Mehmood, Monarch of Mirth.

Mehmood with Shammi Kapoor, in Dil Tera Diwana, 1962.

Mehmood! The very mention of his name still makes people chuckle. Mehmood Ali set the gold standard for comedy in Indian cinema, and is the most successful comedian in Bollywood history.

Before he came along, the comedian in Indian movies was relegated to two-bit roles and the occasional song and dance number.

Mehmood changed all that. He proved to Indian audiences that a comedian could alone carry a three-hour movie on his shoulders. Even in movies in which he was not the male lead, he would steal the show from the main hero. He did this time and again in movies like Dil tera diwana (for which role he won the Filmfare award), Waris, Pyar Kiye jaa, Bombay to Goa and Humjoli.

Gumnaam was a multi-starrer suspense thriller that had big names in its star cast – like Manoj Kumar, Nanda, Helen, Pran, Manmohan and Madan Puri. And yet, Mehmood in his iconic role as a Hyderabadi cook made the movie a hit with his single dance number – Hum kaale hai to kya hua. People no longer remember the story-line of Gumnaam, that was inspired by Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers. But they do remember Mehmood’s dance number in the film.

Mehmood was much more that just a comedian. Like Kishore Kumar, his talent was multi-faceted. He was a director, producer, lyricist and story writer. Mehmood excelled in serious roles as well, as he proved in tear-jerkers like Parvarish. And he was a playback singer in his own right. When Manna De refused to sing some lines in Padosan, Mehmood sang them himself. Mehmood sang many of his own songs in his movies, all of which became hits. One especially remembers ‘Muthukodi kavadi hadaa‘, from Do Phool and ‘Na bibi na baccha‘, from Sabse bada rupaiya. Mehmood was the first director to recruit hijras to provide a chorus for his songs, and only Mehmood could produce a hit number with them, ‘Main mandir pahuncha‘, from Kunwara Baap (1976).

Mehmood and RD Burman in Bhooth Bangla (1965).

His first attempt at producing and directing a movie was with Bhooth Bangla in 1965. This comedy-thriller featured RD Burman in his first and only screen role. It was Mehmood who gave RD Burman his first break as a music director in Chote Nawab in 1961. Bhoot Bangla was a hit and Mehmood became a full-fledged movie maker. He made several hit movies in the next decade. Padosan made in 1968, is perhaps his best work and it is the most popular comedy ever made in Indian cinema. Mehmood’s Bombay to Goa made in 1973, featured a little known actor called Amitabh Bachchan in the male lead. That movie was seen by the writer duo Salim-Javed, and they offered the male lead of Zanjeer to Amitabh Bachchan, instead of Rajesh Khanna.

During the early 1980’s, his failing health made Mehmood seek retirement and he faded away from the limelight.  Mehmood Ali died in his sleep on this day in 2004, in Pennsylvania.

Mehmood has passed on, but his ability to make people laugh is immortal. Here is Mehmood with Om Prakash in a hilarious scene from Pyar kiya jaa, made in 1968. I rate this as Mehmood’s best comedy scene. Watch the sheer terror on Om Prakash’s face, as Mehmood displays his histrionics. Guaranteed to make you split your sides laughing.

Cheers … Srini.

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Saaranga teri yaad mein …

His virtuosity was in his simplicity. Unlike classically trained playback singers like Mohammad Rafi and Manna De, he had a straightforward and simple singing style that instantly appealed to his listeners. Just about anybody could sing his songs, anyone could hum along with him. But no one could reproduce the sincere pathos that defined the unique voice of Mukesh Chand Mathur.

Mukesh began his singing career as a clone of the legendary KL Saigal. In his first song for a Hindi film, Dil jalta hai, from the film Pehli Nazar (1945) that was filmed on his mentor Motilal, he sounded so much like Saigal that Saigal himself was deceived and remarked that he did not recollect singing that song!

Two music directors, Naushad Ali and Anil Biswas, encouraged Mukesh to develop his own singing style, and prove that he was Mukesh, not a clone. Mukesh did that through the early fifties, and became the screen voice of Dilip Kumar, in movies like Yahudi, Andaz and Madhumati. Remember the evergreen, “Suhana safar aur ye mausam haseen“, from Madhumati?

However, the songs he sang for Raj Kapoor in Aag, Awara, Shree 420 and Anari were far more popular. With the song ‘Zinda hu is tarah‘, from Aag, Mukesh became the official voice of Raj Kapoor, while Dilip Kumar moved over to Rafi. Except for a few songs rendered by Manna De and Rafi, Mukesh sang playback for Raj Kapoor throughout his career, right upto his very last recorded song, for Raj Kapoor’s Dharam Karam, just before his death in 1976.

