By Dr. Priyaankaa Mathur
It isn’t easy to laugh or make anyone laugh when life is miserable. Yet our legendary comic heroes mastered the art of carving comedy out of tragedies of life, while making their audiences laugh out loud. Filmifiles brings to you a peep into the cinematic journeys of some of the master comedians of the Indian Cinema.
Best known for playing a drunkard in Hindi films Keshto Mukherjee was one of the finest comedians Indian cinema ever had. In a career span of 30 years, Keshto played many characters in nearly 90 films, making cinema-goers laugh till the last breath, with his impeccable expressions and perfect comic timing, no matter what was the length of his role.
Well, his deadly drunk super chaotic self, what he portrayed on screen, was the portrayal of his true self in his struggle days, while he had nothing to eat. It was the time when alcohol became his closest companion, while he drank to get asleep and de-stress himself. Eventually, it was this mate, which got him that popularity as a drunkard, Keshto once told in an interview.
Born in Bengal, Keshto began his career with Bengali cinema. It was the filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak who discovered him for the first time and offered him a role in the film ‘Nagarik’, which became his debut in 1952. Keshto eventually shared a great bond with Ghatak, who again made him play a money player in the Bengali film ‘Bari Theke Paliye’ post which he was offered a role in ‘Musafir’ by Director Hrishikesh Mukherji.
It was the film ‘Maa Aur Mamta’ where he came into his characteristic avatar playing the Drunkard. It’s believed that Director Asit Sen was the one who tapped his unfathomable talent in this role as a comedian, which created his prototype image, later fetching him roles in blockbuster hits, like Zanjeer, Aap Ki Kasam, and Sholay. Keshto was known for some of his notable characters like Driver James D’Costa in Chupke Chupke, or a mischievous friend to Kishore Kumar in ‘Padosan’ and ‘Sadhu Ur Saitan’ or a dozing passenger in Bombay to Goa.
He brought life to many characters in films to include Piya Ka Ghar, Gol Maal, Jurmana, Masoom, Parakh, Majhli Didi, Chanda Aur Bijli, Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye, Sanjog and Khoobsoorat and many more. The art was not only how well the characters were penned down, but also how well he depicted it with his instant humor and presence of mind creating a laugh riot effortlessly. He was well appreciated for his stellar performance in Khubsoorat for which he won the Film Fare Award for the Best Comedian in 1981.
Best remembered for his role as a Head Massager(Champiwala) in the song ‘Kahe Ghabaraye’, Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi was better known by his stage name Johnny Walker. Regarded as one of the foremost comedians of his era, Johnny Walker acted in around 300 films enthralling the moviegoers with his perfect comic timing and funny gestures.
Kazi had seen humble beginnings in his initial years, while he worked as a bus conductor in the BEST buses in the then Bombay. He always dreamt of working in films and nurtured his desire by entertaining passengers with his amusing routines. It was once that actor Balraj Shahani, who was also writing Baazi, saw him enacting a part of a Drunkard in the bus. He called him to demonstrate the same to Guru Dutt Saheb, who instantly liked it and offered him the role of a Drunkard in the film Baazi, and introduced him as Johnny walker in the film, naming him after the scotch whisky brand. Post which there was no looking back for him, while he was offered interesting character roles in the films Mere Mehboob, CID, Pyaasa, and Chori Chori and became a star comedian in the 50s and 60s.
After the untimely death of Guru Dutt Saheb, Johnny Walker worked with Directors like B R Chopra for his film Naya Daur, Chetan Anand’s Taxi Driver, and Bimal Roy’s Madhumati till the 1980s. His last film came after a break of 14 years which was Chachi 420, a remake of Mrs. Doubtfire. Eventually, he chose to retire and refused to accept the cruder form of comedy, since he felt that comedy in films was no more pure humor, but had become a hostage of vulgarity.
Known as Bollywood’s Best Comedian Mehmood Ali, popularly known as Mehmood took comedy in India to a next level. A jack of all, Mehmood was an ace comedian, actor, singer, director, and producer. Whether he acted, danced, or sang, this master craftsmen knew how to create a laugh riot the moment he entered the silver screen.
There cannot be a filmgoer in India, who doesn’t have a favorite Mehmood moment, and mine is his performance in ‘Padosan’ in the song ‘Yek Chaturanar.’ Mehmood plays this cranky Carnatic music teacher to Saira Bano, competing to win her over in this crazy Jugalbandi with Kishore Kumar, while the song became one of his show-stopping performances. What a superb voice artistry he displayed, with perfect comic timing, making the audiences burst into peals of laughter. The song is still remembered as one of the most iconic comic songs of the Indian cinema.
While he made people laugh for a living Mehmood had a very struggling life, since early childhood. While he dealt with his father’s alcoholism and financial stress he had to bear the responsibility to feed a large family from an early age, being one of the eight children born to Mumtaz Ali, a well-known actor-dancer in the 1940s and 50s. He started earning a living at an early age, while his father would take him to the film studios in search of work.
Mehmood started acting as a child artist at Bombay talkies and was first cast in Gyan Mukherjee’s 1943 film Kismet, but looking at the financial stress in the family he ended up doing many odd jobs like working as a chauffeur for Raj Kumar Santoshi’s father P.L Santoshi. It was much later that Director Rajkumar Santoshi wrote this character of a sleazy film producer and offered this role to Mehmood in the film ‘Andaz Apna Apna’, which became his debut film.
Mehmood got his first noticeable break-in ‘Parvarish’ following which he received small character roles in Guru Dutt’s CID and Pyaasa. He was well appreciated for his effortless comedy which later helped him fetch lead roles. His biggest breakthrough came with ‘Sasural’ while he paired against Shobha Khote. The duo teamed up as a spontaneous comedic pair in several movies thereafter in the 60s.
