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Johnny Walker... signing off on a high


IN ONE way, the early life of actor Rajnikant and Johnny Walker was same. While the former would entertain people at bus stops and railway stations with his mimicry, the latter took recourse to amusing passengers in Mumbai buses by telling jokes and reciting humorous `ashaars'. "Badru", Kaziji" were the names that the commuters would address Badruddin Kazi alias Johnny Walker as, the name that Guru Dutt gave him after he was mesmerised by his acting of a drunkard. What better name could he have thought of besides this popular whisky brand?

Secretly aspiring to make it in films, Johnny would amuse passengers in buses in the hope that one day someone from the film industry would spot him and give him a chance. That's what exactly happened. Once Balraj Sahni was travelling in a bus where Kaziji was on his regular entertaining spree. Balraj was writing "Baazi" then. He asked this bus conductor to meet Guru Dutt, his friend and that was it! He grabbed a role in "Baazi" and his new name brought him name, fame and well, wealth!

Dutt's films were where Johnny met his ladylove, Noorjahan, lovingly called Noor. She was the younger sister of actress Shakeela. They worked in three films together. Their marriage was no less than a scene from a thriller. Those were the days of Goa Bandh. Curfew was on. No one could venture out of the house. The famous actress Shammi was a good friend of both. "They borrowed my car to go round the city. They flashed a white flag not to be prevented by men at guard. Noor's family was against this marriage. So she quietly came out of her home without telling anyone, nikah was solemnised at Johnny's home," and the very next day the man was back on his sets. A few days later, the whole Mumbai got wind of it and they both hosted a gala reception.

"When we were shooting for `Musafirkhana' in Kolkata, he would quietly steal time to talk to her in Mumbai," recalls this "great fan" of Walker. He became a father of six children, three boys and three girls. They are in America now.

He was known for his honesty, commitment and punctuality on sets. He was very fond of poetry too. He could recall hundreds of `ashaars' to suit all occasions. A thorough gentleman, he would keep everyone in good humour through his jokes.

In "Naya Paisa" he did three roles! He even tried his calibre as a hero in "Johnny Walker" and "Mr. Cartoon" but fell flat. But be it "Mere Mehboob", "CID" "Pyaasa" or "Chori Chori", he became producers' hot favourite after "Aye Dil Hai Mushkil", "Sir Jo Tera Chakraye" and " Line Clear Hai Bhai" numbers.

With Guru Dutt's death, Johnny lost his source of information. He became less witty even in his personal life. By the fag end of his career, Johnny refused to accept films. "Earlier, comedians had a respectable position and an almost parallel role with the protagonist, now it is just to bring a touch of humour. I don't buy that," said this king of comedy in an interview to a channel a few months before he passed away. After several years he accepted Kamal Hasan's "Chachi 420". And his journey in films continued. Until Tuesday last.

RANA A. SIDDIQUI

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