Mukesh, in fact, sang for all the leading stars of his time, including Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. Mukesh was considered unfit to sing playback for the deep-voiced and macho ‘angry young man’ Bachchan, but he proved his detractors wrong with his superb rendition of ‘Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein‘, from Kabhi Kabhie in 1975.

A notable feature of his voice was the clarity of his diction. No one could match Mukesh for his correct enunciation of lyrics and the sheer emotion he infused into each song he sang.

Mukesh was a modest, soft-spoken man. A benign smile always played on his face, and he never spoke harshly of anyone. A man of the masses, he was quite frank in admitting that he could barely understand English. When he was announced to audiences during his concerts abroad, he would invariably ask the compere to translate his introduction into Hindi.

Although he sang not more than 1300 film songs, Mukesh received innumerable awards through his career, including four Filmfare awards and finally the National Award from the Indian government in 1974, for his rendition of “Kai baar yoon bhi dekha hai“, from Rajnigandha.

When we got the news of his sudden death due to cardiac arrest, on August 27, 1976, at Detroit, we reacted with total disbelief. Raj Kapoor’s immediate shocked reaction was, “I have lost my voice”. And so did Indian cinema. Till date, no satisfactory replacement has been found for this modest singing genius from Ludhiana – and I don’t think there ever will.

Here’s a rare song from Saranga (1961).  Mukesh rated this classical song as the most difficult song of his career. A short version of this song was recorded by Mohammad Rafi. But for the full version, the music director Sardar Mallick insisted on Mukesh. Listen to the song, and you will understand why.

Cheers … Srini.

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They never said it!

Random musings on a rainy afternoon … Famous quotes that famous people never said.

Elementary, my dear Watson … Sherlock Holmes.
Nowhere in the entire works of Arthur Conan Doyle does this phrase appear. Do you know who actually said it? It was Psmith, the whimsical character created by PG Wodehouse in his novel, Psmith, Journalist, first written in 1909. The exact line reads, “”Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary“, murmured Psmith”.

If they do not have bread, let them eat cake … Marie Antoinette.
Never, ever did Marie Antoinette say this. This remark is usually attributed to Maria Theresa, wife of King Louis 14th, who died in 1683, seventy years before Marie Antoinette was born.

The only certainties in life are Death and Taxes … Mark Twain.
Nope. He never said it. And neither did Benjamin Franklin. This phrase actually appeared in print more than a century before Mark Twain was even born, and when Ben Franklin was not yet in his teens. The American playwright Christopher Bullock used this phrase in his comedy, The Cobler of Preston, in 1716.

The exact phrase is, “‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.”

The ends justify the means … Machiavelli.
Regarded as the European Chanakya, the 16th century master politician and power-monger Nicolo Machiavelli is identified by this one phrase. Even people like me, who know very little about Machiavelli, identify him with this quote. The fact is, he never said it.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again … Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.
It’s a story we read in our school days, about a 14th century Scot king who hid in a cave to escape the British. He saw a spider struggling to build its web across the entrance of the cave. The web kept breaking and the spider kept trying until it built its web. Inspired by the spider, the king, Robert the Bruce, led a series of battles against the British until he finally won. Both the story and the quote attributed to him are not in the least true.

This quote was actually made by an American teacher called Thomas Palmer, in his Teacher’s Manual, written in the mid 19th century.

Beam me up, Scotty … James T Kirk, Star Trek.
If you’re a true Trekkie, you will know that this is a classical misquote. Watch every episode of the TV series, and all the Star Trek movies. James Kirk never said those exact words.

God helps those who help themselves ... The Holy Bible.
Big surprise. God did not say this. The phrase, or any version of it, does not appear in any version of the Bible. From Plato to Benjamin Franklin, there are many claimants to this quote.

The real author of this quote is an English political theorist called Algernon Sydney in his ‘Discourses concerning Government’ written in 1698.

Here’s the actual phrase, “God helps those who help themselves; and men are by several reasons (suppose to prevent the increase of a suspected power) induced to succour an industrious and brave people”.


Darth Vader never actually said, “Luke, I am your father.”

The Evil Queen in Snow White never asked, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”.  Sorry. Mahatma Gandhi did not utter these words. He did say, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change”.

And no doubt you know that Humphrey Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam” in the movie Casablanca, and that PT Barnum never in his whole life said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” , and that Paul Revere didn’t go charging on his horse through the town of Concord in 1775, yelling, “The British are coming”. 

Of course you know that the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree, and his famous statement, “I cannot tell a lie”, is in fact a lie. Both the tale and the quote are a concoction of a biographer called Parson Weems who never even knew George Washington. Oh you didn’t know that, eh? Actually, neither did I.

