The Story of How Badru Became the Inimitable Johnny Walker
It was S.K. Ojha’s Hulchul (1951) that gave Balraj Sahni his first chance to work with famous artistes such as Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Yakub or a renowned producer like K. Asif. During lunch breaks, Sahni noticed that many of the artistes would ask an extra, a certain Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi, to keep them amused and entertained. That Badru was very good with mimicry, his specialisation being a drunkard. Or sometimes, he would enact a pavement vendor who enthrals a crowd with his speechifying skills so that he could sell them homemade medicines.
Sahni was yet to get a foothold in the industry, and he was struggling to make ends meet. And on most days, he used to be miserable with frustrating work opportunities. On one such wretched day, he went to Badru, and felt so easy in his company that he opened his heart out to him. As the conversation became lighter, he came to know that Badru got paid Rs 5 a day, out of which Rs 1 was the supplier’s share. Sahni realised that Badru’s impersonation acts were just for free, because he was helpless and couldn’t possibly disregard the requests of the big bosses on the sets. So, he obliged, always. Sahni was so enraged with the revelation that he pompously declared that he wouldn’t let Badru waste his talent, and would soon find the right platform for it.
They became good friends. Whenever Sahni used to pass Mahim on his motorcycle, Badru became the man he would surely bump into. And every time, Badru would remind Sahni of his promise. During this time, Sahni was also penning Guru Dutt’s Baazi (1951), and he did write a drunkard’s part keeping Badru in mind. But he kept wondering how to convince the director and the producer that Badru was the apt choice for the role, not because he was the writer’s friend, but because he had a genuine talent for comedy.
Cut to a few days later, the Anand brothers, Dev and Chetan, Guru Dutt and Sahni were brainstorming over the treatment of Baazi in their office. All of a sudden, there was an uproar in the outer premise of the office. Turned out, a drunkard had landed up there, and he was leaving no stone unturned to bother the staff. Before the four could react, the drunkard walked straight in, and turned towards Dev Anand. He started talking to Dev, but Dev could barely make anything out of his gibberish. But all four luminaries sitting in the room found this guest strangely hilarious, and couldn’t help laughing out loud. This went on for half an hour. Finally, Chetan decided that perhaps the situation was going out of hand, and ordered his men to throw the stranger out. Exactly at that point, Sahni asked the drunkard to offer a salaam to his viewers. Surprise! The inebriated man sobered down right away, and this left everyone dumbfounded.
Sahni revealed to his colleagues that this was a pre-planned trick to show them the mettle of the carouser, Badru’s sheer talent. This impressed the trio so greatly that Badru was signed on without any further ado. He was rechristened as Johnny Walker, after the popular whisky brand, as an ode to his drunken act. The biggest irony, Badru stayed miles away from any form of alcohol!
The man who never touched alcohol touched a million lives with his drunken acts, among many other facades. The essential joie de vivre of the golden age of Hindi cinema, Walker belonged to an era when comedy didn’t mean double entendres and forward jokes. As the idea of clean humour fades from our public memory, Walker continues to remain relevant for his inability to take himself seriously and for transporting us to a world where a good laugh can fix all worldly problems. On his death anniversary, let’s raise a toast to the man without whose humour, we would be homeless.
(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. His Twitter handle is: @RanjibMazumder)
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