"They should not announce ‘Ab Hindi mein samachar suniye’ they should say, ‘Ab Samachar mein Hindi suniye.’" Balraj Sahni, the great actor, quoted his friend and colleague Johnny Walker while speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1972. Sahni was talking about the Urdu-Hindi divide and also lambasted the Pakistan radio 'for ruining the beauty of this language by thrusting into it as many Persian and Arabic words as possible'.
I couldn't stop laughing at Johnny Walker's witty remark. 'Ab Samachar mein Hindi suniye'. It was Balraj Sahni who got Johnny Walker into Hindi films. And that in itself is an interesting tale. Johnny Walker worked as a conductor on Mumbai's BEST buses and it is widely believed that Sahni first saw him in action regaling the commuters.
Before he made it big, Johnny Walker had worked in a couple of films as an extra. For his antics he used to get paid Rs 5 out of which one rupee went to the pocket of the supplier. According to Sahni's autobiography, Badruddin (Johnny Walker's real name) used to entertain film artistes during lunch breaks.
Once Sahni asked him if he was paid for his acts during the breaks which the stars relished. "No? Then aren't you ashamed of behaving like an ass in front of those fellows," he admonished Johnny Walker when he said he took home only the Rs 4 for the shoot and nothing extra. "You are right, sahab! But I am helpless, I can't possibly displease the big bosses!", replied Badruddin.
These 'big bosses' included Dilip Kumar, Yaqub and other stars in the film Hulchul. Balraj Sahni, who also acted in Hulchul then promised Badruddin to get him the kind of roles he deserved. While he promised Badruddin a role he soon discovered it was not an easy task. He used to bump into Badruddin at Mahim while passing in his motor cycle who would remind him of his promise. Sahni had not forgotten Badruddin. He had written the script for Baazi and had woven the character of a drunkard keeping Badruddin in mind.
However, Sahni's problem was how to get Badruddin the drunkard's role. He was just an extra, like dozens of others, and getting everybody agree to take him was a challenge. He however had an interesting idea which he told Badruddin.
The very next day, when he along with Guru Dutt, Dev and Chetan Anand was discussing the script, Badruddin had to make a dramatic entry. As per the plan, Badruddin had entered the office acting as a drunkard and managed to enter Guru Dutt's cabin. Sahni writes in his autobiography: "All of us there found the way the man was making a fool of himself excruciatingly funny and we burst out laughing. For well over half an hour he entertained us and the rest of the office staff with his pranks."
Finally, the stars had enough of his antics and asked the staff to throw him out. Sahni gestured and Badruddin became a sober man. He got the role in Baazi and became famous as Johnny Walker. This also led to a steady friendship with Guru Dutt and the two became very close. They used to go together for fishing and hunting and Johnny Walker became a regular in Guru Dutt's films.
He played memorable roles in Pyaasa, CID, Mr and Mrs 55, Madhumati and countless others. Not many people would know that he had a solitary scene in Mughal-e-Azam. He was perhaps the only comedian who had several hit songs specially composed for him. Such was his presence that many leading stars were wary of sharing screen space with him.
His popularity can be gauged from the fact that there was a movie named after his own screen name - Johnny Walker. Everybody in the film industry knew that while his screen name was Johnny Walker he himself never drank in real life. However, the passing away of his dear friend Guru Dutt did shake him.
Johnny Walker went on to act in over 300 films and had the entire nation laughing at the mere sight of him. Dilip Kumar once told in an interview that on Independence Day celebrations or Republic Day functions Jawaharlal Nehru would ask him to get Johnny Walker and Mukri for some light moments.
My own favourite is the one from the B R Chopra's Naya Daur which had Dilip Kumar in the lead. Johnny Walker plays a reporter and while taking a picture of Dilip Kumar asks him to 'Ismail' (smile), to which Dilip Kumar replies "Woh to aaj kaam par nahin aaya"!
The veteran comedian who never resorted to slapstick comedy or vulgar dialogues led a simple life. He was modest, reserved and led a quiet life. Years later he took a break from retirement and essayed a role in the Kamal Hasan-Tabu starrer Chachi 420 on the insistence of Gulzar, who wrote the dialogue for the movie.
Johnny Walker later moved to his bungalow in Andheri (W), a Mumbai suburb. Unlike today, his bungalow was in a quiet surrounding with hardly any public transport around. It turned out that his bungalow was just opposite the building in which my father had booked a flat on the fourth floor.
A visit to the Andheri flat was very occassional as reaching there was quite a task from our city home. It was nothing short of a weekend getaway with the added attraction of getting a glimpse of Johnny Walker.
My father later gave out the flat to the family of his friend from Aligarh Muslim University days. He needed a kidney transplant and was not keeping well. I later found out that Abba took the initiative of collecting funds to facilitate the transplant.
This was in late 1980s and it required a fair amount of money. Friends and well-wishers pitched in as much as they could. The kidney transplant did take place. And one of the contributors was Badruddin Kazi!