Mehmood would have turned 84 this year. In his birthday week, it might be pertinent to look back at the memories of a comedian whose impeccable timing had movie audiences in splits. More than his wit, physical comedy and punch-lines, what I remember Mehmood the most for are a few characters that he played and made them unforgettable.
As Master Pillai, Saira Bano’s music teacher in Padosan (1968), Mehmood’s effortless histrionics lent gravitas to even a South Indian caricature character. Though most fans remember the film for the maverick Master Ji played by Kishore Kumar, who taught the nuances of music to the leading man Bhola (Sunil Dutt), Mehmood stood his ground against the legendary actor-singer with panache. My favourite memory of the laugh-a-minute comedy directed by Jyoti Swaroop is the singing competition song Ek chatur naar, kar ke singaar fronted by Kishore Kumar and Mehmood and sung by Kishore Kumar, Mehmood and Manna Dey.
The other abiding Mehmood memory I have is from Pyaar Kiya Jaa (1966). It involves a spooky narration of a prospective movie that the filmmaker that Mehmood played, called Aatma, does for his dad, played by Om Prakash. While trying to convince his father to bankroll his film, Mehmood deploys some interesting devices: Animal sounds, horror film sound effects and a fantastical story about snakes flying and fishes grazing grass. Another highlight of the film that coincided with the popularity of the Fab Four in the 1960s: A Beatles parody which ends with slogans being raised against his father Ramlal.
Another of my favourite Mehmood films is Bhoot Bangla, a horror comedy directed by him. Its ensemble cast brought together two artistes I adored: Mehmood and a young Rahul Dev Burman. And who can forget the phrase ‘Khayalon Mein’ which was a prelude to the song: Hum kaale hain to kya hua diwaale hain, from Gumnaam (1965).
Beyond his characters the stories that surrounded his flamboyant persona -- A stud-farm owner who loved luxury cars and had a rumoured roaring romance with fellow actress Aruna Irani; a comedian who made Bollywood’s leading men insecure -- added to his aura.
Another fact that endeared me to Mehmood was that he associated with fellow mavericks even has he indulged in his passion for filmmaking. He teamed up with Amitabh Bachchan in Bombay to Goa (1972) and famously paired with that inimitable funny man Inderjeet Singh Johar for the series of films, Johar Mehmood in Goa (1965) and Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong (1971).
Mehmood passed away in his sleep at the age of 72 on July 23, 2004 in Pennsylvania, where he had gone for treatment of a lung ailment.
Even after his death, the thought of Mehmood, Kishore Kumar and RD Burman having the angels in splits with their antics, brings a smile to my face.