Best known for playing comic roles in Hindi films Mehmood worked in over 300 films in a career span of nearly four decades in Indian cinema. Mehmood won four Filmfare Awards, three of which were for ‘Best Comedian’ for the films Pyar Kiye Jaa, Waris, and Vardaan.
It’s believed that at the peak of his career Mehmood even earned more than the lead actors in the films, as an ingenious comedian, while he walked away with the laurels and the laughs. Mehmood was one of the few comedians who used to deliver box office hits, riding a film solely on his shoulders,while his pictures on the posters ensured more audience turn up to the theatres.
Be it his parody in Padosan or the double role of Chuttan and Phuttan in Do Phool, or his Hyderabadi accent in Gumnaam, this funny man won the audiences with his easy humor and madness, while his films became the epitomes of comedy, which made him immortal.
Comedians are certainly more sensitive as actors than the Heros, while they are more observant, they convey more and even get easily hurt, which helps them nurture their art, Asrani once said in an interview. The actor breathes comedy which acted as a mantra for him leading to a healthy and happy life till date. After having worked in 350 films over five decades, Asrani has played not only comic roles but lead, character, and supporting roles, while he also produced and directed films over the years.
Best known for his comic role as an eccentric ‘Jailer’ in Sholay, Asrani created instant humor tickling the funny bones of the audiences, with his dialogue delivery and funny demeanor with Chalie Chaplin-like mustaches at the very first look. Be it his character of Champak Bhoomia in Aaj ki Taaza Khabar or the Madman he played in Anhonee, or the Film fanatic youth in Guddi, Asrani established himself as the most adored funny-man of his times.
Since his school days, Asrani was attracted to act and eventually started going to stage plays, till the time he finished his graduation. While his family wanted him to take up the family business and be a cloth merchant, he took a plunge to take acting as a career and joined Film institute Pune. While he was exploring the nuances of character acting, he eventually discovered his inclination towards comedy.
It was the Producer-Director Atma Ram, who selected him amongst 8 boys from the institute to cast them for his new film Umang, where he played a hippy,although the film did not do well.
In his next film Guddi,Asrani made an impact,even with his very few scenes. The film fetched him many roles, marking the beginning of his long innings in the Indian cinema as a character comedian.
Asrani became a favorite of many Directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Atma Ram, and Gulzar who repeatedly cast him in the 70s, and his work got noticed through their films. His demand increased and he reached the peak of his career appearing in nearly 101 films from 1970-1979. Asrani met the actor Rajesh Khanna on the sets of Bawarchi, and became close friends with him, while their friendship strengthened while they did Namak Haram. Eventually, Khanna suggested him to many producers and directors to make him part of his films, and they worked in 25 films together.
Asrani is known for his notable comic roles in Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar, Balika Badhu, Roti, Prem Nagar, Chupke Chupke, Chhoti Si Baat, Rafoo Chakkar, Sholay, Balika Badhu, Fakira, Anurodh, Chhaila Babu, Charas, Phaansi, Dillagi, Heeralal Pannalal, Pati Patni Aur Woh and Hamare Tumhare. He won the Filmfare Award for Best Comedian for his performances in Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar and Balika Badhu.
The poker-faced comedian and actor Deven Verma, known for his effortless comedy timing, flawless acting, and unbeatable simplicity was indeed a charmer. Endowed with a great sense of humor, Deven was a lively person in real life, while his reel life characters too depicted his actual spirit and energy.
Deven Verma was born in a Gujarati family in Kutch and was brought up in Pune. After finishing his graduation from Nowrosjee Wadia College for Arts and Science Pune, he decided to take up acting as a career and became a stage artist. Eventually, he came to Mumbai and married Roopa Ganguly sister of veteran actor Ashok Kumar.
Deven made his Bollywood debut with Yash Chopra’s Dharmputra as a supporting actor. It was his performance in Gumrah which made the industry recognize his talent, giving him the real foothold as a comedian where he played actor Ashok Kumar’s servant. Eventually, he started receiving many offers, but he preferred doing two films in a year.
Over the years, Deven Verma became a favorite of Film directors like Basu Chatterji, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and Gulzar giving many rib ticklers like Chori Mera Kaam, Chor Ke Ghar Chor, and Angoor, which made him won Film Fare Awards thrice for the Best Comedian category. While in Chori Mera Kaam he played a shady book publisher, he was best known for his double role in Angoor, where he left audiences laughing aloud uncontrollably with his subtle sense of humor and deadpan expressions.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s play, The Comedy of Errors, the film Angoor had two pairs of identical twins, a master and a servant, who were exchanged at the time of birth. Deven played the two servants, who had the same face, while he treated each of the characters very differently in every nuance. Be it their body language, their way of speaking, and the way they reacted to a situation. He proved his mastery not only over the art of comedy, but also how he deep-dived into understanding the layers of the characters he played, which made this film the most memorable comic drama of the Indian cinema.
Eventually, Deven became one of the most sought-after comedians and a seasoned actor of his time doing many films namely Anupama, Kattha Meetha, Devar, Buddha Mil Gaya, Mere Apne, Kora Kaagaz, Chor Ke Ghar Chor, Golmaal and many more.Apart from acting he also produced and directed films including Besharam, where he directed Amitabh Bacchan.
Deven Verma worked with a generation of actors in a career span of over four decades, and would be remembered by the younger generation for his roles in the films like Ishq, Andaz Apna Apna, Dil To Pagal Hai. Having had a great stint in Bollywood, the actor also proved his mettle in Marathi and Bhojpuri films.