KARACHI: Veteran journalist, playwright and thespian Imran Aslam, who had been group president of the Jang Group and Geo TV Network since 2015, passed away in Karachi early morning on Friday (December 2) at the age of 70.
Imran Aslam was born in Madras in 1951 and received his early education in Chittagong and Dhaka in former East Pakistan. He graduated from Government College, Lahore and later went on to study at the London School of Economics. Prior to joining journalism, at the age of 24, he worked as director of Sheikh Zayed’s Royal Fleet, during which time he engaged with some of the best in the aviation industry.
Imran Aslam turned to journalism in the 80s — and thus began a nearly forty-year relationship with a career that saw many highs, and mentored many greats in the field. In 1983, he was appointed editor of the evening newspaper, The Star, a trailblazer in investigative reporting at a time when the press was under severe censorship in the country. Having had to resign due to his fearless journalism, for two years Imran Aslam mainly worked as a jingle-writer, while also continuing to work in the theatre and on television.
Imran’s work as a writer for stage and TV rivals his work as an editor; as the resident playwright of Grips Theatre, he wrote and adapted more than a dozen plays for children -- all heavy on political symbolism. Not only that, some of his best work in advertising led to memorable catch-lines -- ‘Mujhe tuc tuc ke saath chahiye’ being one. For television, perhaps the most memorable, groundbreaking -- and unsurpassed -- play he wrote was the Moin Akhtar starrer Rozi, an adaptation of the film Tootsie.
Imran went on to write over 60 plays produced for the stage and several dramas and serials for television. His last foray into writing was the film, ‘Parey Hut Love’, which was released in 2019.
In 1991, Jang Group launched The News and Imran Aslam was part of the founding team. In his long association with the Jang/Geo Group, he served as chief news editor, coordinating editor, editor and senior editor of The News. The News on Sunday owes its conception and launch to him as well. Under his mentorship thrived some of journalism’s biggest names today. His colleagues remember him as an editor who would check every part of the paper before it went to print -- from the front and opinion pages to crossword, cartoon and ads texts. Former editor of Dawn Abbas Nasir says of his friend: “What an extraordinary man I had the privilege of calling a friend, a colleague, a brother and comrade. In my 63 years, I have not met such a truly-multifaceted man of so many talents. He was an editor who made waves, a TV executive whose contribution to the medium and its development in the country will never be forgotten, a mentor many of whose mentees feel orphaned today, despite having achieved stardom, a thespian with a booming voice, a natural comic and a mimic whose wit and one-liners could have you in stitches endlessly. But most of all: an audacious crusader, political activist who weaved circles around the Zia censors with his spectacular adaptations of Dario Fo plays with ‘Jaali aks’ (Accidental Death of an Anarchist) being one of my favourites. The plays were staged in Karachi, even as Zia was firmly in the saddle, and played to full houses. I can promise you wherever he is he has a spellbound audience around him even as you read these lines -- making them laugh and cry at will.”
Former editor of Instep, and longtime friend of the family, Aamna Haider Isani remembers Imran as: “Mentor, friend or family, Imran Aslam was larger than life, no matter which role he played in yours. To me, he was all three, rolled into a cocktail of kindness, generosity, intellect and wisdom. His doors were always open for those seeking his time, and time - which no one has for anyone, anymore - is what he gave in abundance. Soft spoken, kind and patient, his conversations came with his unique brand of wit and ended with chuckles and grins. Even in the darkest of times, his one-liners lifted dinner table conversations to warm hearted laughter. I’m richer to have known Imran as my mentor, friend and family. And the world will undoubtedly be a much poorer place without him.”
In 2002, Imran Aslam was part of the team that launched Geo -- the channel that “changed Pakistan’s media landscape”, per the New York Times. The same year he was appointed president of Geo TV Network in 2002 and in 2015 became the group president of Jang and Geo TV. During his time with Geo, Imran continued to fight the good fight till the end, speaking up for journalists’ rights and being a voice of reason and thoughtful journalism all the while advocating for the right of the media in Pakistan to be able to work without constraints or threats. Hasan Zaidi, editor Dawn magazines, worked with Imran Aslam and remembers him thus: “I had known Imran for many years as the elder brother of my closest friend Talat but it was when we both joined Geo - in its design phase - that I think I really got to know him. In fact, since we didn’t have any other office space at the time, we were literally sitting in Imran’s office for the next 1.5 years. That gave me ample time to learn about Imran who was generally a very private person. And I discovered his amazing experiences as well as that he was one of the best raconteurs I’d ever heard. Plus he was a great wit, always on the lookout to throw in his puns and one-liners. But beneath all these stories and jokes, sometimes quite risqué and unprintable, was an immensely humane and warm person who always looked out for and promoted those who were not privileged or those who were often marginalized. There are so many of them, in all spheres of media, and that’s why I think so many people loved him.”
Imran Aslam’s friends and colleagues remember him not just as a fearless and smart journalist or a creative media man but also as someone who was a master at the written word, had a voice that could inspire and charm in equal measure, was a music connoisseur and was adept at both classical literature and its more modern variants.Journalist and author Reema Abbasi, Imran Aslam’s niece and someone he also brought into journalism, sums up Imran Aslam in these words: “Imran Aslam was mentor to many of the great names in journalism today. He led the launch of The News and mapped out the framework for Geo TV. He shot to journalistic fame with his ‘Haq off to Haj’ headline in The Star newspaper for which he was sacked on the instructions of the dictator. Undeterred, he marched on and took full responsibility for the special report Poppy Politics that riled the establishment in the mid-90s; and stood by his reporters who carried out the expose. In short, once one worked with Imran Aslam as the editor, no one could match the depth of knowledge or the breadth of sweeping interests that defined the man and his legacy. For me it’s a personal and professional loss. A colossus departs.”
There has been an immense outpouring of condolence messages and statements of profound sorrow over the death of one of the giants of journalism in the country. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted that Imran Aslam “belonged to a breed of journalists who made eminent contribution to the development of Pakistani journalism. I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends & colleagues” while Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman wrote that: “Describing what he was or what he excelled in is beyond this space. Tippu, as he was known, was a polymath, as well as a dear friend from decades of journalism together. Pakistan’s cultural space lost a big creator.”
Geo’s Hamid Mir recalls that Imran Aslam “was not just a senior colleague but a shadow of love and compassion that stood by in difficult times”. Imran Aslam’s first editor Zohra Yusuf says that: “There was much more to Imran than the quick wit, penchant for puns and the nonchalant attitude he projected. He was a highly intelligent person with a strong analytical mind and deep political insights. Above all, he was a writer. His weekly columns for The Star weekend that I edited in the 80s were, in fact, pieces of literature with underlying political messages (in days of censorship). He wouldn’t have been all of the above without the sensitivity and warmth of his personality.”
From Mahira Khan to Humayun Saeed to Shaan Shahid, Imran’s status as a polymath is reflected in the spectrum of people who have expressed sorrow at his passing. Where Mahira Khan called him “everyone’s Imran Sb” while recounting how she first met him, Humayun Saeed remembered his “illustrious legacy”, and Fatima Bhutto tweeted about him being the reason she “began writing full time.”
Imran Aslam is survived by his wife, Fareshteh Aslam, his two sons and daughter, siblings and a range of journalists he mentored over the years. His Namaz-e-Janaza will be offered today at 4pm at his residence (A/3, Marine Blessings, Clifton Block 3) followed by burial at the DHA Phase 8 graveyard.
Note: Updated with Imran Aslam's correct year of birth, 1951, not 1952 as erroneously written earlier.
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