I could go on, ad infinitum. But you get the point don’t you? Check up facts for yourself, before believing that “inspiring” quote on your Facebook timeline.

After all, it was Julius Caesar who famously said, “Thank God for the internet, Brutus.”

Cheers … Srini.

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True confessions of an impoverished metrosexual

After being reliably informed that a man who is fashionably dressed will have women fall over him, one decides to correct one’s chronically single status, and sets out to become a contemporary metrosexual.

First on the list: The Classic White Shirt.

The desi cotton shirts I buy off the roadside shop at Puttenahalli are neither entirely white nor entirely classic, so I proceed to a famous mall looking for a famous brand. At the famous mall, the salesman peddling the famous brand gives me a feral grin, and puts forth a dazzling array of the whitest white shirts I have ever seen. I didn’t know there could be so many shades of white.

I point my shaking finger at one shining shirt, chosen at random. The feral salesman tells me that it costs Rs.2000/-.  Two thousand bucks for a shirt?!

Stunned, I point at another shirt, thinking that surely it can’t be more expensive. But no, I’m wrong. It turns out that two thousand bucks is merely the starting point. This one costs a mind-boggling Rs. 5000/-.  Five thousand Indian rupees for one single shirt. I haven’t spent that much money on all the shirts I’ve bought in my adult life. But then, I’m sternly informed, this shirt is made from pure Egyptian cotton. No wonder the Egyptians sent it to us. Seems to me even a Pharaoh can’t afford it.

One rushes on to the next item on the Fashionista list: Designer jeans. The cheerful nymphet at the jeans corner asks me which jeans I want – bootcut, straightcut, relaxed or skinny. I didn’t know jeans could relax and lose weight.

Then she asks me if I want stonewash, acidwash, vintage wash or dirty wash or if I want distressed jeans. Dirty wash? How does one wash something till it becomes dirty?  And how do jeans get distressed? I am mystified.

I learn then that it is a privilege to wear jeans that are frayed and filthy, and that the technical term for these collectibles is ‘distressed’ jeans. And then, she asks if I want high-rise, low-rise or medium-rise. I ask her to elucidate. The nymphet tells me that the rise will determine how much of my gluteals will be exposed when I bend over. She is deeply offended when I ask her why on earth would I want to wear something with the intention of displaying my gluteals to the general public. So, after a heated debate, we agree upon a pair of straight-cut, high-rise, unwashed denim jeans. The price tag says that it will cost me just over Rs.4000/-.  It is scant consolation that a pair of frayed and tattered bootcut jeans costs twice as much. I tell the nymphet I am too distressed to buy her jeans.

Next halt: The shoe corner.

Fashion pundits are unanimous in their opinion that a man is judged by his shoes. My experience at the jeans corner tells me to expect another hefty dose of fashion-babble from the brawny chap waiting for me. And he does not disappoint, as he unleashes a barrage of scary names at me. Until I met this formidable merchant of modern footwear, I thought there were only two types of shoes – those that you wear to office, and those that you don’t. There were only three colors that I knew of – black, brown and white. And only two materials of construction – leather and canvas. That sort of thinking went out in the last century, I find out.

Now, there are shoes called Oxfords that are made in Italy, shoes called loafers that one wears to work, different shoes for jogging, running and walking, and moccasins that one wears at home to relax. I thought it was normal to take shoes off at home. The brawny salesman tells me it necessary to wear shoes with laces when I wear a formal suit and slip-on shoes when I’m suit-less. What if I decide to take my suit off in the middle of the day, I ask him. Do I need to change my shoes as well? Undeterred, he shows me his range of Oxfords, casuals and sheepskins. One pair of classic square Oxfords = Rs 2446/-, loafers for work = Rs. 3716/-, ergonomic running shoes with arch support = Rs 4200/-; sheepskin moccasins for relaxation = Rs. 2663/-. And then I ask him how come he’s wearing plain canvas shoes, and he tells me that if he could afford proper shoes, then why the heck would he be working in a shoe shop? Point taken.

Accessorize, we are advised by the fashion websites. Unable to afford any major clothing items, I tell myself that maybe I can pretend to be a metrosexual by sporting a couple of branded accessories that I can distract on-lookers with. No such luck.

Paco Rabanne Eau de toilette for men (a seductive fragrance that blends energy, charm & virility) = Rs 2999/-. Pretty expensive toilet water.

Tommy Hilfiger anti-perspirant deo for men (this masculine scent possesses a blend of tangy citrus, cranberry and lavender) = Rs. 2295/-.  The anti-perspirant made me break out in a cold sweat.

