A bag of laughs
It was my suggestion to our morning walk gang that has set the stage for this discussion on the best of Bollywood comedy. I have for long proposed the commissioning of one DVD containing extracts of the best of situational comedy from Bollywood — something no one has thought of yet. It would be a runaway success provided it is preceded by research on the very best scenes of comedy from Indian films.
Padosan is my all time favourite — a film that makes you laugh till you cry. The scene where everyone is together — Kishore, Mehmood, Mukri, all their lackeys and Sunil Dutt — has me in splits. Kishore Kumar was multi-talented and so good in each of his diverse interests that he was the living exception to the rule ‘jack of all, master of none’. He was truly a master of all he touched — music, singing, acting, production, direction — and an all time great comedian. Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Half Ticket are two of his best comedies. The first is the finest combination of the three Ganguli brothers, with Ashok Kumar a lady-hater and his two brothers following their elder to the hilt in their collective vow to keep away from girls. Madhubala and mellifluous music complete the picture. The scene in Half Ticket where Kishore dresses as a mad little boy and bugs Pran in the train or Om Puri’s mixed Punjabi Hindi are unforgettable classics.
Utpal Dutt would be my joint favourite — with Kishore — for the top slot of ‘Hindi cinema comedian’. Considering that both were Bengalis, and Hindi was not their mother tongue, theirs was an enviable achievement. They mastered Hindi comedy and its nuances, timing and idiom to perfection. The mere sight of Utpal is enough to get me grinning. Golmaal remains his best work as far as Hindi comedy is concerned. Amol Palekar as the pretentious, orthodox and overzealous Ram Prasad out to fool the ultra-orthodox Utpal is unparalleled situational comedy. That Gulzar is capable of top class comedy dialogue is proved by this film, with the amazing added twist of Amol inventing a non-existent decadent twin Lucky to fool Utpal.
Om Prakash (OP) would be a close third on my wishlist. His innocent, vacant, amiable old-man style, with his inimitable jerks, make him unforgettable. Chupke Chupke, where he plays Sharmila Tagore’s brother-in-law whom she idolises, has a scene where Dharmendra, a professor of botany out to woo and impress Sharmila, goes to Om Prakash in the guise of a chauffeur. The verbal exchange has to be seen to be believed. Pyar Kiye Jaa is another great combination of OP, Mehmood, Kishore and Shashi Kapoor, where the latter teems up with the previous two to woo OP’s elder daughter while Kishore falls in love with the younger one. The scenes where Kishore, impersonating Shashi’s father, stays in OP’s house and interacts with OP are ideal to banish all blues. So good was this, that it was unashamedly revisited by David Dhawan in Haseena Maan Jayegi, but without the magic of OP, Kishore and Mehmood it was not a patch on the original.
Three under-rated comedians who did not get their fair share of success in Bollywood but were highly talented were Deven Varma, Rajinder Nath and Asrani. The first developed this perfect style of an amiable buffoon with his soft, roly-poly expressions. Angoor, a little noticed film of 1982 with comic dialogues by Gulzar was a remake of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Sanjeev Kumar excels in his double role of a cynical and arrogant husband and a near-neurotic lover of thriller novels; with Deven his perfect foil. Andaz Apna Apna has another nice cameo by Deven when Aamir Khan and he fantasise about becoming rich. Sanjeev Kumar also displayed his flair for comedy when he matched steps with Utpal Dutt and Amol Palekar in Baat Ban Jaaye to find a match for a rich business lady (Zeenat Aman) who is tired of all her wealth and wants to marry a poor man.
Rajinder Nath honed to perfection the role of a stodgy, unruffled, dim-witted buffoon in many films. He was always impressive and innovated for each role. Sadly, he faded away too soon.
Asrani’s exaggerated gestures — remember the ‘Hitlerian’ jailor? — belied his capacity to carry off serious roles as well, as in Abhimaan. He did not get his due but has some memorable performances which can brighten up many a day.
Two mainstream artistes with a flair for comedy are Dharmendra and Amitabh. Apart from their joint blockbuster Sholay, Dharmendra has given memorable comedy performances in Chupke Chupke and Pratigyan, an obvious spin-off from Sholay’s success. Dharmendra, as an illiterate villager, who accidentally takes up the role of a police chief and creates a local army from good-for-nothing villagers to take on dacoits, is hilarious. Amitabh’s memorable spoof on the English language in Namak Halal where he starts with “I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English...” is a fine piece of comedy.
Paresh Rawal is a relatively recent explosion on the comedy scene. His versatility from the villainous to the serious to comedy is truly breathtaking. His list is growing by the day — Andaz Apna Apna, Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan, Hera Pheri, Hungama, Malamaal Weekly, Phir Hera Pheri are just some of the best.
My proposed DVD would have many more — how can one forget Satish Shah, Ravi Baswani, Kader Khan, Shakti Kapoor, Akshay Kumar and many more. Laughter is truly the best medicine. To make others laugh is the highest form of social service. Any takers for producing my dream DVD?
Abishek Singhvi is MP, National Spokesperson, Congress and Senior Advocate