Funniest of the funnies
Nirupama Dutt

LOOKING back at the time when Mehmood, or Mamdu Bhai, as he was called in some films, one is transported to childhood in the 60s. The man who laced our salad days with laughter aplenty was none other than this comedian who tickled the funny bone so well. Those were the days of comedians like Johnny Walker, Rajendra Nath, Om Prakash, and in smaller roles funnies like Dhumil, Sundar, Jagdeep and others. Taking off from the Johny Walker style of evoking laughs, Mehmood shed off the subdued style of his mentor and moved onto be the first among equals in the field of slapstick. He took the liberty of overstating, be it as the rickshaw-puller of Dil Tera Diwana or the International Faqir in Ankhein singing _ Tujh ko Rakhe Ram, Tujhko Allah Rakhe.

He was as important an ingredient for box office success as was the leg shaking Helen. In deciding whether to go for a particular film or not, it was Mehmood’s presence that often brought an affirmative. While he gave an acclaimed performance as the South Indian music teacher in Padosan, yet the film in which he excelled as an actor was Pyar Kiye Ja. This film had comedians like Kishor Kumar, and Om Prakash and the chocolate boy hero of those times, Shashi Kapoor. But the actor who proved to be a scene-stealer was none other than Mehmood. He played an aspiring film director, obsessed with the movies and Mumtaz, who was still a sidekick then, played his companion. He moved around with his hands capturing the frame in front of his eyes. The scene in which he relates the story to his father was simply superb and also a song and dance number Mehmood and Mumtaz did _ O’ Meri Maina, Tu maan le mera kehana, Mushkil ho gaya rehana tere bina, with its refrain if Aayi aayi aayi aayi yo.

He started as a team with Shubha Khote, paired with many other actresses and his pairing with Aruna Irani proved very popular in Bombay to Goa. Incidentally, in this film he gave a chance to the then newcomer whom we now know as none other but the Big B, Amitabh Bachchan. The Mehmood magic was such that he graduated from the side hero to the hero and also turned producer-director. This proved to be a fatal error. While films like Bhoot Bangla and Kunwara Baap were big hits, Mehmood was overdoing the laughter business and exhausting his talent. He was finally edged out in the 80s for his comedy was bordering on the sentimental tragic-comic which the people did not quite take to. Johnny Lever rose on the scene as did the comedian hero Govinda. The Mehmood days were gone. But while his charisma lasted he had no peers and well within his heyday a Junior Mehmood was invented. Some of the most popular Bollywood songs were picturised on him including_ Ham kale hain to kya hua dil waale hain. This number is popular with the roadside Romeos even today.

A tribute to this funniest of the funnies is that one remembers his not with tears but laughter as I recall a film Ziddi from the 60s in which a lovelorn Mehmood sang, Pyar ki aag mein tan badan jal gaya. This because his father-in-law would not allow his marriage to be consummated and when he sang a line from this song_ Baat jab main karoon moohn se nikale dhuan clouds of smoke actually came out of his mouth and one almost fell of the chair laughing.

Well, fate had decided for him that he provide cheers to people for he had begun as a villain in his early days. But laughter soon took over.