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).
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.