Rajendra Nath: The man whose comic timing is no joke!
Outrageous costumes, sharp slapstick and more, on the comedian’s 88th birth anniversary, let’s relive his impeccable comedy.
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Rajendra Nath Malhotra, known in the world of cinema as Rajendra Nath, was an actor who provided wonderful entertainment to generations of viewers and regaled them with his very special sense of humour and comedy. The new generation can watch his films and enjoy his quaint way of creating hilarious moments on the screen. In a way, the beautiful moments he has given us through his roles in a large number of films (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) have been immortalized in these films and will remain a treasure for posterity. His elder brother, Prem Nath, was already an established actor when Rajendra Nath joined him in Bombay.
Originally from the Peshawar region (now in Pakistan), the family had settled in Rewa in Madhya Pradesh. Their father was the IG of Police. Rajendra Nath got a small comic role in Ham Sab Chor Hain (1956) but it was with Dil Deke Dekho (1959) that he became extremely popular as the bumbling idiot Kailash. In 1961 came Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai with Rajendra Nath playing the role of Poppat Lal, a name which stuck with him for years. In this film began his use of crazy costumes. Dressed in a frilly nighty he appears in the famous song of this film 'Jiya O, jiya O Jiya Kuchh Bol Do', which the flamboyant young Dev Anand sings while standing on the roof of a train (long, long before things like Chhaiyaan Chhaiyaan happened!).
Rajendra Nath rose to comic stardom with his role of Kailash in Dil Deke Dekho. (Photo: Screenshot)
Along with the nighty, Rajendra Nath is wearing a white cap and black-framed spectacles that were one of his favourite accessories.
The 1960s in Hindi cinema was the era of light-hearted romantic musical films that had a vast scope for an actor such as Rajendra Nath, who along with Mehmood and Johnny Walker, became an important part of this rom-com landscape of the 60s. While Mehmood and Johny Walker were also very popular comedians in their own right, Rajendra Nath had a completely different kind of comic timing that made him stand apart as a lovable, innocent and sweet person always up to mischief.
Mostly, he was a friend or close associate of the heroes and had a role almost equal in length to their roles. In Janwar (1965), he essayed the role of Chintu who was the best friend of Shammi Kapoor (Sunder) and goes with him to play an inter-college tournament in Kashmir. This is one of the most memorable roles of Rajendra Nath. Anyone who has seen the popular song 'Laal Chhadi Maidaan Khadi' from this film can understand this. In this song, he is seen dancing with Shammi Kapoor, playing football and doing rope skipping with the college girls. His dress, his hat and the red chhadi (walking stick) he is carrying add greatly to his antics in the song and in the entire film. He keeps trying to strike relationships with girls from various states because he wants to contribute towards national integration!
Another film Phir Wahi Dil Laya Hun sees him as Deefu (names given to him were very funny in themselves) who is highly idiotic and whom the heroine (Asha Parekh) wants to get rid of. Her uncle wants her to marry him as she and Joy Mukherjee keep tricking him to escape his company. Rajendra Nath’s use of sentences in English while speaking in Hindi created a strong comic effect. In this film, he describes his parents as 'fat mother and funny father' repeatedly. In most of his films he would say a sentence in Hindi and then immediately translate it into English such as “Bataaiye, Bataiye...please do tell me” or “Main samajhta hun …I do understand”.
There was nothing complicated about his comedy. It was an amalgamation of his foolish expressions, jaunty walk, outlandish costumes, use of English words, raising his bushy eyebrows frequently and of course, his typical sense of comic timing. He was so full of fun and his audience could sense that. Just by looking at his face, people would be in splits! And, his accessories such as frilly caps, different types of spectacles and goggles, striped half pants, the little bows and ties he wore and the umbrellas he carried – all created the Rajendra Nath effect. Of course, in so many films of the 1960s, he would sit on birthday cakes by mistake, fall off chairs, suddenly stand on the sofa and also indulge in cake-fights (there is a very interesting one in Mere Sanam).
In the 1970 film Jeevan Mrityu, he is in the role of Prem Prakash, a college friend of leading man Dharmendra. In one of the comic scenes, we see Rajendra Nath visiting a retired bank manager and his daughter. When he sits on the sofa, the spring of the old sofa gets stuck to his trousers and he conducts a long conversation with them all this while. His expressions are priceless. As he is about to leave, he is able to detach the spring and returns it to the girl with a bow. He performs so naturally that nothing seems strange. His crazy behaviour is a treat to watch. It is difficult to believe that this seeming buffoon and a jolly fellow was actually a reserved and serious man in real life.
His fan following has always been huge considering he worked in a large number of Hindi, Punjabi and Nepalese films. In Pyaar Ka Mausam (1969) he was seen along with RD Burman (Pancham) and the two were just amazing together with such perfect chemistry that people could never forget Jhatpat Singh (Rajendra Nath) and his secretary who would say “very true, very true” to anything his boss said.
Invaluable is the legacy Rajendra Nath left for us in his films. Such lively characters did he play. Today (June 8) is his 88th birth anniversary and all his fans must be thinking of him and his amazing talent for comedy.