‘Yeh aap par itne phool barsaingi, itne phool barsaingi . . . ki aap bloody fool ho jayenge’
(They will shower so many flowers on you . . . that you will turn into a ‘bloody fool’)
Known as the king of comedy in Bollywood, Johnny Lever is a legend who reintroduced Indian cinema to the staple Shakespearean fool invoking side-splitting humour, all with a pinch of wit!
A secret to a healthy life is hidden in the bouts of lighthearted laughter, and of course a light diet. While Johnny Lever continues to take care of the former, we have a few options for the latter. Check out organic options here.
But, while this household name is well-known for causing laughter riots everywhere he goes, there is a lesser-known side to him.
Much like American humorist Erma Bombeck’s idea that a thin line indeed separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humour and hurt, Johnny Lever’s life too has been a boat rocking between fame and big struggles.
So, on his 60th birthday, let’s take a peek into the life of a person who has tickled our funny bones for generations, worked in more than 300 films, and inspired thousands to fight for their comic break!
Though born in Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh, to a Christian Telugu family, Johnny Lever, whose real name is John Rao Prakash Rao Janumala, was brought up in the narrow lanes of Dharavi, Mumbai.
His father worked as an operator in Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) and earned barely enough to sustain the family, which comprised of Johnny along with three sisters and two brothers.
Owing to the financial problems, Johnny had to leave school when he was in Class 7 and take up odd jobs. From selling pens and dancing on the streets of Mumbai to mimicking Bollywood actors, Johnny did it all.
For young Johnny, his genuine passion for comedy blossomed amid all these hardships and these experiences played a pivotal role in making him what he is today.
When Johnny met Lever
After a few years, Johnny’s father began to bring him to work at HUL. To his surprise, his son became popular among his colleagues, not for his work, but for his mimicry skills.
This hidden talent needed a platform, and that came in the form of the company’s annual function where he mimicked some senior HUL officials.
The absolute cracker-of-a-show earned him the nickname Johnny ‘Lever,’ and this was something that he carried with him forever.
The response boosted his morale, and it pushed Johnny to try harder and make something out of his passion. Soon, opportunities of stand-up comedy shows began to pour in.
His popularity grew by leaps and bounds, and he finally quit his job in 1981 after six long years to start working as a full-time comic.
As he continued to garner popularity from the stand-up comedy shows in orchestras, he got a chance to join the Kalyanji-Anandji group, which gave him a more considerable exposure both nationally and internationally.
Slowly, but steadily, Johnny Lever rose to become one of the first mass popular stand-up comedians in India.
But, his tryst with the movies was yet to unfold.
The big movie break
Johnny got his first break in the industry with Tum Par Hum Qurban. It was during the shooting for this film that actor-director Sunil Dutt recognised his talent and offered him a role in his movie, ‘Dard Ka Rishta’ in 1982.
Since then, Johnny Lever has worked in more than 350 films including Jalwa, Tezaab, Kasam, Kishen Kanhaiya, Baazigar, Khiladi, Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega and so on.
Be it Harry’s abba dabba jabba in Judaai or Aslam Bhai’s Dubai Ka Chashma, his characters, though touted as side roles, have become timeless, thanks to his incredible comic timing. A legend in Indian comedy industry, Johnny lever has indeed done it all!
From bringing comic respite to the most tense and thrilling scenes to transforming a villain’s lair into a house of comedy, his jokes and most importantly, expressions, never have—and never will—grow old.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)