Before he became Johnny Walker, the renowned Hindi actor Badruddin Khan Jamaluddin Kazi was a bus conductor in Mumbai with a showman hidden inside him.
In her book Encyclopaedia of Bollywood – Film Actors, Renu Saran writes about Kazi’s journey: “While issuing tickets as a BEST bus conductor, Badruddin used to entertain passengers aboard with some antics. These antics caught the attention of an actor and script-writer Balraj Sahni in 1950 while he was travelling in a bus on which Badruddin, then 27, was working as a conductor.”
Sahni introduced Kazi to director Guru Dutt, who cast him in a comic role in his directorial debut Baazi (1951). The story goes that Guru Dutt rechristened Kazi as Johnny Walker after his favourite brand of whisky. Guru Dutt was presumably referring to the role of the drunk that Walker played in Baazi, or, perhaps, Kazi’s soothing personality.
A teetotaller in real life, Walker did exude warmth and calm each time he came on screen. It also helped that in a career spanning nearly five decades, he was mostly cast in roles that specialised in diffusing tension and generating instant humour.
Walker’s modus operandi often was the film song, and he has many hit numbers to his name, including Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan and Jaane Kahan Mera Jigar Gaya Ji. And who can forget Sar Jo Tera Chakraye?
In Guru Dutt’s 1957 classic Pyaasa, Walker appears 30 minutes into the film announcing a much-needed reprieve from the high drama unfolding in the life of poet and writer Vijay (Guru Dutt). Walker stars in a role that specialises in stress relief: the man who gives a head massage. Appearing out of nowhere and shouting “Maalish, tel maalish, champeeeya”, Walker transitions into Sar Jo Tera Chakraye, elevating the film’s mood instantly.
Sung by Mohammed Rafi and composed by SD Burman, Sar Jo Tera Chakraaye, apart from advertising the benefits of a head massage, is also Walker’s loving call to his audience to shed their worries and relax – at least for the moment. (The tune is based on a song from the 1958 British movie Harry Black.)
What begins as a maalishwala’s sales pitch soon blossoms into an anthem for the working class. The lines penned by Sahir Ludhianvi work well as an equaliser: Naukar ho ya malik, leader ho ya public, apne aage sabhi jhooke hain, kya raja kya sainik.
Gleefully gliding through a park and advocating a similar attitude to life, Walker, with his bulging eyes and crooked teeth, does what he does best: he invites the viewer to cool off, and it works.
Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to remove the mention of the song Aaj Dil Par Hua Aisa Jadoo, as it is not performed by Johnny Walker.