Childhood & Early Life
Mohammad Ali was born on April 19, 1931, in Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh, India. His father, Maulana Syed Murshid Ali, was an ace Islamic scholar from the region. His mother was a homemaker. His father was a highly conservative and religious man who adhered strictly to Islamic laws. This led to a slight trouble as far as Mohammad’s intentions of working in the entertainment field were concerned.
Mohammad grew up with one elder brother and two elder sisters. At the time of his birth, India was going through a civil unrest, owing to the freedom movement in different parts of the country. Soon after Mohammad’s birth, the family moved to Rohtak, a district in the North Indian state of Haryana, from where Mohammad completed his early education.
When the demands for a separate Muslim nation picked up a relentless pace, causing further distress in the country, the family moved to the Muslim-dominated city of Hyderabad in Sindh, which is now part of Pakistan. After the official partition of India in 1947, the family moved to Multan, in the Pakistani state of Punjab. There, Mohammad pursued his high-school education from the ‘Millat High School.’
He was always interested in drama, owing to his elder brother, Irshad, who was a popular drama artist. Mohammad finished his intermediate studies from the ‘Government Emerson College’ and then went to Hyderabad and earned his BA degree from ‘City College.’ All the while, he focused more on his dreams of working in the entertainment field, and during his final year of college, he started working for ‘Radio Pakistan Hyderabad.’
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In the early 1950s, the Pakistani film industry was moving at a snail’s pace. Being of Indian origin, the filmmakers followed almost the same techniques that had been adapted by the Indian filmmakers who were leading Hindi cinema to its “Golden Age.” Working in Hyderabad, Mohammad still wanted to build a career in films. He soon moved to Karachi, Sindh, and worked at a radio station there, before venturing into films in the early 1960s.
Mohammad bagged his first acting role in the 1962 film ‘Chiragh Jalta Raha.’ Arguably the most-awaited Pakistani film of that time, it premiered on March 9 at ‘Nishant Cinema’ in Karachi. The premiere of the film was attended by Fatima Ali Jinnah, sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who had worked toward building a separate Islamic nation.
The film was a big success and soon celebrated its silver jubilee, running for 25 weeks constantly. It achieved both critical and commercial success and won a ‘Silver Screen’ award. Mohammad appeared in two more films that year: ‘Daal Mein Kala’ and ‘Bahadur.’ In both the films, he played the villain, which was a risky step, as most actors back then wished to portray the main lead in films. This risk-taking ability brought him in the limelight, and he soon received his first break as the leading man.
In 1963, Mohammad starred in the film ‘Shararat,’ his first release as the leading “hero.” It was soon followed by a suspense thriller, ‘Mr. X.’ The same year, he appeared in almost half a dozen suspense thrillers such as ‘Qatal ke Baad,’ ‘Khandan,’ ‘Safaid Khoon,’ and ‘Bees Din.’ In ‘Khandan,’ Mohammad played a double role for the first time, and the film went on to become a major hit, eventually completing 25 weeks in the theaters.
He started 1964 with a film based on social issues, titled ‘Khamosh Raho,’ which featured him in a supporting role. The film was another silver-jubilee hit, and Mohammad ended up winning a ‘Nigar Award’ for his performance. His next film that year was ‘Head Constable,’ another silver-jubilee film. In his next film, ‘Aurat ka Pyar,’ Mohammad portrayed the role of a villain yet again.
In the next few years, Mohammad had several silver-jubilee hits, such as ‘Riwaaj,’ ‘Dil ke Tukrey,’ ‘Shabnam,’ and ‘Hazar Dastaan.’ In 1965, Mohammad had his first golden-jubilee film of his career, ‘Kaneez,’ which was a musical family drama. From the mid- to the late 1960s, Mohammad starred in several golden-jubilee films, such as ‘Aina,’ ‘Aag,’ ‘Mehal,’ and ‘Saiqa.’
Mohammad soon started his very own production house in partnership with his wife, actor Zeba, and produced several silver-jubilee films. He won a number of ‘Nigar Awards’ for the ‘Best Actor’ for films such as ‘Aag ka Darya,’ ‘Saiqa,’ and ‘Insaan aur Aadmi.’
In the 1970s, Mohammad starred in a number of major hits, such as ‘Sabbaq,’ ‘Aas,’ ‘Samaj,’ ‘Gharana,’ and ‘Tiger Gang,’ a Pakistani–German co-production. He won another ‘Nigar Award’ for the ‘Best Actor’ for ‘Aina aur Soorat.’ He emerged as the biggest superstar in the Pakistani film industry from the mid- to the late 1970s, with almost every film becoming either a silver- or a golden-jubilee hit. Many of his films from that time, such as ‘Intekhab’ and ‘Bharosa,’ became platinum-jubilee hits, with a 75-week run in the cinemas.
Toward the 1980s, Mohammad slowed down and devoted himself to quality films such as ‘Jaaney Anjaaney’ and ‘Teri Baahon Mein.’ In 1989, he played a small role in the Manoj Kumar-directed Indian Hindi film, ‘Clerk.’ During the last few years of his career, he solely focused on doing Pashto films and appeared in a guest role in the 1995 film ‘Dum Mast Qalandar,’ which was also his last film.
Mohammad Ali met Pakistani actor Zeba during the filming of his debut film ‘Chiragh Jalta Raha,’ which was Zeba’s debut film, too. In 1966, the couple got married during the filming of ‘Tum Mile Pyar Mila’ and remained married until Mohammad’s death in 2006.
The couple did not have any children of their own, but they raised Zeba’s daughter from her earlier marriage, Samina. She was named Samina Ali after being adopted by Mohammad.
Mohammad and his wife had close relations with every Pakistani regime during their careers. They also ran a couple of charities together. Their charity organization, the ‘Ali-Zeb Foundation’ helped the terminally ill.
Mohammad Ali died of a heart attack on March 19, 2006, in Lahore. He is among the 25 greatest Asian actors of all time, according to a ‘CNN’ survey.