Today is the 19th remembrance day of a famous actor from the 50s and 60s who during the two decades was pretty much top of his game and genre. He was born Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi and acted in more than 300 movies. Although he was hopelessly typecast by Bollywood as a guy who is perennially sozzled, and usually in a funny role, his acting skills were never really tapped into till very late in his acting career. Known by the famous brand of a whisky, (arguably more famous and sought after in India than its country of origin), Johnny Walker was the name he would always be remembered by, the Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi moniker known only to those who care to know and to remember.
His onscreen persona was , I daresay, made much more effective and durable as a brand by his amazing partnership with the maestro, Mohammad Rafisaab. I honestly would stick my neck out and say that Johnny Walker would have been just another of the comics (say like Keshto Mukherjee who took over the patented role of the cross eyed drunk after Johnny Walker retired, rather sadly faded away) had it not been for the unforgettable slew of songs picturized on him and sung by the insanely multifaceted singing of Rafisaab.
Look at this one song from a mid 50s movie produced by Guru Dutt, and directed by Raj Khosla who later went on to virtually own the genre of the romantic horror/thriller in Bollywood . The music is by the extremely successful O P Nayyar, who incidentally almost totally owed his success to being introduced to Guru Dutt by the latter’s wife, Geeta Dutt, and sadly, discarding Geeta Dutt after she had served her purpose. OPN used Geeta Dutt as a mere stepping stone and almost forgot/ shunned her when he “discovered” Asha Bhosle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd9x6_ieUoU
Unlike many of the songs picturised on Johnny Walker, this one isn’t exactly a rib-tickler, a funny one. Instead, it’s a rather sombre, even pessimistic commentary on the dehumanising nature of the megapolis even in the 50s—a city that Johnny Walker, shown as a petty thief, traipses through, either sauntering along by himself or by hitching a ride in a Victoria with his beautiful girlfriend. Kumkum, always a favourite actress, is seen in one of my favourite roles enacted by her, as an energetic, upbeat, optimistic, even feisty and vivacious fighter, the perfect counterpoint to her somewhat namely-pamby boyfriend. The lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri (Who had to suffer imprisonment for 2 years without a trial, just because he criticised the definitely autocratic and even dictatorial Nehru, where were the leftie sickulars at the time????) wrote the superb, introspective lyrics, a very incisive commentary on the state of life in the city.
Johnny Walker owes his entire career to Balraj Sahni. Johnny Walker and his family had moved to Mumbai in search of a livelihood after his father lost his job in Indore. Going through tremendous hardship and having dropped out of school in the 6th grade, Johnny Walker actually took up a job as a Bombay Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) bus conductor and earned a princely salary of Rs 26 a month (!!), but stood out in his job as he took it upon himself to entertain his passengers with his comical way of calling out bus stops, his hilarious impressions and tricks. Throughout his youth, he had always dreamed of being in films, and as a child and teenager had idolised Noor Mohammad Charlie , (the guy who can be considered Bollywood’s first comic who had styled himself on Charlie Chaplin), and practicing stunts that he saw on-screen. Balraj Sahni, a frequent traveller on the BEST bus route where Johnny Walker would ply, was always amused and impressed by the man’s mannerisms and joie de vivre. He engineered a meeting between his good friend, Guru Dutt without the latter’s knowledge after being frequently entertained by Badruddin Kazi’s antics as a bus conductor. So Badruddin Kazi became Johnny Walker and despite his hundreds of Drunk Man roles, was said to be a teetotaller.
So much mirth was generously shared by Johnny Walker with my generation (and one generation senior to mine as well), it is only fair I remember him on his remembrance day. A man who was given an opportunity late in life (famously in Anand and his unforgettable characterisation of Isa Bhai Suratwala / Morarilal) to prove that he could not just make you smile, guffaw, chortle, and laugh but also make you feel maudlin, and extract a tear or two….. https://youtu.be/HlAOZrst6fQ
Rest in peace, Sir, the industry is much the poorer without you. You gave me so much joy in my childhood, I will always be indebted to you .