He was the son of a popular character actor called Mumtaz Ali who it is said could have made it very big, but died almost a pauper, especially because of his addiction to alcohol – Ali Peter John
Mehmood Ali was his eldest son and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but as it usually happens in the case of most success stories, Mehmood Ali had to go through a grim struggle and often starved and walked to all the studios to find some work as an actor.
But most filmmakers told him that he had neither the face of a hero or a villain and he took on whatever work was offered to him and even was a face in the crowd in several films.
His main problem was making a living not only for himself but also for his large family.
The first director who took notice of him and offered him the role of his own cunning and wicked brother was Guru Dutt and Mehmood played his role as the bad brother to perfection.
For the next many years, Mehmood kept drifting from one role to another, till he discovered the real talent in him.
He played the comedian and for the next thirty years he was the uncrowned king of comedy.
A time came when he was more popular than the hero and at times even more popular than the hero and heroine and villain put together.
In the eighties, I heard him talk to big filmmakers like Ramanand Sagar,N.N Sippy and Pramod Chakravorty about his fees which was in the range of ten to fifteen lakhs of rupees and not only all the filmmakers in Bombay but especially those in the South were willing to pay him any amount he demanded.
Like Pran who was the most popular villain, Mehmood was the most popular and highly paid comedian.
His name in the cast was a guarantee of success and all the leading heroes had a complex about working in films which had him as the main comedian.
The man who once walked the streets of Bombay now had a huge bungalow, first in Mahim and then in Andheri.
He had become such a big name that Madhu, the younger sister of Meena Kumari agreed to marry him, a marriage which however didn’t last very long, but they had sons and daughters who Mehmood brought up like the rich kids of any other star.
He married Tracy who he named Tahira and they had a happy lifestyle with some ups and downs till the end of his life, a end which many of his friends, co-stars, writers and composers like R.D Burman said came earlier than it should have come, because of his heavy addiction to drugs, especially sleeping pills which he swallowed hundred at a time, at times, especially when he was under the pressure of work.
Javed Siddique who had his first experience of working with a commercial filmmaker after he made an outstanding debut with Satyajit Ray’s first film in Hindi, “Shatranj Ke Khiladi”and had joined Abrar Alvi who wrote some of the best films of Guru Dutt, especially “Payasa”, remembers how Mehmood came to a story sitting totally drugged and collapsed….
Mehmood had his own way of making films that were based in comedy, but had a very strong message.
He was also known for his double meaning dialogue which made Dada Kondke a very big fan of his and made nine Marathi films which were all golden jubilee hits and got him into the Guinness Book of Records and before he could die he made a Hindi film with Mehmood like he made a film with Amjad Khan another Hindi film actor he was a fan of.
Among the many films directed by Mehmood were“Chhote Nawab”,“Bhoot Bangla”,“Kunwara Baap”,“Ginny Aur Johnny”and many others.
He was the man who encouraged young talent like R.D Burman who he gave his first break both as a composer and an actor, Amitabh Bachchan who he encouraged because he was the friend of his younger brother, Anwar Ali and Aruna Irani who many said was his girlfriend and some even said he had some kind of a marriage with her, which is still in the realm of speculation.
But he proved that she meant someone special to him when he cast her in some of his better films and did her the big favour by casting her as Amitabh Bachchan’s first heroine in“Bombay to Goa”.
It was towards the early nineties that he started falling sick regularly and also to face financial problems which made the man who was king shift to an apartment at the Abhishek Apartments in Four Bungalows where he was on two ventilators all the time, but he had still not lost his sense of humour.
He called the taller ventilator “my Amitabh Bachchan”and the shorter ventilator “my Mukri”….
It was the time when I was planning the “Screen Awards”which were to be conducted by Anupam Kher and his friend, Satish Kaushik.
We all felt that it would be a good idea to honour all the comedians of the industry.
Anupam and Satish had drawn up a long list which didn’t have the name of Mehmood Bhaijaan.
They said he was very sick and in America. I told them that he was very much here in Mumbai and close to the Andheri Sports Club where the awards function was to be held.
They asked me if I could talk to him and get him on stage somehow and it will be the highlight of the evening….
I went to see Mehmood Bhaijaan at Abhishek Apartments in Andheri and he was looking like a new version of Santa Claus, but his humour was stronger than Santa Claus or any other comedian or funster.
I told him about the event and he was very excited even though his doctors had told him not to move from his bed….
