Gallery of laughs
26 October 2012
Comic films have a greater measure of success at the box-office than those of a serious nature, says AC Tuli
The two most important aspects of human life – the tragic and the comic – are dealt with by almost every art form, be it literature, painting, music, sculpture, or dance. Cinema also is an important art form that attempts to interpret life in its various manifestations. So, over the decades, we have made thousands of films in which the element of comedy predominates. And these films far outnumber those which end in a tragedy.
Before the advent of the talkies in India, there were silent comic films to entertain the people. Even in these films, there were comedians who cracked jokes and played all kinds of pranks with their fellow characters. Thus, their zany antics raised peals of laughter in cinema halls. With the beginning of the talkies, however, there was a vast change in the nature of entertainment that films could provide to the viewers. Only actors who were gifted with a good voice and a clear articulation could succeed in them. Many talented comedians were introduced in films and quite a few of them became very popular.
Now comedy, as portrayed in our films, is usually of three kinds – slapstick, situational, and comedy of wits. Slapstick is considered rather lowbrow where the comedian is a blundering fool, barging into places where he is least wanted and creating such a whirl of harmless confusion and chaos that the viewers roll with uncontrollable laughter.
Slapstick was quite popular in films of the 30s and 40s. Even in films of 50s and 60s, slapstick predominated. It is popular even today. The early actors who specialized in this kind of comedy were Noor Mohammad ‘Charlie’, Dixit, Ghori, Kesri, Majnu, Mirza Musharuff and a few others. Of all these comedians, Charlie was the best. He acted in many films of the 30s and 40s and, after the partition of the country, migrated to Pakistan, where he appeared in a number of Urdu and Punjabi films of the 40s and 50s.
Beginning from the late 40s, the comical duo of Gope and Yakub dominated the silver screen. Both these funsters were a must for almost every other film people saw in the 50s. Gope, because of his roly-poly figure and a funny-looking face, raised gales of laughter with his comedy. He was at his comical best when he tried to woo the heroine, blissfully unaware of the fact that she took him more in the light of am ugly but harmless jester than as a serious contender for her hand.
Yakub had started out as villain in films. In Mehboob Khan’s ‘Aurat’, he performed the same role which later Sunil Dutt performed in ‘Mother India’. But soon he switched to doing comic roles. In films like ‘Lal Haveli’, (1945) and ‘Girhasti’ (1948), ‘Patanga’ (1949) and ‘Sagai’ (1951), he was at his comic best.
V.H Desai was also a charming little comedian whom the viewers mostly saw in Bombay Talkies’ films like ‘Bhabi’, ‘Jhoola’, ‘Bandhan’, ‘Kangan’, ‘Kismet’, et al. His role of a comic-villainous domestic servant in ‘Kismet’ remains his best performance.
Om Prakash was a comedian of considerable stature. His comic style was typically his own. He spoke Hindi with a distinct Punjabi accent, and he could be particularly funny when he played the role a miser father who futilely tried to keep his profligate son away from his tijori. Om Prakash acted in hundreds of films during his career as actor. His most memorable films are ‘Sabak’, ‘Bahar’, ‘Sargam’, ‘Ladki’, ‘Pehli Jhalak’, ‘Dus Lakh’, ‘Asha’, ‘Chacha Zindabad’, ‘Pyar Kiye Ja’, ‘Chupke Chupke’, and many others.
Agha was also a comedian of repute. He excelled in playing roles of a dim-witted blundering village bumpkin. In films like ‘Sansar’, ‘Mangla’, ‘Patita’, ‘Pilpli Sahib’, ‘Insaniyat’, and many others, he was the funniest one who raised rib-tickling laughter.
It is often said that the golden age of comedy in Hindi cinema began with Johnny Walker. Johnny Walker was a bus conductor before he made his entry in films. He began with Navketan’s ‘Baazi’ with a minor role, but soon became the favourite comedian of Bollywood filmmakers. His forte was to enact the role of a man who is always in his cups. In Guru Dutt’s ‘Aar paar’, ‘Mr and Mrs 55’, ‘CID’, and ‘Pyasa’, ‘Chaudhwi Ka Chaand’, and many other films, Johnny Walker gave memorable performances.
That he could also enact a sensitive role by giving it a tragic-comic touch that was peculiarly his own is evidenced by his brief appearance in Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s ‘Anand’ (1970). His concern for his ailing friend Rajesh Khanna, and the way he uses the symbolism of raising and dropping the curtain of a theatre moves viewers to tears.
