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Mehmood was Bollywood's comedian par excellence

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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Comedy King Mehmood AliMehmood, Hindi cinema's most beloved comedian, is no more.

Though he was pretty much out of circulation in the last decade, Mehmood Ali meant a monstrous mirth-worth for Indian cinema.

There was only one comedian who knew the kind of success that Mehmood tasted. And that was Johnny Walker. Ironically, Mehmood started as Johnny Walker's student in the field of the funnies. Some months before his death, the affable comedian admitted that Johnny Lever was almost like a heir-apparent.

Mehmood emerged at a time when comedy in Hindi cinema was in its infancy. Slapstick banana-peel humour generally about a couple of laughs and the comedian's disciplinarian father constituted the staple diet of the comedy in the Hindi films of the 1950s.

Then Mehmood happened to the hemisphere of hilarity.

Starting with bit roles in films like Guru Dutt's "Pyaasa", where he played the star's wicked brother, Mehmood quickly emerged as a comic talent of substance. Pairing himself first with Shubha Khote and later with Aruna Irani, Mehmoood virtually swamped the screen with his antics.

Most of his comic virtuosity depended on split-second timing and an ability to react a tad late to a situation. Amalgamating the styles of earlier comedians like Agha and Johnny Walker, Mehmood invented a completely original lexicon of laughter.

A time came during the 1960s when Mehmood's place in the Hindi cinema became more important than that of the leading man.

In Films like "Gumnam", "Pyar Kiye Jaa", "Dil Tera Diwana", "Sasural" and "Humjoli", Mehmood's role and rabble-rousing abilities far exceeded that of leading men like Manoj Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor Rajendra Kumar and Jeetendra respectively.

In "Humjoli", Mehmood played a triple role imitating three generations of the Kapoors -Prithiviraj, Raj and Randhir.

Mehmood had hit danger zone. With his inimitable scene-stealing antics, he gradually became an anathema to mainstream cinema. No hero was willing to share screen space with Mehmood!

Many years later, Shatrughan Sinha faced a similar screen crisis. But Mehmood remained the ultimate scene-stealer. With the rapid decline in his status as the comic USP, he began to play the lead in films either directed by him "Bhoot Bungla", "Kunwara Baap", "Ginny Aur Johnny" - or by friends from the south like Krishnan Panju ("Main Sundar Hoon"), Subbarao ("Mastana") and S. Ramnathan("Do Phool").

Most of these films were successes. But Mehmood's inability to adjust to changing fashions and also the insecurity he engendered in leading men with his loud scene-screaming tactics finished off his career by the middle of the 1980s.

One of his last appearances was in Raj Kumar Santoshi's "Andaz Apna Apna", where he played a fleeting role.

Apart from revolutionising the concept of comedy in Hindi cinema, Mehmood also introduced some extraordinary talent to Hindi cinema.

Mehmood gave music composer Rahul Dev Burman his first break in "Chote Nawab". Later, Burman composed some of his best scores in Mehmood's films like "Bhoot Bungla" (where Mehmood also coaxed Burman to play one of the leads), and "Padosan".

Later, after a misunderstanding with Burman, Mehmood introduced another composing virtuoso, Rajesh Roshan, in "Kunwara Baap".

Mehmood's son Lucky Ali inherited his father's music sense.

Mehmood also gave major breaks to Amitabh Bachchan, who actually stayed with Mehmood and his brother Mansoor Ali in his early days in Mumbai, and Aruna Irani in "Bombay To Goa".


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