• By: Ali Inan

The world of performing arts mourns the loss of Talat Hussain, an iconic actor and voice artist, who passed away in Karachi on 26th May, aged 83. Talat Hussain’s remarkable career spanned decades, placing him among the greatest artists from the subcontinent, alongside the likes of Dilip Kumar, Moin Akhtar, Zia Mohy ud Din, and Raj Kumar. Renowned for his deep, resonant voice, his impact was often compared to that of Ben Kingsley.

Talat Hussain was known as a dreamer, whose sensitive nature often clashed with the imperfections of the world around him. Despite these struggles, he remained hopeful and optimistic, believing that better days lay ahead. Unlike many, he managed to live life on his own terms, driven by influential figures like his father, PTV director Fazal Kamal, and his literature teacher, Hasan Askari. One of his few regrets was the collapse of the film industry, which he believed stymied his potential contributions.
Hussain viewed acting as a unique profession, one where the artist offers life’s realities in exchange for the audience’s appreciation. This challenging career requires the finesse of a magician to captivate audiences. To refine his craft, he traveled to England in 1972, shortly after his marriage to Rakshi.

Enrolled in the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hussain worked as a waiter and dishwasher to support his studies. During this time, he also took on roles with the BBC and the ATV television channel.

Despite the physical challenges posed by his stature, Hussain’s powerful voice carved out a niche for him in the entertainment industry. His memorable performances in television serials like Kashkol, Perchayan, and Insan aur Admi remain etched in the collective memory of his audience. He also lent his voice to the Urdu version of Jesus, showcasing the versatility and depth of his vocal talent.

His passion for acting was nurtured by his mother, a broadcaster in India and later at Radio Pakistan, Karachi. This early exposure to the performing arts, combined with a home environment that valued literature and knowledge, shaped his future path. Encouraged by his father, Hussain’s love for literature blossomed, and although his foray into painting was short-lived, his commitment to acting never wavered.

Hussain’s formative years included theatre performances, starting with The Thing at the PACC in 1963, a play that achieved considerable success. Despite opportunities to work as an announcer for Nippon, which later became PTV, he chose to focus on acting, making significant contributions during the 1965 war by performing in Lahore.
Internationally, Hussain’s work with European directors was a highlight of his career. His role in the Norwegian film Import-Eksport earned him the prestigious Amanda Award in 2006, a testament to his outstanding performance and the respect he garnered abroad.

He held strong views on the decline in quality of contemporary TV dramas, attributing it to a shift from ethical storytelling to a focus on ratings and commercial success. Hussain lamented the loss of the imaginative engagement that radio once provided and criticized PTV for failing to preserve its archives, reflecting a broader neglect of cultural heritage.

At the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), Hussain was a cherished mentor, inspiring a new generation of actors. He found fulfillment in teaching, seeing NAPA’s success as a beacon of hope for the performing arts in Pakistan.

Moin Akhtar played a pivotal role in popularizing Hussain’s signature pauses in dialogue delivery. This technique became iconic through the serial Insan aur Admi, with Akhtar’s mimicry adding to its fame. Hussain’s friendship with Akhtar was a testament to mutual respect and shared artistic values.

In his later years, Hussain devoted himself to writing, with several literary projects in progress. Despite his illustrious career, he noted that his family, while supportive, pursued different paths. His wife, an academic and consultant, was the cornerstone of their family, providing unwavering love and support.

Talat Hussain’s passing marks the end of an era. His contributions to acting and voice artistry have left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of the subcontinent. As the arts community reflects on his legacy, his commitment to excellence and his profound impact on the industry will be remembered and celebrated for generations to come.

  • The author is a PhD scholar in English Literature, a Lawyer, and an International Relations analyst.

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