We worked out a plan according to which Mehmood Bhaijaan would come up to the stage sitting on a wheelchair.
He would be brought up in a specially erected lift. The idea was a grand success as we had not even announced that he was present anywhere around.
The only sad thing I remember about the event was my going around looking for a wheelchair.
There was a certain fraud doctor called Dr Narayanrao Chavan who was more of a dirty politician than a good doctor.
I told him that the wheelchair was for Mehmood Bhaijaan and he just said, “I don’t care for who it is, but I will charge you hundred rupees per hour for the wheelchair”.
I agreed to his condition and even cursed him under my breath as he was the same doctor who had taken me for many“rides”when I was a student at the nearby Bhavan’s college….
The last time I met Mehmood Bhaijaan, he was critically sick and the family was preparing to fly him to Pennsylvania, but he said, “kaaheko yeh sab drama? Apun ka khel khatam ho gayela hai. Idharich marne do na humko”.
A weak later, there was big news. Mehmood Bhaijaan had died in his sleep after a massive heart attack.
His body was flown to Mumbai and placed in the compound of Mehboob Studios for people to bid their last farewell to the man who had promised to live forever by the power of his work as a man who was born to live and die to make others laugh.
Even in the coffin in which he was placed with lots of flowers, it looked as if he was making fun of life and the living.
WOH JEEYE SHAAN SE ……
Bhaijaan’s flamboyance was part of his personality. He lived like a king both in terms of his lifestyle but also his large-heartedness.
He looked after our extended kutumb of 150 people. He loved cars and at one point he owned a fleet of 24 cars including a Stingray, Dodge, Impala, MG, Jaguar and others.
He had an in-house mechanic named Austin. He’d ask him to paint the car to match with the colour of the suit he was to wear for an event.
It didn’t matter if he had to spend around a lakh to colour it! He’d even match his shoes with the colour of the car.
He gifted me a Jaguar. My girlfriends loved me because I drove that. So did Amitabh’s (Bachchan) girlfriends because he drove it too (reportedly Bachchan received support from Mehmood during the early years of his struggle)!
To digress, I remember the only time he slapped me was when I took Tracy Bhabhi’s (Mehmood’s second wife) sister in the car for a dance party.
He didn’t approve of it. Bhaijaan enjoyed shopping in London. If he liked a particular shirt/pant/shoes, he’d pick up all colours in that style.
But it was never about ‘I, me, myself’. Once on returning from a trip abroad, he got so many gifts for everyone that they had to be brought home in a tempo.
These included Seiko watches for the liftman, the watchman and even the postman!
Bhaijaan’s another passion was horses and he owned a couple of them. Hardheld, his favourite horse, was got from the US.
Bhaijaan asked jockey Mansingh, who was going through a low phase, to visit Sai Baba of Shirdi and from then on started his winning streak
Bhaijaan respected all faiths. That’s why he stuck to ‘Mahesh’ (the name of Lord Shiva) as his screen name.
We’d perform the Eid namaz together at Azad Maidan. People recognised him but never disturbed him.
Then he’d go to Johnny Walker’s place and ask for Eidi (gift money). He also frequented the dargahs of Sufi saints Makhdoomshah Baba (in Mahim and Malad) and Kamar Ali Darvesh (Shivapur, Pune).
Bhaijaan received a lot of fan mail from women. A funny incident, which Bhaijaan would often narrate was that once he had been to Japan to shoot for a film.
There the hero and he went to a nightclub after which they took geishas to their rooms. In the middle of the night, Bhaijaan heard a knock at his door.
It was the hero. “Gadbad ho gayee. Woh ‘he’ nikla. I drove him away!” said the baffled star.
Mehmood went on to develop his own style of comedy. At his peak, he was paid more than the film’s hero and it’s easy to see why.
With top dollars rolling in, he was living a flamboyant life. A big spendthrift, he bought a farm just to keep his horses. This flashiness may have something to do with his royal blood.
“He lived like a king both in terms of his lifestyle but also his large-heartedness. He looked after our extended kutumb of 150 people.
He loved cars and at one point he owned a fleet of 24 cars including a Stingray, Dodge, Impala, MG, Jaguar and others,” his brother Anwar Ali recollected in an interview.
Reportedly, his then-protégé Amitabh Bachchan would steal from Mehmood’s car collection to “impress his girlfriends.”
