Death of a comedian …

The month of July is a sad one for Bollywood, for it contains several death anniversaries. Two of Bollywood’s funniest men died during this month. Last week, it was Mehmood. And July 29th is the death anniversary of a forgotten comedian from the golden years of Hindi cinema. Although he was a strict teetotaller, Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi was known by his screen-name, derived from a famous whisky brand.

The name was given to him by Guru Dutt, on his first screen test for a comedian’s role in Baazi, made in 1951. The scene was that of a drunken man, and Badruddin was so convincing that Guru Dutt would not believe that he was not actually drunk. Guru Dutt was known for his fondness for alcohol, and he named Badruddin after his favorite tipple, Johnnie Walker. And the name stuck.

Johnny Walker always said that he owed his success to two men – Guru Dutt and Mohammad Rafi.

Rafi, being the humble and generous soul that he was, would never refuse to sing playback for any actor, even if he was a rank newcomer like Johnny Walker. He sang playback for Johnny Walker in each one of his movies. As he did with Shammi Kapoor, Mohammad Rafi altered his voice to suit Johnny Walker’s acting style, and that resulted in many evergreen hit songs like the famous maalish song ‘Saar jo tera chakraye‘ from Pyaasa, ‘Ae dil hai mushkil‘, from CID, and Johnny Walker’s award winning ,’Jungle main mor naacha‘, from Madhumati (1958).

In a touching TV interview soon after Rafi’s death in July 1980, Johnny Walker paid a tearful tribute to India’s finest playback singer, as he stated that no other playback singer was willing to sing for him, while Mohammad Rafi was the only singer who readily gave him his voice, in spite of his stature in Bollywood.

The 1950’s belonged to Johnny Walker, as he carved a special niche for himself and brought respectability to the comedian’s role in Bollywood. Roles were created and film songs were written specifically for him, and he shared top-billing with the lead actors.

Johnny Walker had a style that was uniquely his. Cheap mimicry and slapstick routines were not for him. His manner was suave, his mannerisms controlled and his comedy subtle, his one-liners were genteel but rib-tickling. He had the ability to make people laugh without saying a word. His huge grin and his body language would do it for him.

He rightly called himself a clean comedian, one who could bring laughter to children and adults alike, without bringing a blush to anybody’s cheek. They don’t make them like that any more.

Here’s a memorable song number from Pyaasa, 1957. The song was based on a real-life maalishwalla whom Johnny Walker and Guru Dutt observed at a garden in Calcutta.

Cheers … Srini.

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