Those who remember the 80s well will also be familiar with the brilliance that existed on Pakistan Television (PTV) at that time. In days of severe censorship and fear of the government, PTV (especially its Karachi centre) always found ways of subverting the system and poking fun at the dictator and his lackeys.
There were three names, Anwar Maqsood, Bushra Ansari and Moin Akhtar, who were the mainstay of such satire where things had to be said subtly in order pass through the censor board.
In a rather twisted bit of irony, PTV’s golden days of comedy died with Ziaul Haq. Maqsood and Akhtar’s later attempts to reignite the magic always seemed lacklustre in comparison to the greatness of their heydays.
To me, even “Rozee” is a character from the declining days of the great comedian.
What I will remember Moin Akhtar most for, was his debonair presence as the host of many stage shows. His flawless delivery of lines in Urdu and his confident baritone reached straight into the hearts of millions of Pakistanis who all watched the same television channel each night. This collective partaking of just one source of news and entertainment created a unique Pakistani cultural identity more real for the post-partition generation than the two-nation theory. Akhtar was a huge part of that sense of cultural belonging.
His 3 years ago, felt like the death of another piece of my childhood. As a Pakistani, I had an inevitably politically aware and cerebral childhood, thanks to the satire of such subtlety and with being a part of our everyday existence.
My fondest recollection of Akhtar is from the 1985 6th PTV Awards – undoubtedly the best live ceremony ever conducted by PTV. Shoaib Mansoor’s script and Moin Akhtar’s deadpan delivery of some ageless gems made it an unforgettable evening for all of Pakistan – one whose star appeal, grandeur and unparalleled entertainment value has never been matched since.
One video from the awards night shows the crowd’s thunderous applause at being made fun of – to have Moin Akhtar acknowledge you from that grand PTV stage was enough cause for glee, even if you were the target of that fun.
However, in another the video that struck me in an entirely different manner is a more recent one, which shows a rather grave and tired looking Moin Akhtar. In the clip, he talks with the sageness of a man who has seen much in life. Yet, since he is Moin Akhtar, he still has the ability to subvert and surprise.
During the interview, Akhtar completely turns the table on a question by the host regarding the Pakistani youth, to which the host is expecting a run of the mill answer. Akhtar, however, unlike many of our 80s and 90s heroes who have either turned Tableeghi or Sufi or live in other shades of denial, chooses to answer with refreshing honesty and heartfelt depth. That his anger is born out of love is evident in the way he speaks. Along with the many hours of laughter Moin Akhtar has provided me with, this act of plain speaking endeared him even more to me.
Dear sir, thank you for your humanity. Rest in peace.