Crocodile leather belt (top quality split calf leather with polyurethane coating, will last for years to come) = Rs.4000/-.  If I buy the belt, I can’t afford trousers.

HIDesign men’s wallet (city slick and denim happy) = Rs. 1145/-. I’ll be left with no money to put into the wallet.

Ray-Ban sunglasses = Rs. 4600/-.  My eyes pop out on seeing the price tag.

In sheer desperation, I seek out the innerwear department. I am being over-optimistic, I know, but I hope to flaunt some fashionable innerwear, in the unlikely event that I am required to remove my outerwear. High hopes indeed. Tommy Hilfiger men’s briefs (low-rise brief, 93% cotton, 7% elastane, prices may vary with size) = Rs.619/-.   That is twice the price I pay for my trousers. Probably a good idea to avoid innerwear altogether.

Dashed and defeated, I go back to my usual roadside couturier, and pour out my woes to him. Not to worry, Saar, he says. He reaches into an inner shelf, and pulls out one branded item after another. Lei jeans= Rs.300/-; Tammy Hilfinger white shirt = Rs. 200/-; Adddidas casual shirt = Rs.250/-; Brute deo = Rs.150/-; Crockodile leather belt = Rs.175/-, and “Roy-Band” sunglasses = Rs.200/-. Total bill = Rs.1275/-. I ask him about shoes, and he tells me he can get me any brand I want. That is, any brand I want will be printed on the shoes. Flat price = Rs.550/-, non-negotiable.

Looks exactly like original labels, saar, he assures me with a nudge and a wink. No one will notice, Saar. Yeah, sure.

Watch out, ladies. Here I come!

Cheers … Srini.

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Acharya Devo Bhava … Salutations to the Guru.

Image source:

The scriptures tell us that if you see your Guru and God together, then fall at your Guru’s feet first. This is because your Guru shows you the way to God. And that is why the word ‘guru’ means ‘remover of darkness’.

The 15th day of the month of Ashada is celebrated as Guru Purnima, and this year, that day falls on Tuesday, July 19th. In Buddhist tradition, this was the day on which Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon at Saranath, after he attained enlightenment. Since Gautama set the wheel of Buddhism in motion with this discourse, it is known as the Dharmachakra pravarthana sutra.

This day marks the birth of Veda Vyasa, revered in our scriptures as the Guru of all Gurus. Vyasa was born to the sage Parashar and a fisherman’s daughter, Satyavati, the same Satyavati who later wed King Shantanu, father of Bhishma.

Veda Vyasa is one of the most important personalities in Vedic history. He is the author of the Mahabharata and the progenitor of the Kuru race.

Vyasa systematically organised the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, and made it much easier for ordinary people to appreciate our ancient scriptures. After splitting the Vedas into four sub-Vedas, Vyasa first imparted that knowledge to four of his disciples, thus creating the guru-shishya tradition. This system of teaching is unique to India.

Nowhere else in the world was the relationship between a guru and his disciple worshipped as it was in Vedic India. The relationship between a Guru and his disciple was considered sacred, above and beyond material considerations. It was purely spiritual and totally selfless. The Guru gave to his disciple all that he knew and he expected nothing in return. The student accepted his Guru’s teachings with humility and reverence. The Gurukula was not a school. It was regarded as a sacred abode, in which the Guru and his disciples lived together as one extended family. The term ‘Gurukula’ itself means ‘Guru and his family’. For years, the Guru and his disciples would live as one, until the Guru deemed it fit for the student to take his place in the world.

The student, before taking his Guru’s leave, would offer him Gurudakshina, in acknowledgement of his gratitude for his Guru. No Guru asked for money or for objects of desire, and no student was expected to insult his Guru’s teachings by offering him money as recompense. The Guru usually asked his student to perform a task for him, as did Dronacharya when he asked Arjuna to capture King Drupada. Arjuna promptly set forth, defeated Drupada after a mighty battle and presented him before his Guru. Drona generously gave back Drupada his freedom but retained half his kingdom, not for personal gain, but to let Drupada know that he was his equal in all ways.

More often than not, Gurus in ancient India took nothing at all from their students. They would consider their students’ success in the world as their Gurudakshina.

Even in modern times, our reverence for our teachers remains. Even in the age of the Internet and even with all the on-line courses available today, there is no substitute for the guiding presence, the motivation, the inspiration, the dedication and the selfless love that a student gets only from a real teacher.

So this Guru Purnima, do not forget to seek your teachers’ blessings – and to show them your gratitude.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   William Arthur Ward, 1921-1994.

Cheers … Srini.

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