly humane and thoughtful person, in the 1990s Ali founded the Ali-Zeb foundation to help the terminally ill, especially those suffering from cancer. He also served as Cultural Adviser to the government of Nawaz Sharif and was involved in the construction business.