Coming to his wives, Bhaijaan’s first marriage to Meenaji’s (Kumari) sister Madhu didn’t last long.
They had four sons from their marriage – Masood Ali (featured in in Ek Baap Chhe Bete), Maqsood Ali (aka actor/singer Lucky Ali), Maqdoom Ali aka Macky Ali (played a challenged child in Kunwara Baap) and Masoom Ali who produced Dushman Duniya Ka (1996).
Bhaijaan later met the US resident Tracy in Mahableshwar where he was shooting for Bhoot Bangla (1965). They fell in love and got married.
They had ‘3 + 1’ children. With Tracy Bhabhi he had three children, Mansoor Ali, Manzoor Ali (played the drug addict in Dushman Duniya Ka) and daughter Latifunnissa aka Ginny (acted in Ginny Aur Johnny).
The fourth girl, Kizzy, has a story behind her. Once when they were in Bangalore, Tracy Bhabhi found a baby girl lying abandoned on the farm.
She picked her up, gave her a bath and told Bhaijaan, “Let’s take her to Mother Teresa.”
But Mother said, “She’s for you!” She also gave Bhaijaan a cross, which he wore all his life.
They named the little girl Rehmat (blessing). Kizzy (her pet name) is a nurse by profession and lives in Pennsylvania in the US. She loved Bhaijaan.
Once when he was in the US, she handed him the keys of a car saying, “This car is for you.”
There were rumours about Bhaijaan’s proximity to Arunaji (Irani) too. Yes, Bhaijaan and Arunaji were close to each other but not to the point where they would hurt other people’s sentiments. This is the truth.
Bhaijaan was a heavy smoker. He didn’t consume alcohol but took huge doses of Calmpose, which had the effect of sedation.
He’d have it even while shooting. Soon, his health started deteriorating. Dushman Duniya Ka, in 1996, was one of his last films.
Soon, he opted out of the industry. His one lung had collapsed. He needed an oxygen mask to breathe.
He went away with Tracy Bhabhi to the US because of the medical facilities there. He had turned spiritual and would often recite Quranic verses over the phone.
He had a rough personal life starting from his father’s alcoholism to his son’s disability and the financial responsibility of tending to the large family.
In fact, he often dwelt on the irony of his life. He used to say that he made people laugh for a living but wondered why his own life was so sad and tragic.
As Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
After he passed away in Pennsylvania on July 23, 2004, his body was brought to Mehboob Studio for the final farewell. He was 72.
For five days Amitabh didn’t attend work waiting for his body to arrive. After the ceremonial goodbye here, his body was flown to Bangalore and buried next to our father and his son Macky, who had died a year earlier due to a heart attack. That day I felt I had lost my father.
On great comedian Mehmood’s death anniversary, Big B shared some wonderful memories on the blog.
UNKE KUCH AAKHRI SHABD……
“The sun shines bright over the city – a rare occurrence! And the
entire population is in the parks, on the benches, by the cafes and pubs, strolling about in the briefest of summer wear, amidst the excitement of the Olympics, scheduled to begin on the 27th evening with great anticipated fanfare!
It is also the death anniversary today of Mehmood Bhai, whom we addressed as Bhaijaan, the greatest comedic actor of the Industry, of all time.
His brother Anwar Ali and I met on the sets of my first film ‘Saat Hindustani’, he playing one of them, and we remained close friends since.
I stayed with him in his apartment contained in a large complex belonging to Mehmood bhai, along with the rest of his rather large family.
Mehmood Bhai was among the early contributors to my career graph ; he having faith from day one in me, much against the wishes and comments of naysayers.
For some peculiar reason he would address me as ‘Danger Diabolic’, and was the first producer to give me a lead role – ‘Bombay to Goa’, a remake of a Tamil hit ‘Madras to Pondicherry’, that had that other brilliant comedian Nagesh from the South, opposite Aruna Irani.
Mehmood Bhaijaan did several remakes of Nagesh’s films in Tamil and they were all very successful.
Nagesh was an institution. His brilliance has not been matched so far. He was the comedy quotient of a film, but such was his popularity and following
that lead roles were written for him, despite the fact that he was the comedian in the film.
P.S- It took the Mumbai Municipal ten years to name a road after him with the black plague with golden letters reading “Hasya Kalakar Mehmood Chowk”.
They need not have done this belated favour to a man who lives on and on and till life and laughter will