Ten Great Johnny Walker Roles

My major complaint against Hindi cinema has been that we’ve never given comedy the sort of status it’s received in the West. True, there has been the occasional classic comedy – Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Dekh Kabira Roya, Dholak and Padosan, for example – but as a genre it seems to have been largely neglected. Which, in turn, has meant that comic actors have also often not been given due respect for their talents. Making people laugh is I think more difficult than making them cry: and Johnny Walker is one of the very few who’ve excelled at the art. Here, therefore, are some of his roles that I find the most memorable. All, of course, from films that I’ve seen.

1. Teju in Shikaar (1968): The second role for which Johnny Walker won a Filmfare Award (the first was for Madhumati). Johnny Walker is inimitable in this one, as Tejbahadur ‘Teju’, Dharmendra’s servant, saddled with a spunky tribal girlfriend Mahua (played by Bela Bose) who drives our man batty. He, however, is always a step ahead (after all, as he says, he’s worked under everyone from Majnun to Raja Harishchandra, so is a master at everything, whether it’s romance or telling the truth!). Johnny Walker is brilliant in Shikaar, whether twirling a single stick or waltzing with Mahua’s belligerent father, or helping in an investigation: every moment that he’s onscreen, he’s pure gold. And yes, he’s got the dialect just so.

2. Baiju in Chhoomantar (1956): Johnny Walker gets the opportunity to play not just comedian, but also hero – and he plays it to the hilt, romancing a pretty heroine, singing songs and going off on adventures with a feisty ‘sister’, standing up bravely to villains who range from highway robbers to unjust rulers and Bombay underworld crooks… and taking time out to even shake a leg as the ‘famous danseuse’ Chhamiabai Kanpurwaali! Awesome.

3. Parker in Mai Baap (1957): An unusual role for Johnny Walker, in that though he is comic, he’s also the villain of the piece. The smart-aleck Parker, along with his girlfriend Leela (played by the vivacious Minoo Mumtaz), swindles a simple, blind villager played by Balraj Sahni. A win at the lottery, and the villager becomes a rich man overnight, whom Parker sweet-talks into shifting to Bombay and donating pots of money to so-called charity. Johnny Walker makes for an interesting villain: crooked and cunning and certainly not a nice man, yet with a wicked sense of humour that sets him apart from so many other cinema crooks. And yes, this is the film which has his signature tune: Main hoon Johnny, bada toofaani!(“I am Johnny, the stormy Johnny!”)

4. Johnny in Mr & Mrs 55 (1955): Even though the Pritam of Mr & Mrs 55 is nowhere as miserable as the Vijay of Pyaasa, he does have his problems: unemployment, penury, falling in love with a girl who loves another. And, just as Vijay had Abdul Sattar as a friend, so Pritam has Johnny to stand by him. Johnny, stalwart and staunchly loyal, who feeds Pritam, looks after him when he’s ill, gets him a job, even – when a desperate Pritam rigs things in order to hoodwink the law – helps him. He even gets the time to woo the very pretty Julie (Yasmin), with whom JW forms one of the best comic-romantic jodis of the 50’s!

5. Abdul Sattar in Pyaasa (1957): “Sar jo tera chakraaye ya dil dooba jaaye, aaja pyaare paas hamaare” (“If your head’s spinning or your heart’s sinking, come to me, friend”) sings Abdul Sattar, Johnny Walker’s character in Pyaasa – and, oh, how appropriate. In the life of the poet Vijay, shunned and spurned by all, including his own brothers and the woman he loves, the one faithful friend is Abdul Sattar: good-hearted, cheerful, unfailingly loyal, so very Johnny Walker.

6. Charandas in Madhumati (1958): This was the role for which Johnny Walker received a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor (beating Sohrab Modi for Yahudi and Rehman for Phir Subah Hogi). It’s a fine portrayal, and especially evidence of Kazi Sahib’s skill at playing intoxicated: Charandas is good at heart, but spends nearly all his time in a state of high inebriation! Even when he isn’t singing Jungle mein mor naacha, he’s lolloping along the mountain paths, climbing trees and seeing spooky spirits at every turn.
Tom Daniel, commenting on Hindi film comedians, once told me that he probably misses some of the humour because he has to rely on subtitles. For Johnny Walker, though, Tom had this to say: “I find him funny in any language!” Charandas is a superb example of the funniness that can make you laugh even if you don’t understand every word of the language.

7. Master in CID (1956): Johnny Walker plays a pickpocket who admits to “using scissors” (which is why he’s called ‘Master’ – a contraction of the popular Hindi appellation, ‘tailor master’). He spends his time walking the tightrope between petty thievery on the one hand, and helping the CID on the other, and finds time in the middle to woo his firebrand girlfriend, played by Kumkum. Like Rustom of Aar Paar and Abdul Sattar of Pyaasa, this is another classic JW role. And it includes one of Johnny Walker’s most well-known songs.

