‘Palat Tera dhyan kidhar hai” – it was a typical honk of the champion comic of the pre-Partition Indian cinema. Noor Mohammad Charlie made a great splash in the sea of the Indian cine kingdom, when he entered the foray with his own zany jokes and word variations, apart from his pet phrases and lingual zig-zaggers. It is an undeniable fact that Muslims have dominated the humor department in the Indian film industry over the 73 years history of the talkies, including Yaqoob, Noor Mohammd Charlie, Mirza Musharraf Agha, Johnny Walker, Mehmood, Ghauri, A. Shah Shikarpuri and others. About Noor Mohammad Charlie, you could say that with his own distinct style, he was the most hilarious doctor of the best medicine.
Noor Mohammad belonged to the Memon community, and like many young men of his age, he was a great fan of Charlie Chaplin. He loved to walk and talk with Chaplin’s style and even had a tiny moustache like his ideal artiste from Hollywood. Those were the days when the world was overwhelmed by the incredible talent of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, Butt Abbott & Costellou, Norman Wisdom and many others. As the World Wars ravaged the world in the first half of the 20th century, the people thronged to the cinema to forget and drown their sorrows in laughter and fun. In India, a similar trend was in the offing, and Charlie just swept away the people with his style of talking and his funny gongs; making noises that were new to the sub continent, and acting in a way that tickled the generations emerging out of the gloom of the British Rule. Elephanta Movies produced Pak Daman Raqqasa, directed by B. R. Oberoi, in 1932, and introduced this most peculiar young character Baba Charlie, with nudges, prods and his individual hairstyle that took the nation by storm.
In those days, the comics believed in the body language, as did Charlie. But, apart from that, his gift of the gab stood him in good stead. Lala Yaqoob, Ghauri and Dixit were already famous before Charlie, but he left many of them behind with his innovation and hilarity. Zarina was released in 1932 too, where he had an early run in with Yaqoob, where Jaal Merchant and Zubeida did the lead. Later, films like Chandarhasa, Premi Pagal, Nadra, Farzand-e-Hind, Toofan Mail, College Girl, Raat Ki Rani, Secretary, Thokar etc were released, which made Charlie a remarkable artiste of the subcontinent. It’s generally thought that his best character acting was reserved for the Ranjeet Movietone, which was the film company of famous maker, Chandulal Shah. He even played the lead in some of the humorous movies, including Chand Tara, where he was partnered with Swaranlata, very famous in those days, Ghazal, where Leela Chitnis was his heroine, and Dulha, with Chandraprabha.
When he came to Pakistan, Charlie was almost at the end of his popularity and career, and worked in almost a dozen Urdu, Sindhi and Punjabi movies. His first film released in Pakistan was Agha G. A Gul’s Punjabi film, Mundri, in 1949, which was directed by Daud Chand. It was quite a hit to boost up the local cinema in its formative years. Ragni and Ilyas Kashmiri were the leading artistes of the film. In Nazeer Ajmeri’s Beqarar, he played his light hearted role to the hilt and was applauded all the way. Similarly, in Ataullah Hashmi’s Akeli, in 1951, he was a sidekick of Santosh, whose leading lady was Raagini. In 1956, the first ever Sindhi film, Omar Marvi was released in Pakistan, by Fazlani and Sheikh Hasan, where Nighat Sultana and Fazlani did the lead, and Charlie had a characteristic role in this famous folk tale. In J. C. Anand’s Miss ’56, he acted alongside Meena Shorey, Santosh, Aslam Parvez and Shamim Ara. Fazlani’s Sindhi film, Pardesi was released in 1958, which had Charlie enacting a lovely role of a clever villager. Another Sindhi film the same year, Parai Zameen, also starred Charlie.
Charlie worked in Lollywood even after both superstars, Waheed Murad and Munawwar Zareef had made their debuts in the early 1960s. In 1965, he did the lead in a funny film by Aslam Irani, called Pipili Sahab, which had the lead role for him opposite Naghma. He did well enough, with a young Munawwar Zareef playing a smaller crony by his side. Fazlani’s Urdu film, Ustadon Ke Ustad, which appeared in 1967, also had Charlie – probably his last film. His son, Latif Charlie has been a famous character actor on the silver screen, and has played various roles in films like Doraha, Pyar Kee Jeet, Raaz etc. Charlie himself shifted to America, and came back to Pakistan just before his death – Zulqarnain Shahid