In Memory Mukri “Comedian Has No Future”
Mukesh was born on January 5, 1922 and passed away on 4th September 2000 Though it is late, to commemorate his 19th death anniversary today on September 4, we reproduce an interview with MUKRI by JYOTHI VENKATESH which had appeared 40 years ago in the now defunct film fortnightly Star & Style dt 5-18 October 1979.
70 years ago, Mukri had gone to Haji Malang Baba and prayed. He had made three wishes. His first two wishes were fulfilled earlier. He got a good wife and earned recognition as a comedian. His third wish to become a director was realized when he launched his maiden film Mastaan.
“Today the comedian has absolutely no future in films. Times have changed. The heroes have taken to playing comedy roles. Once it wasn’t the ‘done’ thing. The future of small time comedians like Polson, Manmauji, Sunder, Birbal etc is very bleak at the moment because they haven’t prepared themselves for any other field. Asrani and I have taken to direction.”
Mukri said this to me when I went all the way to Film City where he was shooting for producer-director Manmohan Desai for his magnum opus Naseeb with none other than Amitabh Bachchan , of course as his side kick on a scorching afternoon. Since Mr Bachchan had impositioned a blanket ban on the press and refused to entertain on his sets, I requested Mukrisaab to please come outside the stage and sit outside the floors for this interview and he agreed gamely
Mukri asserts that Haji Mastaan is the leading man of his film, not because he is having any financial interest in it. “Mastaanbhai is associated with the film only in the capacity of an artiste. And I can tell you, today Mastaan has a greater fan following than any other big star, like say Amitabh Bachchan. Mastaan has tremendous initial draw.”
Mukri feels that it is better to make a C class film than a A class one because “even if it flops, the producer wouldn’t feel the pinch very badly”. Recalling the good old days of the past, Mukri says that the main difference between the system then and now is that “In those days we artistes used to depend upon the producers whereas today the producers depend upon the stars and it is the star who dictates to the producer though it is the producer who pays through his nose to the stars.”
Today, as a ‘small fry comedian’, Mukri’s career isn’t as bad as some other lesser stars. He is working in several films like Mera Dost Mera Dushman, Sarfarosh, Naseeb, Phir Wohi Raat etc, apart from his own film Mastaan. Mukti is content to play character roles and says that the credit ought to go to Manmohan Desai who dared to cast him as Neetu’s father in Amar Akbar Anthony instead of wasting him as an extra.
Referring to the kind of roles that he doesn’t want to play in films, Mukri states vehemently that he doesn’t want to play a pimp or a hijra. “I have refused to play such roles even when I was offered very tempting remuneration. I have certain principles as a veteran old timer and I intend to abide by them. But if the situation demands that I put on the female garb, I do not mind doing it.”
Mukri is sore that character artistes are being taken for granted and taken for a ride by even established producers in the industry who do not think twice before paying stars their fancy prices. “L.V. Prasad of Prasad Productions and Tarachand Barjatya of Rajshri Pictures make their films by paying very little to their character artistes”
It was in 1942 that Mukri entered the film industry as a chief assistant to K. Asif. and assisted him in the making of a multi-starrer film called Phool. Pratima of Bombay Talkies was Mukri’s first film as a chief comedian with Dilip Kumar as his co-star.”I was on a monthly salary then and there was no such system of freelancing or working in 50 to 60 films at a time. For the artistes, I agree that the system today is very good and remunerative but to the producers it spells doom”
Like Mukri took Sunil Dutt to Mehboob Khan and got for him the Mother India role, Mukri had also taken Dilip Kumar to Asif when he was making Mughal E Azam and hence Dilip Kumar could bag the role, which earlier Chandramohan was supposed to do.
After Pratima, Mukti acted in Dada along with Shaikh Mukhtar who was the rage of the day as far as stunt films were concerned. “Shyam and Munawar Sultana had played the lead in Dada.”
Mukti feels that the industry will never let down artistes who are talented as well as shrewd enough to know which way the tide is moving. “Once the industry kicks you out, it is next to impossible to regain a foothold once again. Everyone should learn a lesson or two from Sanjeev Kumar as far as switching over to character roles is concerned. Like Dilip Kumar recently switched over with Kranti, it is high time that people like Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar etc followed in the footsteps of Sanjeev Kumar.”
Though Mukti is not a star today in the real sense of the term in Bollywood, he has still requisitioned the services of a secretary for himself only because, “I want to retain my respect within the industry and also at the same time I do not want to run after producers to collect my dues for working in their films.”
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