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Horses .... Cars and Laughs-Mehmood

01 Sep, 2022 | Archival Reproductions by Cinemaazi
Mehmood. An image from Cinemaazi archive.

The famous producer-director-poet-writer and film star's husband looked the burly young man up and down. Then he pronounced judgment.

"Look," he said coldly, "You'll do better as a truck-driver. Forget about becoming a film star."

Memory of that rebuff stuck in the young man's mind and years later, when he had made the grade, he mentioned it to me. But by then, success had begun to mellow him, and he bore no grudge.

"It's the kind of thing many people felt," he explained. "All, except a young fellow named Mehmood. Because all along since I was a youngster, I was convinced I'd become a famous film star one day."

Mehmood has had a rough childhood, and he has come up the hard way. But acting is in his blood - he is the eldest son of the veteran-dancer Mumtaz Ali of Bombay Talkies fame. How could he study, when they had their very residence inside the precincts of Bombay Talkies' Studio? No, the boy 'bunked' classes, never went regularly to school, but always hung around the studios, trying to worm his way to the front of a camera! He took rebuffs in his stride, wanting to emulate his famous father.

The boy was a trial to his mother who was keen that he gets an adequate education. But she had a hard time trying to keep him out of the studio and the cinema-halls, for the lad was a keen cinegoer from his early years. His reassurances that one day he'd click were all in vain - his mother refused to believe him.
The boy was a trial to his mother who was keen that he gets an adequate education. But she had a hard time trying to keep him out of the studio and the cinema-halls, for the lad was a keen cinegoer from his early years. His reassurances that one day he'd click were all in vain - his mother refused to believe him.
 
Mehmood, playing a bogus music-teacher, appears with Mumtaz in the just released
"PATI PATNI" (1966), his own production.  Image from the original article.

Eventually, he got himself cast in bit roles in Bombay Talkies's "Basant" (1942) and "Kismet" (1943), both Golden Jubilee hits, and in Filmistan's "Shikari" (1946).  "My most vivid and earliest memories of boyhood," Mehmood recalls, "are of a car named Hotchkiss. You see, we lived in the compound of the Bombay Talkies Studio. Every morning at 9 a.m. I would stand in the window and look out to watch one of the German technicians at Bombay Talkies drive into the compound in that car. I fell in love with that car, and though I was only six years old at the time, I wanted to drive it!"

"But how to get close to that car? That was my problem! So I thought of a bright idea. One morning, after its owner had got busy in the studios, I went across to the driver and pleaded with him to let me clean the car!"

That was how the youngster, who was one day to own seven cars of his own, first got close to the car of his dreams! Today, fast cars and fast horses are Mehmood's passion. He has built seven garages at his residence to house his seven cars, and recently, Mehmood took part in the sports car race held in Poona, and drove in second! A distinguished record for a non-professional car-racer!

Mehmood's forte is speed - whether it is his passion for speed on the car-race track, or the horse-race track, or in his style of performing on the screen.
He is one of the leading race-horse owners in Western India. When he bought the mare Bright Princess for a lakh of rupees - the highest purchase price ever paid for a mare - race experts scoffed at him. When its initial performances were average, they scoffed even more. But the mare improved tremendously, reached Class-I caliber, and has won many Class-I races now.
He is one of the leading race-horse owners in Western India. When he bought the mare Bright Princess for a lakh of rupees - the highest purchase price ever paid for a mare - race experts scoffed at him. When its initial performances were average, they scoffed even more. But the mare improved tremendously, reached Class-I caliber, and has won many Class-I races now.

Mehmood's racy sense of humour carries even into his activities at the race-track as well. For instance, he once bought a horse at a fabulous price and named it after first film he had produced - Chhote Nawab (1961). But the horse didn't win a single race, and in good fun, Mehmood changed his name to Khote Nawab (a bogus Nawab). As if to vindicate himself and shake off the insult, Khote Nawab went out and won on his very first outing after the change of name!
 
Mehmood and Mumtaz at the race course.  Image from the original article.

In one of his early films, I remember Mehmood making a spot appearance as a panwallah in a film called "Manzil" (1960), in which he sings a song. That appearance was sensational and audiences clapped, cheered and roared with laughter. Thereafter, Mehmood's rise was swift and he went on from being a mere comedian added as extra seasoning to the cast, to the leading man of many a film, round whom the entire story is built. 
I remember seeing "Pyar Kiye Ja" (1966) at the Eros, and in a particularly hilarious reel the audience broke out in wild cheers and "Encores!" - yelling for the same reel to be run over once again! To my memory, this has never happened before with anybody else.
It is a fact that many leading men shudder at the prospect of co-starring with Mehmood in a film, for the incorrigible scene-stealer acts rings around them! One or two leading men even make it a condition with their producers that Mehmood should not be cast in the film! I remember seeing "Pyar Kiye Ja" (1966) at the Eros, and in a particularly hilarious reel the audience broke out in wild cheers and "Encores!" - yelling for the same reel to be run over once again! To my memory, this has never happened before with anybody else.

Mehmood's first major starring vehicle was "Parvarish" (1958)  in which he was cast alongside Raj Kapoor. Since then, the comedian-turned-leading-man has never looked back.
In the years of his rise to fame he had no time to do anything but act, and Mehmood realised very much later how right his mother was. He began to feel keenly his lack of education, so he engaged several tutors, and is now catching up with his formal learning.
In the years of his rise to fame he had no time to do anything but act, and Mehmood realised very much later how right his mother was. He began to feel keenly his lack of education, so he engaged several tutors, and is now catching up with his formal learning.

After making the grade as a comedian, Mehmood started his own production concern, Mumtaz Films, named after his father. Mehmood's faith in young talent made him take a young team for his first production "Chhote Nawab" S A Akbar, a young man in his twenties as director, and another talented young man in his twenties, Rahul Dev Burman, as the music director.
 
Mehmood sporting a cowboy hat when he went abroad for the shooting of
S Pachhi's "Around the World".  Image from the original article.

The film did well, and Mehmood's next film was directed by himself - "Bhoot Bungla" (1965). This film was also a big hit, and the concern has now made a third, the just-released "Pati Patni" (1966), which again is directed by S A  Akbar. The subject is a serio-comedy about oddly-matched couples and propagate the message too much modernism is harmful to the Indian way of life.

Mehmood's next production, now in the making, is an ambitious venture in colour entitled "Padosan" (1968). Directed by Jyoti Swaroop, it features Sunil Dutt and Saira Banu in the romantic lead and has a line-up of all the top comedians of the Indian Screen - Kishore Kumar, Agha, Om Prakash, Mukri, Johnny Walker and Mehmood himself.

Mehmood, who supports a large family of five brothers and two sisters, has made several trips abroad. On one such trip he met, fell in love with and married an American girl, whom he brought home to India as his wife. They have a daughter now.
Though, the raciest laugh-maker of Indian screen, Mehmood is essentially a serious-minded person. He believes in comedy with a purpose, and his style of performing is calculated to make the audience not only laugh, but think as well.
Though, the raciest laugh-maker of Indian screen, Mehmood is essentially a serious-minded person. He believes in comedy with a purpose, and his style of performing is calculated to make the audience not only laugh, but think as well.
***
This article is a reproduction of the original that appeared in 'Star & Style' magazine - January 15, 1967 edition, written by Bunny Reuben.
The images used in the feature have been taken from the original article and Cinemaazi archive.

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