8. Rustom in Aar Paar (1954): I’ve been watching a lot of Johnny Walker over the past few days, and watching him play Rustom brought home the realisation that Johnny Walker is often underrated when it comes to versatility. Yes, funny; but funny in so many ways. Rustom, for instance, is also a Bombay man, also crooked and also street-smart, like Master. But that’s where the resemblance stops. There is about Rustom’s snappy dialogue delivery, his Gujarati-accented English, and the way in which he moves, something that’s so absolutely Parsi. What a very impressive bit of acting!

9. Badri in Anjaan (1956): Anjaan isn’t an especially good film; the story is so-so, the direction is nothing to write home about, and the music, though good, is not exceptional. The one good thing about Anjaan, though, is Johnny Walker as Badri, the hero’s friend. In the course of the film, we get to go carousing with the inveterate gambler as he dreams of winning a fortune; we see him pass himself off as the maharajkumar (prince) of a hill state; we see him dope two characters so thoroughly that he convinces them that the local air is foul enough to make them ill; and we see him come charging in to the rescue of the heroine while the hero is away getting beaten up by the goons. What more could one want of a supporting actor? Watch this film for Badri. And for this song, which actually features the name “Johnny Walker” in the lyrics.

10. Isa Bhai Suratwala in Anand (1970): Anand is known for so much: Rajesh Khanna’s acting. Amitabh Bachchan’s acting. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s very sensitive, very poignant direction. Salil Choudhary’s music. And this, one of the finest cameos I have ever seen. Johnny Walker has very little time onscreen in Anand, but he makes his presence felt as the madcap Isa Bhai, who goes along with Anand‘s (or should that be Jaichand’s, since that’s the name Isa Bhai uses for him?) little farce. He’s laugh-out loud funny as the small-time theatre company wallah who’s always game for yet another gag – but he has the depth and the sensitivity that makes this another unforgettable Johnny Walker performance.

Which are your favourite Johnny Walker roles?

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40 thoughts on “Ten Great Johnny Walker Roles

  1. Wow Do to list Top 10 for Johnnybhai, that is a hard nut to track, I wud have had a tough call because I wud list top 100, frankly…..:)

    But offhand, these are also excellent-

    Pati Patni 1966 him as
    Padampath

    and

    Ek Phool Char Kaante 1960 as
    Uncle – Rock ‘N Roll Fanatic

    and him in the lead role in all his movies Khota Paisa, Johnny Walker, Choomantar, Mr Qartoon MLA.

    Cheers

    p.s. I must have mentioned in my earlier posts that we in good ol days back in Nairobi always looked for who the comedian was, next the MD, and rest followed, so we oldies, a big group always went for the Comedian b4 we decided to go and watch the movie in a big hall :)

    • I like your list of priorities for deciding which film to watch! Absolutely right. :-)

      JW’s role in Ek Phool Chaar Kaante was originally on this list too, but then it’s been such a long time since I saw that film, I’ve forgotten the nuances of his role in it. And I am yet to see Johnny Walker, Khota Paisa and Mr Qartoon MA – have seen some fabulous songs from these films, and have been wanting to get hold of them ever since!

  2. Wonderful idea and a great post, dusted off.

    I agree with the roles you’ve mentioned. I haven’t seen Anjaan, Choomantar, and mai baap :-(

    I loved Johny Walker in Chaudvin Ka Chaand. Not only was he very good, but had a substantial role in it.
    His nuskha (cure) for Rehman’s wound was so funny;

    Dupatte ko jalakar
    Makhan mein milaker
    Chot pe lagaakar
    Araam paaiye (or something like this).

    (all will be lost in translation ;-)

    • I must see Chaudhvin ka Chaand again! It’s been so long, I’ve largely forgotten Johnny Walker’s role in that, though I do remember him as bringing some much needed comic relief in a film that was mostly very depressing.

      I LOVE that nuskha! So, so good – and so Johnny Walker. I wonder if that was written by whoever wrote the dialogues (?) or improvised by Johnny Walker himself. :-)

  3. just like pacifist I love d his role in chaudvin ka Chand.
    His feelings for his friends is so touching and he seems to be the only level-headed person in the movie, other than Minoo Mumtaz.
    Wonder why Guru Dutt didn’t put him in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam!

    Great List!

    • Thank you, harvey! I’ve also always wondered why Johnny Walker is missing from Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam. I don’t recall any other Guru Dutt film which doesn’t have Johnny Walker, no matter in how small a role. Maybe Guru Dutt was being true to the book? That is, if the book also didn’t have much scope for a comic character (I haven’t read it)…? And though – as we’ve seen with Mai Baap and Anand – Johnny Walker was also very good at portraying villainy, loyalty, depth of character, etc – when he came onscreen, people expected comedy. He couldn’t appear in a film and not be comic, even if only in part. I guess Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam didn’t have any scope for humour of the JW kind!

