In the 90s, comic Johny Lever was almost a permanent fixture in every movie. In many of them, his character had no bearing on the plot of the film. He would appear out of nowhere, make you laugh, and then disappear, only to pop up randomly sometime later, to make you laugh again. He’s been in over 300 movies and in each of them he invented a unique quirk for his character. As Almeda in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, he inexplicably loved the British and worshipped the Queen. In Baazigar, he was the forgetful househelp Babulal. In Judaai, he was a wannabe actor who faked his father’s death to rehearse for a funeral scene. And the list goes on.
Here we pick 5 hilarious scenes from his enormous body of work and find out how he created those characters.
This was the first film I did with Abbas-Mustan. I must have been around 30 years old at the time and I hadn’t done too many movies. This was shot in Madh Island. I remember being given a script for the scene and I improvised on it. I wanted to experiment with accents. At the time no one else was studying accents carefully – they didn’t know the difference between a Kannada accent or a Telugu accent or how Shettys speak. With this character I tried a Malayali accent and I made him a naariyal wala. I kept improvising on the set till we landed up getting a good scene. In every take I would say something new. I never knew what would come out of my mouth.
Yeh sari line-e meri hain. Not one scene in Baazigar was written. Paper hi nahi tha! It’s 80 per cent me and 20 per cent Abbas-Mustan. This line – Anarkali ka phone tha, ice-cream khaana zaroori hai – I made up while shooting. When I was dubbing, I had to listen to whatever I said on the headphones and then do it because there was no script. Even the scene where I forget to put chai patti in the tea, I thought of on the set. Let’s call Abbas-Mustan now and ask him about it, it will be fun! (Tries calling them) I remember they asked me on the set – ‘Aapko is mein kya banaye – bhulakkar ya behra?’ I said, ‘Theek hai, bhulakkar bana do’.
Then this became a trend in many films. I used to feel a lot of pressure because people stopped giving me scripts. They thought ‘Johny Lever ab koi jadoo karega’. Do you remember Anari Number 1, where I play Daler Mehndi? Woh pura scene mera hai. I just told them to bring a tape recorder with the song Tunak Tunak. They played it and I made it up during the take. No one knew what I was going to do.
Later I started insisting that they write at least something before coming to me. I said don’t depend on me, comedy is very difficult. So please write the scene and then i’ll improvise on it.
Once again, I made this up on the spot. Nothing was written. Can you see the bit where the agarbatti burns my forehead? I just made it up during the take. This was directed by Raj Kanwar who also had a good sense of humour. This character loves the movies and wants to be an actor. There are people like this everywhere. I’ve used them in my stand-up comedy shows.
Also this movie had Kader Khan who was so versatile. The give and take with him in each scene was amazing. Woh bahut khush hote the. He would say – tere saath bahut maza aata hai.
I did all these films at a time when I was also doing a lot of stage shows, so I never had time. When I started doing movies, people started liking me. And distributors started telling the producer to put me in the movie. Now for a film like Baazigar, I had time in hand so they made me a part of the plot. But for the rest, I wasn’t available so they would make me come for 4 days and do a few scenes. Mera main plot ke saath koi lena dena nahi tha. This happened in many, many films. Almost every film had a sidetrack with me aur baad main kisi tarah fit kar dete the. I would shoot 5 films in a day. I wouldn’t even ask for the full script. I thought why waste someone’s time by making them narrate to me for 2 hours. Now when I see the movies, I wonder “Arre yeh picture maine kab ki?”
Watch the scene here
Yeh scene mujhe bahut bhaari para. I had too much to remember and it was so confusing and complicated. I hadn’t slept the night before. The assistant would keep correcting me. I didn’t improvise here, I could barely remember what was given to me. This scene was very dangerous!
Golmaal 3 (2010)
After 2000 I took a break. I did lesser films. I thought ‘ab main apni marzi se kaam karoonga’. I did just a few films. In 2011 I did All The Best with Rohit Shetty. At that point I had decided to hear all scripts. I wanted to know the whole story and what my lines will be. I enjoy working with Rohit Shetty because he gives a lot of freedom. I didn’t have to do much in Golmaal 3 because Sajid and Farhad had written everything. They are very good comedy writers.
But I check everything on the monitor and keep doing the scene till I get it right. I’ve worked for so many years that I can easily tell if something is working. Sometimes I don’t even need to look at the monitor. I just look at the reactions of the people on the set and can tell if it’s working. Till today I get nervous before the first shot of a movie. Once I get the accent and mannerisms of the character right, I start improvising freely.