Mohammad Ali was born in Rampur, British India on 19 April 1931. He was the son of Maulana Syed Murshid Ali, who was an Islamic scholar. Born into a religious family, he was the youngest of two brothers and two sisters. After his birth the family migrated from Rampur to Rohtak, and from there to Hyderabad, finally settling in Multan shortly after the independence of Pakistan in 1947.
He attended Millat High School, Multan. He was a favorite student of Mirza Musart Baig and Syed Nasir Ahmed. He was close friend of Syed Iqbal Shah and Khalid Mahmood Bukhari, and did his intermediate examination (12th grade) from Government Emerson College, Multan. In 1954, he moved to Hyderabad to pursue higher studies and obtained a BA from City College, Hyderabad.
Start of career from Radio Pakistan
Muhammad Ali joined Radio Pakistan Hyderabad station as a broadcaster in 1956, where his elder brother Irshad was already working as a drama artist. After some time working there, he moved to Bhawalpur station and from there finally moved to Radio Pakistan, Karachi.
Mohammad Ali started his film career with Fazal Ahmad Karim Fazli’s film Chiragh Jalta Raha (1962). Chiragh Jalta Raha was premiered by Fatima Jinnah on 9 March 1962 at Nishat Cinema, Karachi. He then appeared as a villain in director Munawwar Rasheed’s film Bahadur, director Iqbal Yusuf’s film Daal Mein Kala, and director Javed Hashmi’s film Dil Ne Tujhay Maan Liya. His first film as a hero was Mr. X but Movie Shararat (1963) was released earlier than film Mr. X. Later, he moved to Lahore and worked in the movie Khandan (1964). But his breakthrough was from the film Khamosh Raho (1964). In 1989, he had an extended cameo in the Hindi filmClerk.
Mohammad Ali was the lead actor and ‘hero’ in 94 films. His first lead actor movie was Shararat (1963) and his last movie as a lead actor was Aaj Ki Raat (1983). Another movie was Mohabbat ho to aisi (1989) and his last movie of his career was titled Dum Mast Qalander (1995).
Ali was most often voiced by Mehdi Hassan and Ahmed Rushdi. Mehdi Hassan sang 115 songs for Ali in his 88 movies. Rushdi sang 100 songs in 57 movies for Ali. Masood Rana sang 34 songs for Ali in his 23 films. Others who provided his voice were Akhlaq Ahmed, Ghulam Abbas, Rajab Ali and Mujeeb Aalam.
Marriage to actress Zeba
Ali met Zeba the first time in 1962 during the filming of their debut film “Chirag Jalta Raha (1962)”. The couple got married four years later during the filming of Tum mile pyar mila on 29 September 1966 and remained married until Ali’s death in 2006.
They did not have any children together. However, Mohammad Ali legally adopted Samina, Zeba’s daughter from her previous marriage, giving her the name Samina Ali.
Mohammad Ali and his wife Zeba both had close relations with different political regimes in the country. He protested by putting up black dress in International Moscow Film Festival against India for holding 93,000 POWs after the 1971 war. In Nawaz Sharif’s government, he also served as Cultural Minister and introduced new policies to improve the condition of Pakistani film Industry.
Muhammad Ali along with Shahid Ali Zaidi founded Ali-Zaib Foundation in 1995 to help the Thalassemia patients. The foundation built hospitals in Sargodha, Sahiwal, Jhang, Gujranwala, Okara with Foundation’s Head office in Faisalabad.
Retirement from films and his death
After his retirement from films, when Mohammad Ali was asked in a television show about his disassociation from the films, he said: “The atmosphere in which I was accustomed to work for films and the way films are made now, have entirely changed, hence I called it quits.” He was very generous and warm towards his fans. One of the best Pashto poets Zahir Shah Zahir has dedicated all his poetry to Mohammad Ali which includes more than ten books. The poet used to visit his house and have long discussions about the social welfare of people and Pakistani society.
Mohammad Ali died on 19 March 2006 due to a heart attack in Lahore.
Awards and recognition
He won 10 Nigar awards in his film career starting from 1964 to 1984.
- Nigar Award for Best Supporting Actor in film Khamosh Raho (1964)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor in film Kaneez (1965)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor in film Aag Ka Darya (1966)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor in film Saiqa (1968)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor in film Insaan Aur Aadmi (1970)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor for Wehshi (1971)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor in film Aas (1973)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor for film Aaina Aur Soorat (1974)
- Nigar Award for Best Actor for film Haidar Ali (1978)
- Super Performance Nigar Award in 1984 for films Doorian and Bobby
He is the only Pakistani actor who won most awards as Best Actor in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Pride of Performance Award by the President of Pakistan in 1984 which is the third highest civilian award in Pakistan from former president Zia ul Haq in recognition of his lifelong services to the entertainment industry of Pakistan.Later, he was also honoured with Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, the second highest civilian award in Pakistan.
He got many honours and special awards like the Millennium Legend Star Graduate Award in 2000, Ilyas Rasheedi Gold medal 1998, Nigar Lifetime Achievement Award 1998, Nigar Millennium Award 2000, Lifetime Excellency Award 1997, Pakistan Best Personality Award 1997. He received Bolan Awards, Screen Light Awards, National Academy Awards, Critics Award, Cultural Award from Punjab University and an Asian Academy Award. He received the first foreign award Al-Nasr Award in Dubai 1984. He was also awarded the Naushad Award of India.