      • But he would have been ideal for the role of Bansi which Dhumal played in the film. johnny, a chamaleon he was, would have taken to bhojpuri dialect like duck to water.
        Moreover the role IS a comic one.

      • guru dutt did want to take dad ( im kausar his eldest daugter ),
        even though there was no role for dad and guru dutt was going to ceate one, however dad told him to leave it the way it was and there would always be another one they could work on.

  4. Issabhai Suratwala is the best. Incidentally, at that time there really was a person by that name in the film industry; he was a well known sound recordist. He was a veteran in the film industry; he was active for a very long time.
    When I interviewed Hrishikesh Mukherjee, he told me that he particularly enjoyed casting actors in roles completely opposite to the image they usually had, he drew my attention to Johny Walker’s role in Anand and Bindu in Abhimaan.

  5. Now that I come to think of it, yes – Hrishikesh Mukherjee did like casting actors in roles one didn’t generally associate with them. Also Rajesh Khanna in Bawarchi, as an example.

    Shilpi, thank you also for telling me about Issabhai Suratwala! One so rarely even remembers the names of people other than actors, directors, and those connected with singing/writing/composing songs that people like sound recordists never get remembered. But after your comment, I did look up imdb, and came across the page for Essa M Suratwala, who I now discover was the award-winning recordist for Yaadein, as also the recordist for a number of Bimal Roy’s films. Thank you for educating me about that! I’m glad I’ve learnt something. :-)

    I wonder, though, why his name was chosen for Johnny Walker’s character in Anand. Simply because it’s an interesting and unusual name, or as a tribute, or was there some other reason?

    • Well, I have been mulling over what you have mentioned. If you live in Bombay then the name and surname is definitely not unusual -quite common actually. It could be that it was probably top of mind or may have done it just for fun. Like in one film(Mehman) my dad’s name was Tarun, the makers probably did not want to go through the hassle of thinking of a name.

      • Or as in Teen Deviyaan, where as far as I remember, all the main characters went by their own names – Devdutt Anand, I S Johar, Simi, Kalpana, Nanda… I’m not certain about the women, but Dev Anand and IS Johar definitely.

  6. Great List, i forgot him in Anand guess i didn’t like that film much apart from the songs that is, one of my favourite and most memorable Walker roles for me though in honesty it was quite a short one is as the English loving reporter in Naya Daur

    • I have to rewatch Naya Daur: it’s been so long since I’ve seen it, I’ve really rather forgotten Johnny Walker’s role in it. It’s not a big role; am I right? As far as I remember, he appears pretty much towards the latter half of the film.

      • even for naya daur the audience was waiting for dad’s entrance !!! as soon as he appeared the theater crowd went wild and there was claps and whistling !!!

        • I can well imagine that – and understand it too! I often ask my father if I can buy him old film DVDs, and he often asks for films from the 50’s. Not long ago, he requested for Mujrim. When I bought it for him and we were sitting and watching it, my father was not really showing much interest in the film – until Johnny Walker came on. And when the song Zulf ke phande phans gayi jaan began, my father was all smiles! Johnny Walker always has that effect. :-)

    • Thank you, Shweta! I’m glad you like his acting in Aar Paar too: I think it’s one of his very underrated roles; there are subtle changes from the usual Abdul Sattar-Master type of characterisations, and JW pulls off the Parsi petty crook fabulously.

  7. Nice list, Madhu.
    It makes me want to see those movies again – it has been a while since I have seen them (the ones I’ve seen, that is).

    From what I can remember from movies I have seen more recently, there was Mere Mehboob. Johnny Walker’s dialogue delivery has always been something I’ve enjoyed – and in this there is a lot of Urdu and shaayri. A perfect combination for me. I thoroughly enjoyed him in this movie. Alongwith the Comic Side Plot he had with his co-star (I do not remember her name). And a lovely song too they had picturised on them. All in all, it was a lot of fun.

    • Oh dear, what could be wrong with me? I’ve completely forgotten Johnny Walker’s role in Mere Mehboob, even though I thought I remembered that film fairly well. I obviously haven’t watched it in a long time!

      • My reaction is the same as yours; :-)
        >Oh dear, what could be wrong with me?

        Mere Mehboob is one of my favourite films and Johny Walker is absolutely fantastic in it. This is easily one of his best roles for me. Loved his ‘ghayal’ and ‘nein nein, nein nein’.

  8. Mine is Madhumati, also on your list. He just lights up the screen (much of that film is so dark) and I laugh helplessly just watching him. Ditto for me what Tom said—Johnny Walker needs no subtitles :)

    • He’s such a ray of light in all these dark, depressing films, isn’t he? Madhumati (not that depressing, I think – but certainly dark); Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, etc. Such a joy.

