YOU FOR THE LAUGHTER! - A Tribute to Mehmood
By - Manmohan Melville
Death came to
him silently in his sleep! Alas, there was no sound of laughter! He must
have missed that! Mehmood -- the Bollywood comic legend -- died in his
sleep, in a hotel room at Pennsylvania (where he had gone for medical
treatment) in July 2004.
Mehmood was Bollywood’s best-known comedian. There were many other
comedians in Bombay Talkies before he came to the screen, but they
merely functioned as excuses to take the audience’s mind off the
melodramatic plot for a few minutes of the film’s running time. Then,
along came Mehmood – and he made the comedian’s role an integral
part of the story line.Often the comedian’s plight proved more
interesting than even the hero’s romance. And, for a brief period in
the 60s, thanks to him, comedy was king. And Mehmood was the uncrowned
King of Comedy.
was born in Mumbai in 1932. He was the son of character-actor/dancer
Mumtaz Ali and used to tag along with his father to the film studios. He
began acting as a (reluctant) child actor in some Bombay Talkies’
films like Kismet.
After he grew up, he pursued several odd jobs -- including that
of a motor car driver. For
a short while, he was a chauffeur for director P.L. Santoshi.
(Years later, when P. L. Santoshi’s son director Rajkumar
Santoshi made his own comedy Andaz Apna Apna, he wrote
in a special part for Mehmood – he played a sleazy film
producer of Wah Wah Productions!).
In Mehmood’s first real role in films, he played a murder
victim in Guru Dutt’s suspense thriller – CID. After
that, Guru Dutt gave him a small part in Pyaasa.
While he was struggling in Bombay Talkies, he made friends with
another up-and-coming comedian – the versatile Kishore Kumar.
Soon, the brilliantly talented Kishore was blazing his way to
stardom -- and Mehmood approached him for a role in any of his
Kishore Kumar, knowing Mehmood’s excellent sense of comedy,
made a remark that became famous in Bollywood legend – “How
can I give a chance to someone who will compete with me?”
To this, Mehmood is supposed to have good humouredly replied
– “One day I will become a big filmmaker and I will cast
you in a role in my film!” (Mehmood kept his word and,
years later; he cast Kishore Kumar in his home production Padosan
– which many consider to be Bollywood’s most enduring
Luckily for Mehmood, he got his first noticeable “break” in
Parvarish (1958), in which he landed a role as the
brother of the hero, Raj Kapoor. Another Bollywood legend goes
that Mehmood admired Raj Kapoor’s immense talent, but the
lead actor gave him a real tough time, since he was a newcomer.
Years later, when Mehmood was at the peak of his career – and
the Kapoor clan was making their own three-generation family
saga (Kal, Aaj aur Kal – with Prithvi, Raj and Randhir
Kapoor), Mehmood single-handedly spoofed them all in a triple
role in the film Humjoli, in which he played grandfather,
father and son (down to all the patented Kapoor mannerisms).
was released in theatres along side with Kal, Aaj aur Kal
– and so, Mehmood had a laugh at the expense of the First
Family of Bombay Filmdom!
Roaring with Laughter
After Paravrish, Mehmood came to be recognized for his
comic talent. He landed himself meatier roles in films like Gumnam,
Pyar Kiye Jaa and Pyar Hi Pyar.
In 1961, he played the lead comedian in Sasural. He was
paired with a character actress named Shobha Khote. Their zany
combination was so successful, that they went on to become a
“comedy pair” in many hit films thereafter – hits like Love
in Tokyo and Ziddi. Later, Aruna Irani replaced her
in the comedy team.
As the 60s progressed, Mehmood kept expanding the role of the
comedian in Hindi movies. Soon, his fans just could not get
enough of him as a “side-comedian” in the movies. And a
time came, when he was so much “in demand” that producers
approached him, offering him full-length comedy films.
Mehmood teamed up with another comedian, I. S. Johar, in what
was then advertised as “India’s first feature-length
comedy” – Namasteji. The comic duo went on to make
several more capers – which immortalized them in Bollwood’s
muster, by incorporating their names in the film’s titles –
Johar Mehmood in Goa was followed by Johar Mehmood in
By the early 70s, Mehmood was at then at the peak of his comic
career. He exhibited a rare ability to gauge the moods of the
cinema-going audience – especially the frontbenchers! He
realized that it was these frontbenchers that gave any film its
“repeat-viewing” potential – and made (or unmade) the new
films at the first-day-first-show.
Comedy under a Cloud
As the hits poured in, Mehmood began to command a price that
was sometimes rumoured to be much higher than some of the
lesser hero’s of Bombay Talkies. Naturally, this caused a lot
of insecurity and anxiety in Bollywood acting circles.
After two decades of success, Mehmood’s comedy began to come
undone. He was accused by many of downgrading the quality of
comedy in Hindi films. (In a way, this may even be true – but
it must be remembered that he had all along played the roles
that the audiences wanted him to – and they had adored him
for it! But now, his caricatures – especially his spoofs on
South Indians -- had begun to grate on nerves). He had fallen
into a rut – and he could not re-invent himself as
effortlessly as he had in the past.
As a result of the criticism, Mehmood decided to concentrate on
his own production house. He had already started his company in
the early 60s, with his first production called Chhote Nawab
(1961). This had been followed by a suspense-comedy–thriller
called Bhoot Bangla, in which Mehmood had taken the
director’s chair for the first time. His company’s Padosan
– in which Mehmood locked horns with Kishore Kumar in a
South-Indian-versus-North-Indian war – became a massive hit
in the 70s.
At that time, Mehmood’s star was at its zenith. He happened
to meet an amiable young man who was trying to get a foothold
in Bollywood films. This struggling newcomer had no place to
stay in Mumbai, so Mehmood offered him a room in his house.
At that time, Mehmood was producing a new comedy called Bombay
to Goa. Mehmood was playing a bus conductor and he needed a
young man to play the hero’s role. He gave the role to his
young tenant. The new star’s name was Amitabh Bachchan. Bombay
to Goa was his first movie as a leading hero. The rest is
One Last Laugh
By the time the 90s set in, Mehmood had played his entire hand
-- as actor, director, storywriter and producer. But, he was
now keeping indifferent health. He made one last attempt at a
comeback, with a film called Dushman Duniya Ka (1996).
By now, there was a new generation of filmgoers in the theatres
-- and new stars in Bollywood’s firmaments.
Mehmood managed to get the brightest new star into his movie.
Shah Rukh Khan – a self-confessed Mehmood admirer – played
the role of the “young” Mehmood in the film, complete with
toothbrush moustache and manic eye-rolls. But, by then, Mehmood
had lost his most precious gift – the ability to feel the
pulse of the junta’s moods and laughter. The film was a
dismal flop at the box-office!
Mehmood will forever be remembered as he appeared in his
heydays – as the King of Comedy.
He taught a nation how to laugh!
Thank you for the laughter!