Whenever Johnny Walker’s daughter Tasneem Khan returned from college in a BEST bus, she would be amused when the conductor yelled, “Johnny Walker bus stop, Johnny Walker bus stop.” Johnny Walker’s residence in Bandra was bang opposite the bus stop so it became a landmark. That is how his memory is still alive in Bandra—a suburb that is known for housing many Bollywood celebrities.
Born on 11 November 1926 as Badruddin Kazi, Johnny Walker worked as a bus conductor in Bombay for many years until Balraj Sahni noticed his antics, body language, and peculiar mannerisms and spoke to him. Soon, Johnny got introduced to Guru Dutt and the rest is history. Until Guru Dutt’s death in October 1964, Johnny Walker was close to the ace filmmaker. In fact, when Guru Dutt passed away, Johnny Walker and Waheeda Rehman (Guru Dutt’s protégé) rushed from a film shoot in Chennai to attend to the last rites of the filmmaker.
Johnny Walker married Noorjahan, the younger sister of Shakila. Shakila, Noorjehan and Nasreen were three sisters who lost their parents at a very young age. They grew up under the tender care of their uncle and aunt. All three girls were beautiful. Of the three sisters, Shakila became the most popular actress. She acted in films like CID, Aar Par, Kali Topi Lal Rumal, Tower House, Hatim Tai and quit films after getting married. She alternated between her palatial house in London and her spacious flat in Marine Drive. Her marriage ended in a divorce and, to make matters worse, her 21-year old daughter committed suicide in Mumbai. Shakila was a diabetic and passed away in 2017 but she was in close touch with her younger sister Noorjehan’s (Noor's) family. Noor was luckier than her elder sister Shakila. She did not have a great career in Bollywood but she found in Johnny Walker a man who would keep her happy all through her life. His simplicity and honesty were more endearing to her than anything else.
Johnny Walker met Noor during the shooting of Aar Par (1954). Noor was just a fledgling artiste then. Both of them tied the knot against resistance from both their families. They have six children—barring one Nasir Khan, all their other children are happily settled in the USA. Noor has preferred to shun the limelight after her marriage in 1955, having sought solace in matrimonial bliss with her actor-husband. Nasir Khan is seen in television serials now.
Johnny Walker’s comedy may be considered archaic today. But during the 1950s and 1960s he had his own fan following. In the 1970s, Johnny Walker wasn’t seen in too many films. He had gradually reduced his acting assignments in the 1970s before calling it a day in the 1980s. He was an intelligent actor who never invested his hard-earned money in film production. Much later in 1985, he produced and directed Pahunchey Huey Log
—the only time he ventured into film production. At one time, more than 80% of the taxis that were plying on the roads of Bombay belonged to Johnny Walker.
He was close friends with Dilip Kumar, Naushad, Majrooh and Mohammed Rafi—all of whom lived in Bandra. He was a teetotaler—shunning smoking and drinking all through his life. He had quit movies in the 1980s, being unable to adapt to the changing trends and vulgar comedy in Hindi films. It was with much reluctance that he agreed to star in Kamal Haasan’s Chachi 420.
His children maintain that they loved their father in the song – “Gareeb Jaanke Hum Ko Na
” from the 1957 release Chhoo Mantar
that also starred Anita Guha, Shyama and Karan Dewan.
Here was an actor whose integrity was unquestionable and steered clear of controversies. He enjoyed his retired life, thoroughly bonding with his children and grandchildren.
A simple man with a great character who was known for his clean comedy, Johnny Walker’s memories will continue to be alive through his movies and songs. When he flirted with actresses on the screen, he ensured that he maintained a respectable distance from them – yet never failing to express the emotions of love with all the astuteness that it deserved.
Credit has to go to Mohammed Rafi who gave playback to Johnny Walker in most of his movies. When Rafi sings for Walker, you only listen to Walker and not to Rafi. That sums up the talent of Rafi who moulded his voice according to who he was singing for.
An actor who placed his family before everything else, he did his bit for charity. He encouraged his family to buy samosas from an old vendor only to help the man. After his retirement, he had a flourishing business dealing in precious and semi-precious stones. A man who remained humility personified all throughout, Walker never forgot his roots and his earlier struggles in life as the son of an impoverished mill worker in Indore. He was forced to leave school in 6th standard—a fact that he regretted all his life. He sent his sons to the US for further studies.
During his hey-day, distributors would insist on him having a song. He was the first actor to engage the services of a secretary. He never worked on Sundays.
I recall some of the scenes in some of his landmark films…
Readers are welcome to share any other roles of Johnny Walker.
In the climax scene of Pyaasa, Johnny is caught in a stampede… he manages to thump the feet of the crowd to move forward…
In one of the hilarious scenes in Pratiggya (1975), Dharmendra slaps him and Johnny Walker says, “Itni si baat ke liye, Itna gussa…” The way he delivered this comic scene still remains etched in my memory.
His role in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand is still fondly remembered.
In his own words….
"In those days we used to do clean comedy. We were aware that the person who had come to the cinema had come with his wife and children ... the story was the most important thing. Only after selecting a story would Abrar Alvi and Guru Dutt find suitable actors! Now it's all upside down ... they line up a big hero and find a story to fit in. The comedian has ceased to be a character; he's become something to fit in between scenes. ... I opted out because comedy had become hostage to vulgarity. I acted in 300 films and the Censor Board never cut even one line."
1. Walker launched his niece Zohra in his directorial film Pahunchey Huye Log. Zohra is the daughter of actress Nasreen (Noor's sister). Nasreen and Shakila were twin sisters. Nasreen is based in Seattle.
2. Walker’s brothers Kamaluddin and Salamuddin were film producers. Kamaluddin passed away in 2011.
3. His other brother Vahiduddin adopted the screen name of Vijay Kumar and acted in the 1961 release Wanted.
4. One of his daughters Firdaus worked for JP Morgan Chase.
5. Johnny Walker, before entering films, worked in the Dadar bus depot.
6. He won his first Filmfare award for Madhumati (1958).
7. He won his second Filmfare award for Shikaar (1968).
8. Mahmood’s popularity in Hindi cinema in the 1960s dimmed the demand for his style of comedy but Johnny Walker took it in his stride. He always had his businesses to fall back on. He was fond of Mahmood and never considered him an adversary.
9. For Johnny Walker, his family was his world and his world was his family.
10. His bungalow was called “Noor Villa” and was located in Perry Cross Road, Bandra.
11. He loved collecting different kinds of hats—never tiring of them.
12. He often went fishing along with his wife Noor at the Powai Lake.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)