Memorable roles of Johnny Walker of Hindi cinema

By Madhulika Liddle

My major complaint against Hindi cinema has been that we’ve never given comedy the sort of status it’s received in the West. True, there has been the occasional classic comedy – Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Dholak and Padosan, for example – but as a genre it seems to have been largely neglected. Which, in turn, has meant that comic actors have also often not been given due respect for their talents. Making people laugh is I think more difficult than making them cry: and Johnny Walker is one of the very few who’ve excelled at the art. Here, therefore, are some of his roles that I find the most memorable. All, of course, from films that I’ve seen.

Johnny in Mr & Mrs 55 (1955): Even though the Pritam of Mr & Mrs 55 is nowhere as miserable as the Vijay of Pyaasa, he does have his problems: unemployment, penury, falling in love with a girl who loves another. And, just as Vijay had Abdul Sattar as a friend, so Pritam has Johnny to stand by him. Johnny, stalwart and staunchly loyal, who feeds Pritam, looks after him when he’s ill, gets him a job, even – when a desperate Pritam rigs things in order to hoodwink the law – helps him. He even gets the time to woo the very pretty Julie (Yasmin), with whom JW forms one of the best comic-romantic jodis of the 50’s!

Abdul Sattar in Pyaasa (1957): “Sar jo tera chakraaye ya dil dooba jaaye, aaja pyaare paas hamaare” (“If your head’s spinning or your heart’s sinking, come to me, friend”) sings Abdul Sattar, Johnny Walker’s character in Pyaasa – and, oh, how appropriate. In the life of the poet Vijay, shunned and spurned by all, including his own brothers and the woman he loves, the one faithful friend is Abdul Sattar: good-hearted, cheerful, unfailingly loyal, so very Johnny Walker.

Charandas in Madhumati (1958): This was the role for which Johnny Walker received a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor (beating Sohrab Modi for Yahudi and Rehman for Phir Subah Hogi). It’s a fine portrayal, and especially evidence of Kazi Sahib’s skill at playing intoxicated: Charandas is good at heart, but spends nearly all his time in a state of high inebriation! Even when he isn’t singing Jungle mein mor naacha, he’s lolloping along the mountain paths, climbing trees and seeing spooky spirits at every turn.
Tom Daniel commenting on Hindi film comedians, once told me that he probably misses some of the humour because he has to rely on subtitles. For Johnny Walker, though, Tom had this to say: “I find him funny in any language!” Charandas is a superb example of the funniness that can make you laugh even if you don’t understand every word of the language.

Master in CID (1956): Johnny Walker plays a pickpocket who admits to “using scissors” (which is why he’s called ‘Master’ – a contraction of the popular Hindi appellation, ‘tailor master’). He spends his time walking the tightrope between petty thievery on the one hand, and helping the CID on the other, and finds time in the middle to woo his firebrand girlfriend, played by Kumkum. Like Rustom of Aar Paar and Abdul Sattar of Pyaasa, this is another classic JW role. And it includes one of Johnny Walker’s most well-known songs.

Rustom in Aar Paar (1954): I’ve been watching a lot of Johnny Walker over the past few days, and watching him play Rustom brought home the realisation that Johnny Walker is often underrated when it comes to versatility. Yes, funny; but funny in so many ways. Rustom, for instance, is also a Bombay man, also crooked and also street-smart, like Master. But that’s where the resemblance stops. There is about Rustom’s snappy dialogue delivery, his Gujarati-accented English, and the way in which he moves, something that’s so absolutely Parsi. What a very impressive bit of acting!

Isa Bhai Suratwala in Anand (1970): Anand is known for so much: Rajesh Khanna’s acting. Amitabh Bachchan’s acting. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s very sensitive, very poignant direction. Salil Choudhary’s music. And this, one of the finest cameos I have ever seen. Johnny Walker has very little time onscreen in Anand, but he makes his presence felt as the madcap Isa Bhai, who goes along with Anand‘s (or should that be Jaichand’s, since that’s the name Isa Bhai uses for him?) little farce. He’s laugh-out loud funny as the small-time theatre company wallah who’s always game for yet another gag – but he has the depth and the sensitivity that makes this another unforgettable Johnny Walker performance.

Which are your favourite Johnny Walker roles?

Short URL: