Johnny Walker: The Actor

Following Nabil Khan’s heartwarming post on his grandfather, legendary actor Johnny Walker, another post… this one is on Johnny Walker, the actor. Not just the loving family man, but the very accomplished thespian who still commands (as you can see by the popularity of these posts!) a fine fan following.

And, by the way, for those of you who understand Hindi, here’s part 1 of a wonderful interview that Johnny Walker gave to the London-based journalist Bhartendu Vimal. Here is part 2 of the interview.

Over to Nabil, now:

Born as Badruddin Kazi, Abba had humble beginnings which flowed through into the later parts of his life as well. Early in childhood he shouldered the responsibility of his entire household. He attempted many odd jobs from selling potatoes to even working as a bus conductor. He was really fond of mimicking and would do so while working. One day Mr. Balraj Sahni was in the bus and noticed Abba as he was mimicking and acting. He would entertain the passengers by acting as a drunkard and this caught Mr. Balraj Sahni’s eye.

He was approached by Mr. Balraj Sahni who asked him to barge into Guru Dutt’s office as a drunkard. Mr. Guru Dutt was initially surprised and then impressed at Abba’s performance given the fact that Abba never drank. Guru Dutt then gave Abba his first break in the film Baazi.

Then onwards there was no looking back and Abba worked in well over 325 films from the mid 1950’s to the 1980s. His performances and his acting would win over the hearts of the audiences and he became an iconic comedian in the Indian Cinema at that time. His work includes super hit movies like Aar Paar, CID, Mr. and Mrs. 55, Choo Mantar, Madhumati and Naya Daur just to name a few of his great movies. Abba was the first actor to have a movie named after him, Johnny Walker, as well as a song – Sach kehta hai Johnny Walker, ghar ki murgi daal barabar from the movie Aji Bas Shukriya (1958).

The greatest thing about Abba’s comedy was that it was not vulgar nor were there any double meaning jokes. His comedy was always clean, funny and natural and as a result, the Censor Board never cut a single dialogue.

Aside from his acting in the movies itself, his songs were also very melodious and memorable. Among these are songs such as Champi tel maalish (Pyaasa), Main Bambai ka Babu (Naya Daur), Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan (CID) which were not only popular in their day but also are today.

After a long hiatus from the film industry, and upon being convinced by Kamal Hasan himself, Abba decided to take on his last movie role in Chachi 420 in 1997. After completing his journey in the film industry for almost five decades, Abba was home where he led a complete and content life with his family. After struggling with kidney failure, Abba passed away on 29th July 2003, at the home, where he always wanted to be, with his family beside him whom he loved immensely.

Today, our family still remembers him every time we hear his name, see a song or watch his movies. His memories are lived on through people who enjoyed his work and through the smiles that he left on people’s faces.

Text and image © Nabil Khan

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21 thoughts on “Johnny Walker: The Actor

  1. Such a joy mixed with a rising ache in the heart on reading your account on your Abba. Indeed, I must say that he was such a gift to Indian Cinema, that just looking at him on screen, we began to laugh, leave alone the extraordinary acting he did as a drunkard. It was really an age of wonderful comedians – Johny Walker, Asit Sen, Om Prakash. Golden times to remember hilariously, although, there was that pathos so often mixed in the humour of the times, one might have laughed till one cried, or laughed and cried all at the same time.

    RIP Johny Walker Sir!

  2. Thank you Mr Nabil for sharing with us your fond memories of your ‘Abba’.

    This photograph seems to be a non filmi one and so perhaps rare. Is it?

    I’m wondering where I could get hold of the film ‘aji bas shukriya’. Very unique sounding name.

    I’ll definitely read the two interviews.

  3. Love the photograph, LOVE. He looks so young and rakishly handsome! He is my favorite out of all the film comedians…I just laugh automatically when he comes onscreen. He never irritates, and I can’t say that about any of the others!

  4. “He never irritates, and I can’t say that about any of the others!”

    And that is saying a lot. Offhand, I can’t think of a single other Hindi comedian who hasn’t – at sometime or the other – made me grit my teeth!

    In that interview, when Vimal asked him about his experiences in working with different people, Johnny Walker said that a lot of it depended upon the writer. With good writers (like Abrar Alvi, whom JW named), JW upped the dialogue or whatever by only about 10%; with writers who couldn’t manage much humour, he had to add up to 75%. So, often, the JW you see onscreen is really to a large extent, him. Not completely what the writer had envisaged.

  5. I really enjoyed JW’s interviews on the posted links. His penchant for humor extends beyond the reel world and I could hear the humor sprinkled throughout the interview as well. Spontaneous not scripted humor. And there were parts which really touch your heart – esp when he says that when you’re young, you hear that it’s so n so’s birthday, in youth you hear it’s so n so’s wedding, and in old age you hear so n so passed away. And the shayari he recites at the end – and for him to have lived by it – really are testament to his strength of character.

    I think I’ll be watching a JW movie this evening to relive the magic of his everlasting talent!

    • I loved that particular observation about the news you keep hearing as you grow older, too! JW’s innate sense of humour surfaces very pleasingly. :-)

      Do tell me which JW film you ended up watching!

  6. nabilji, thanks for the post.
    it shows what a capable artist your father was.
    i agree ver ymuch with memsaab. Johnny Walker is one comedian who never got on my nerves

  7. Thank you for all the wonderful comments!

    Just a clarification, Johnny Walker is my grandfather. My mom, Tasneem wrote these posts. I have a post about having him as my Nana coming shortly!

    Thank you all once again. This means a lot!

  8. Lovely post.
    Like I have said before, he is my alltime favourite comedian.
    The moment I see his name in the credits, I know I am in for a good time – at least for his scenes. He has NEVER let me down.

    Love his famous “walk”, his famous “voïce”, his famous “dialogue delivery”. The way he says “mian” (in movies like Mere Mehboob) is just class.

    Love the songs picturised on him too. They were as if made for him. Just love his very presence in a movie.

    • And there are actually some films where the only reason I’d watch the film is Johnny Walker (Anjaan is one example. He’s brilliant. The rest of the film is pretty ainh). Such a fine comic actor. Such a fine actor, period.

  9. i m an ardent fan of this great personality. Just wanted to know more about his brothers who acted in few films with Mr. Johnywalker, and also the names of the films where his younger brother acted as a hero,?

  10. Dear Dustedoff – Who ever you are you have just made me
    very happy and perhaps in a state of melancholiness. It is with insight that you write and I laud you for your efforts.

    Best Wishes For All Times To Come,

    Prabhat

    • In the case of this particular post, I have to disclaim any responsibility for insight – as you can see, it’s not been written by me. Thank you, anyway, if you mean that you like my blog as a whole.

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