There was sadness in his heart even as he displayed a great zest for life in his many memorable comic roles. His father, Mumtaz Ali, had once been a star dancer and actor but fell prey to alcoholism.
Mehmood Ali — popularly known as just Mehmood — began working from the age of eight as a child actor in Kismet (1943), where he was cast as a young Ashok Kumar. He essayed short roles in CID (1956) and Pyaasa (1957), and also played lead roles in a few films before he hit it off as a comedian in the Rajendra Kumar starrer, Sasural (1961). After this film, the doors of the world of comedy opened up for him in a big way and he kept making people laugh through his innumerable films — some of which he produced and directed. In Sasural, he was called Mahesh — a name that stuck to him in many other films like Ziddi (1964), Love in Tokyo (1966), and Ladies Hostel (1973).
As he mentioned in many of his interviews, he became quite distant from the glossy world of success and wealth that he was living in for quite a few years. He went away to Bangalore where he had a farmhouse and bred horses. However, soon enough he began to miss the pancake make-up and the green rooms that had been such an important part of his life since he was a little boy.
And he returned.
Mehmood quit the world of cinema but soon started missing the pancake make-up and the greenrooms. And thus, he returned. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Mehmood’s generosity and warm-heartedness are well-known.
He had many friends in the industry, including RD Burman, Dharmendra, Kishore Kumar, Johny Walker and Amitabh Bachchan. He played an important role during Bachchan days of struggle, providing him with living space in his home and the role of the leading man in Bombay to Goa (1972). It was this film that made Salim-Javed take notice of the lanky young man, whom they then recommended for Zanjeer (1973), that proved the turning point in Bachchan’s career.
Mehmood also helped shape the career of Aruna Irani, his comic partner in many films. They were indeed a hit comic pair, as were Mehmood and Shubha Khote. He had an amazing tuning with both these co-stars and this made people watch these films again and again. There were some films in the 1960s which drew large audiences primarily due to Mehmood’s presence. His face on the posters was prominently displayed, and it is said that heroes felt intimidated by the meaty roles he was given. However, Mehmood explained later that the heroes were jealous of the fondness that heroines showed towards him! He considered himself a 'ladies’ man'. Once Gregory Peck had met him and reportedly told him that he was too handsome to be a comedian.
Mehmood’s most remarkable films include Pyar Kiye Ja, Patthar Ke Sanam, Arzoo, Humjoli, Padosan, Gumnaam, Do Phool, Bombay to Goa, Sabse Bada Rupaiya, Love in Tokyo, Neel Kamal and the Johar Mehmood series (Johar Mehmood in Goa, Johar Mehmood in Bombay, Johar Mehmood in Hong Kong). In Main Sundar Hoon and Kunwara Baap, Mehmood played roles that evoked pathos and moved viewers to tears.
The unforgettable Master Pillai, the Tamilian music teacher in Padosan. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Kunwara Baap was made by him and was based on his real-life story. In fact, the polio-stricken boy who played his son in the film was his son in real life too, whom he lost later. The loss remained a cause of deep sadness for the actor.
The films he made were not all successful but they steered clear of vulgarity. Bhoot Bangla and Kunwara Baap were successful at the box office. He had a stylised madness and flamboyance in his personality, which made audiences love him passionately. His various get-ups and accents brought newness to each of his roles. The way he changed his voice and accent from Hyderabadi to Tamilian, from Marwari to Kashmiri was admirable. One of my favourite roles of his is that of Mamdu, the Kashmiri houseboat owner in Arzoo. He played a significant role and had scenes as long as those of the male and female leads, Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana, respectively. His role of Master Pillai, the Tamilian music teacher in Padosan (which was also produced by him), can never be forgotten. The film was a crazy gathering of comedians like Kishore Kumar, Keshto Mukherjee, Mukri, Agha, and also Sunil Dutt in a comic role. The script was such that Mehmood’s role emerged as extremely hilarious and his humourous dialogues added to the slapstick comedy he was so good at.
Mehmood gave Amitabh Bachchan the lead role in Bombay to Goa, which eventually helped Big B land Zanjeer. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Popular songs picturised on Mehmood include Ik chatur naar badi hoshiyaar (Padosan), Ajhun na aaye baalmaa (Sanjh Aur Savera), Aao twist karein (Bhoot Bangla), Maine rakha hai mohabbat apne afsaane ka naam (Shabnam), Chanda o chanda (Lakhon Mein Ek) and Ham kaaley hain toh kya hua (Gumnaam).
Mehmood was a wonderful singer himself, besides being a spontaneous natural dancer who loved to introduce new dances like the 'Twist and Tap'.
He was indeed a complete artist who gave much joy to people down the generations. His comedy will remain fresh for all times to come. His last appearance was in a role created especially for him by Raj Kumar Santoshi in Andaz Apna Apna (1994).
He saw many ups and downs in life but as soon as he began performing, he gave his heart and soul to creating laughter. 15 years ago on this day (July 23, 2004), he passed away, but he continues to live in our hearts — making us smile and laugh every time we see his films.
Mehmood Ali will be the prince of joy and laughter forever!