Johnny Walker – Memories
We hail from Indore. I am one of the 10 kids my father had. We shifted to Bombay in the ’40s. At that time, my family was very reluctant to come to Bombay as they thought it was too crowded and polluted. However, we came here and stayed at Mahim. My father had to quit his job. My elder brother expired and all the responsibilities fell on my shoulders. Just imagine having to feed 12 mouths!
I used to work very hard. There was a time I used to travel to Pune or Nasik every day, pick up vegetables, come back and sell them here. I have sold everything possible, from eggs to chickens to vegetables. I would sell this on the pavement as I didn’t have money to set up a shop. I used to think that once I collected 50 or a 100 rupees, I would start a business of my own. Then as fate would have it, I got into films. I have also worked as a bus conductor. In the mornings I would walk from Mahim to Dadar and walk back in the evenings.
Though I didn’t know how to go about it, I always wanted to be an actor. Somehow, I got this small role as a prisoner and Balraj Sahni played the jailor. Ironically, Balraj was in prison those days since he was involved with some communists and was imprisoned. Two policemen used to tease Balraj. `You need not practise for your role. You see a jailor every day’! He would tell me, ‘Take a lesson or two from me. I know how a prisoner should behave’.
Balraj recommended my name to Guru Dutt. At that time Guru Dutt was making Baazi. He had shot the entire film except for this one scene. He told me, ‘There is this tiny role which you can do. Speak as much as you want to and I’ll take it’. So I did this teeny weeny role and people still recognized me. Since then, Guru Dutt was kind enough to take me in each of his films. He was such a down to earth and simple man. He was so modest that nobody would know he was such a great film maker.
Those days, the whole industry was like a family. We used to play cricket together after a shot was over. However, the industry was considered bad for girls. Even then, the girls who entered films then, were very decent. No scandals and no affairs. They were a class apart.
Initially, I used to do such small roles that my name never appeared on screen. My original name is Badruddin Quazi. Then came a phase when all I got, were drunkard’s roles. That’s when I changed my name to Johnny Walker. And as I started getting bigger roles, my name Johnny Walker, started appearing on the screen.
My days of poverty however, continued for quite some time. I still remember, for the first time, I had got a big role in a film and the premiere was to take place at Liberty. Those days, premieres were big events. Everybody in the film industry would attend all the premieres. It was a sort of get-together, as we didn’t have many parties then. I had to attend this premiere, as I was looking forward to the film. But sadly, I didn’t have any money except four annas. And I had to travel from Mahim, where I used to stay to Fort, where the premiere was being held. I didn’t know what to do.
I could travel just one way and while returning, I would have to walk back. I stood at the bus stop and luckily, the bus that arrived had a driver friend who knew me since my conductor days, so I travelled free. Once I reached Liberty, I saw that many journalists had also gathered. The film started a little late and throughout, I was so worried that if the journalists stopped me after wards I would be late and miss the last train home. So I sneaked out before the film could end. As I was hurrying towards the station, a friend of mine in a car stopped by and gave me a lift back home. So my four annas were still intact! The next day, everybody asked me why I had left early and I didn’t know what to tell them!
From 1940 to 1950 was a golden era in Hindi films and I am happy I belonged to that period. The three biggies, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand belonged to that era. Strangely, whatever the world thinks of them, the trio were very close. Though the rivalry was always there, they used to be such great pals. They valued their friendship above everything else.
Dilip Kumar is a very decent man. Those days, there was no distinction between the lead pair and the other actors. Everybody worked towards the benefit of the film. Individual interests came much later. Nobody would dare meddle with each other’s scenes. If somebody tried to act smart, the director would scream at him. We all respected the director’s decisions. Dilip Kumar initially would speak his dialogues so softly that the sound recordist was always in a soup. Those days, there were no dubbing sessions so the sound recordist had to rely on the dialogues spoken during the shoots. But somehow, everything would be managed well.
I still remember the days we used to go hunting. Producer Ansari, would accompany me very often and he and I have hunted so many tigers and panthers together. Shammi Kapoor, Pradeep Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and an actor called Suresh, have all accompanied me on my hunting sessions. Though Pradeep Kumar would come with me, he was too scared to hunt!
Yes, I am surprised at the kind of films that are being made these days — full of vulgarity and violence. Can you tell me which actor of today has any talent to show? All the heroes and heroines are just good at one thing — romantic scenes. If people thought the film industry was bad then, it’s worse now. Today’s girls are supposed to be much more educated than their counterparts of yesteryear. But I definitely think the girls then were much more decent.
Though I should say that now the things are improving. Clean films like Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, are also being liked by people.
I have stopped working since the last 10 years. Today I feel there are no good directors around, to really appreciate your talent. I also get angry with the way actors work these days. The director calls them at two o’clock and they come at eight. However, if I am offered clean films like Hum Aapke Hain Koun, I don’t mind making a comeback – (As told to Shubha Shetty in 1996)