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Memorable films

Johnny Walker

 

Upperstall profile by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan

Johnny Walker was one of the most popular funny men in Hindi cinema in the 1950s and 60s.

Born Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi, the son of a mill worker on November 11, 1926 in Indore, he was discovered by Balraj Sahni who met him when he was working as a bus conductor. Sahni was most impressed with him regaling the passengers with an uncanny ability to hold them with improvised speeches. This got him the role of an extra in films and he used to entertain other people of the unit often impersonating a drunkard during the lunch break.

He made his feature film debut in Guru Dutt's first film Baazi (1951) that incidentally was scripted by Sahni. It is said that Sahni instructed him to barge into Navketan's office where Guru Dutt, Dev Anand and Chetan Anand were working. His routine as a drunkard impressed everyone especially once after the act he was immediately back to his sober self. Thus despite the fact that Baazi was half complete, a role was developed specially for him in the film.

In his early films Walker was credited with his real name but his popular impersonations of a drunk seemed a natural reason for him to take on the brand name of a popular whiskey - Johnny Walker! Walker developed a characteristic style as the hero's comic sidekick within the classic Indian film comedy tradition relying on his pencil thin moustache, facial grimaces and nasal drawl. People loved his squeaky voice and the faces he pulled - his smile reached his ear when happy and drooped low when he sulked.

Baazi led to a long-term relationship with Dutt who gave him some of his most memorable roles in films like Aar Paar (1954), Mr and Mrs 55 (1955), CID (1956), Pyaasa (1957) and Chaudhvin ka Chand (1960). He always had the best comic lines and some extremely popular songs in these films - Arre Na Na Na Na Tauba Tauba (Aar Paar), Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gayaji (Mr and Mrs 55), Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan (CID), Sar jo Tera Chakraye (Pyaasa) to name a few. But it was give and take on both sides. If Guru Dutt gave him those roles and songs, then Johnny Walker worked extremely hard to bring them to life. Remembering his working method with Guru Dutt, Walker used to say:

"He used to tell me - Here's your scene, your dialogue. If you can do better, go ahead. In every rehearsal I would come up with something new. Guru Dutt used to love that. He used to look at everyone on the sets and see if the light boys, the cameraman, the assistants were laughing at my dialogues. Guru Dutt then had an assistant to write down whatever I said in the rehearsals. That's how we worked."

In fact Walker and Dutt were not just colleagues but fast friends as well, often going together for fishing and hunting expeditions.

Such was Johnny Walker's popularity that apart from the Guru Dutt films, he worked with the likes of BR Chopra - Naya Daur (1957) and Bimal Roy - Madhumati (1958) and it was mandatory to have a song on him, which often would be the highlight of the film. (Main Bombay ka Babu in the former and Jungle Mein More Naacha in the latter are remembered and hummed even today) Besides these he starred in a series of films as a comic hero often opposite Shyama - Shrimati 420 (1956), Chhoomantar (1956), Johnny Walker (1957) and Mr Qartoon, MA (1958).

His popularity began to wane in the 1960s as Mehmood took over as the top comedian of Hindi films but Walker continued working regularly right up to the late 70s and sporadically into the 80s. But of his later work, perhaps his most memorable role was in Hrishikesh Mukerjee's Anand (1970) giving Rajesh Khanna the immortal lines to tape before he died. He was last seen in a small but enjoyable cameo in the Kamal Hassan starrer Chachi 420 (1997).

Some other important films of Walker include Taxi Driver (1954), Milap (1955), Chori Chori (1956), Detective (1958), Paigham (1959), Ek Phool Chaar Kaante (1960), Mere Mehboob (1963) and Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966).

Johnny Walker passed away in Mumbai on 29th July, 2003. Reacting to his death, none other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India, remarked how 'his impeccable style lent a new meaning and respectability to the genre of comedy in Indian cinema.'


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