As a comedian Johnny Walker became so popular that quite a few filmmakers even cast him as comedian hero in their films. In ‘Chhoo Mantar’, ‘Mr Cartoon MA’, ‘Johnny Walker’, and several others, he was hailed by viewers.
Kishore Kumar began his career as playback singer. But soon he took to acting in films. His first two films as comedian hero were AVM’s ‘Ladki’ and Bimal Roy’s ‘Naukri’ (1954). While ‘Ladki’ was a hit, ‘Naukri’ was not exactly a box office success. Thereafter Kishore Kumar starred in a number of films as comedian-hero. His most successful films were ‘Pehli Jhalak’, ‘New Delhi’, ‘Asha’, ‘Dilli Ka Thug’, ‘Naya Andaaz’, ‘Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi’, ‘Mr X In Bombay’, ‘Jhumroo’ and a few others. His genius for singing comic was unsurpassable. His yodelling made his comic all the more enjoyable.
Mehmood undoubtedly experienced a greater measure of success as comedian than Johnny Walker. In the films of 50s and 60s, he was seen mostly in supportive roles. He also acted as hero in quite a few films. He himself produced and directed films like ‘Kunwara Baap’ and ‘Johnny And Jinny’. He was the master of what is known as mannered comedy. In ‘Pyar Kiye Ja’ (1967), his comic gaffs were side-splitting. His famous scene in the film is the one in which he describes in detail to his father, noted comedian Om Prakash, how he intends to shoot a spooky scene in his forthcoming film. This scene is considered to be the masterpiece of comedy by Mehmood.
Rajendra Nath was also a comedian of considerable repute. He could have the audience in splits with his hilarious gags. He rose to fame after his appearance as Poppet Lal in ‘Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai’ (1961). In the films of the 60s and early 70s, he was one of our most popular comedians.
Some other well known comedians of Hindi cinema who entertained the cine-goers with their comic interludes in films are Bhagwan, Radhakrishan, Mukri, Jagdeep, and Maruti. Bhagwan, apart from his gift for comedy, was also a good dancer. Mukri, because of his almost dwarfish stature and a lisping style of speaking, was favourite comedian of many. In ‘Amar Akbar And Anthony’, he performed the role of a tailor master who is always protecting his young daughter from the amorous advances of her admirer Rishi Kapoor. This role is considered to be best in Mukri’s career as film comedian.
In the 70s, the two comedians who excelled in entertaining film-goers with their brand of comedy were Asrani and Paintal. Asrani of course was more successful. His role of a whimsical jailor in ‘Sholey’ shall remain etched in the film-viewers for years to come. Satish Shah and Rakesh Bedi are two other comedians who have impressed the audience with their natural flair for comedy.
In some films of the 70s, we witnessed situational comedy at it best. It was also a comedy of wits. Hrishikesh Mukerjee, Basu Chatterjee, Sai Pranjpey, Gulzar, and Kundan Shah handled this kind of comedy with imaginative skill. Films like ‘Golmaal’, ‘Chupke Chupke’, ‘Chashm-e-Baddoor’, ‘Katha’, ‘Angoor’, ‘Do Dooni Chaar’, ‘Jane Bhi Do Yaro’ and several other such films raised explosions of laughter with their masterly handling of witty dialogues in comic situations.
Two other filmmakers who have entertained cine-goers with their comic films are David Dhawan and Priyadarshan. It was David Dhawan who first discovered in actor Govinda a comedian of inimitable calibre. His films like ‘Haseena Maan Jaye Gi’, ‘Sajan Chale Susraal’, ‘Hero No I’, ‘Coolie No I’, and several others are evergreen comedies which fans of Govinda never tire of watching time and again.
Priyadarshan’s ‘Hera Pheri’, ‘Hulchul’, and some other films have effectively showcased his talent for slapstick comedy. His ‘Hera Pheri’ remains his best so far. Paresh Rawal, who started by doing villainous roles, has in recent years shown his considerable talent for comedy. In ‘Hera Pheri’, ‘Hulchul’, and several other films he has come before the audience as an irresistible laugh-raiser.
In recent years, comic films have had a greater measure of success at the box office than films of a serious nature. In economically resurgent India, people are now in an optimistic frame of mind, even though vast swathes of our country are still steeped in poverty. So, most of the people who now go to cinema halls and multiplexes like to relax by watching light, breezy films – films which can make them forget for a while the hassles of their workaday life.