  9. One of my favorite Walker roles is his portrayal of the cunning Marwari businessman in Railway Platform. It’s an uncharacteristically villainous role – he is all grasping businessman and very wicked in the bargain, but being Johnny Walker, he naturally makes that fun to watch! And I liked him a lot in Black Cat – the way he fights the villains with beer bottles in the climax was hilarious!

    Much as I love Johnny Walker and agree that his roles in Guru Dutt films were superb – those are not really my favorite Johnny Walker roles. His lightheartedness just serves to emphasize the darkness of the main story. I loved him in Chaudvin Ka Chand but he really showed up the Guru Dutt and Rehman characters’ flaws there!

    • Railway Platform is one film I’ve been wanting to see ever since you reviewed it – I must make more effort to get hold of it! And somehow my memories of Black Cat are all very painful – I rememer that film as being pretty idiotic, despite Balraj Sahni.

      When it comes to Johnny Walker in Guru Dutt films, a little thought, and I’ve realised that my favourites from those roles are not in the classic morbid Guru Dutt films – the Pyaasa, Kaagaz ke Phool, Chaudhvin ka Chand – but in the more commercial, light-hearted ones, Mr & Mrs 55, CID, Aar Paar and 12 O’Clock. He sparkles in them!

  10. I totally agree with your sentiments regarding Johnny Walker. He was eminently watchable and many a times reinvigorated films which appear to be going nowhere. A great example of this is Naya Daur, where the storyline aimlessly drifts along until Johnny Walker shows up and breathes life into a dying corpse. Very few actors have this knack but Johnny Walker had it in abundance!

    You’ve listed several films I too would’ve picked as JW’s greats but my list would’ve also contained the following:

    Musafir Khana (1955) – JW plays a Goanese character and has the traits down to a tee!
    Kahin Pyar Ho Na Jaaye (1963) – the camaraderie between JW and Mehmood is an absolute marvel!
    Gopi (1970) – I can and have watched the scenes with him, Dilip Kumar and Pran over and over and the magic is still there!

    • Ah, three films I’ve never had the pleasure of watching (though Gopi is one I’ve actually steered clear of, simply because Dilip Kumar, by 1970, was not an actor I wanted to watch). But I’ll keep an eye out for these. Thanks!

      • No worries!

        I feel you’ve missed a treat by steering clear of Gopi; disregarding the Bengali version of Sagina, many have opined Gopi was Dilip’s last great performance before his hiatus from films until 1981. Personally, I feel his later films, suffer from poor supporting casts more than anything. To wit, Dilip in his post-Ganga Jamuna films required strong acting personalities to bounce off and he rarely got this. However, this is not the case with Gopi, as all the actors put in very strong performances, including Om Prakash, Nirupa Roy, Saira Banu, Pran and of course the indomitable Johnny Walker. Govinda is reputed to have watched Gopi on a continual loop over a number of weeks in preparation for his Gauri S’ankar role in the blockbuster Aankhein. Indeed, some scenes in Aankhein have obviously been shot as a homage to Dilip’s Gopi…

        • This is a bit of a coincidence, because we’ve been discussing Gopi over at another post on this blog – the one on ten of my favourite Dilip Kumar songs. And I and some of my friends also discussed the film on Facebook – and those who had seen it and knew my tastes, thought I’d probably not like it. Not because of Dilip Kumar’s performance (and I am one of those who never think he can be bad), but because of other elements – story, scripting, songs, etc. I’ll put it on my list if you recommend it so highly.

          • Not just for you; a friend and I were debating the greatest musical quartets a few weeks back and fortuitously your post shows up. My favourite is the Dilip, Naushad, Rafi and Shakeel combination. I’ve sent him the link to your post, more so as it emphasizes my point.

            Gopi is a decent watch; there is nothing so wonderful about the story or script but the cast bring the film alive and make it watchable. Plus you can feel the romance blossoming between Dilip and Saira. Put it this way, it’s a lot better than Aadmi, Sanghursh and Daastan, which are too reliant on Dilip…

  11. Madhulika, came upon late, but just wanted to doff my hat, as JW would have done, for this celebration of Indian cinema’s best comedian. For me Aar Paar and CID are his best films, because they are quintessential Bombay characters. Ditto Mr and Mrs 55. He also had a small role in The Perfect Murder which he enacted with his usual élan

    • Thank you, Sidharth! I’ve watched The Perfect Murder only once, and that was too long ago – I wasn’t old enough to really understand much of what was going on. And I’ve forgotten most of the cast. Must revisit that one of these days, when I have the time… maybe in a couple of hundred years’ time?! Whew. So many good films, so very little time.

  12. I am a die hard fan of johny walker. i read your page with comments
    its a wonderful experience. nice sharing
    well done for a gr8 man of indian cinema

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