On the 89th anniversary of Putting Pants on Philip (1927), the first Laurel and Hardy film, we present India’s very own homegrown comedy pair influenced by them.
India's very own Laurel and Hardy
Mumbai - 03 Dec 2016 17:40 IST
Updated : 05 Apr 2017 16:10 IST
Only two words come to mind when one talks about legendary comedy double acts and they are 'Laurel-Hardy'. The famed comedian duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, became the posters boys for slapstick comedy after Charlie Chaplin and his Little Tramp persona.
Both were film veterans before being brought together officially as a team on the short film, Putting Pants on Philip (1927), and their reputation as geniuses of comedy was sealed. They went on to make over 100 films as 'Stan and Ollie', even winning the Oscar for their short The Music Box (1932).
The silent era in India was deeply influenced by Hollywood and the kinds of films they made. Studios and stars, they all looked to emulate the work coming out of Tinseltown. The Ranjit Film Company wanted to compete with leading Indian studios of the day, Prabhat Studios, New Theatres and Bombay Talkies as well as the Hollywood players like MGM that showed their films in India.
One of Ranjit's founders, Chandulal Shah, make sure his studio was filled with the top actors and comedians of the time. Among them were Manohar Janardhan Dixit, commonly known as Dixit, who became a comedian by accident after being an extra on any and every movie set. Dixit made his film debut for Navjivan Studios on 14 November 1929 on Sparkling Youth (1930) with co-stars Jairaj and Madhav Kale. He joined Ranjit Studios soon afterwards.
His soon-to-be partner onscreen, Nazir Ahmed Ghory, made his film debut for the Imperial Film Company with Alladin and His Wonderful Lamp and Scented Devil, both which released in 1927. Ghory joined Ranjit for films like Banke Sanwaria (1931) and Baghdad Ka Badshah (1932) before being brought together as a pair with Dixit in Jayant Desai's Char Chakram (1932). Eddie Billimoria and Madhuri were also part of the film but it was the pair of Ghory and Dixit (along with their similarities towards Laurel and Hardy) that became a hit.
Desai went on to direct the duo in more films like Bhutio Mahal (1932), Bhool Bhulaiyan (1933) and Nadira (1934). But as the years passed, lesser emphasis was made on the two as a pair and more on them as individual comedians.
Dixit was counted amongst the country's best comedians and won rave reviews with each film. He could become any character, drawing laughs with each role. Dixit had a heart attack during the filming of Puggree (1948) and yet came back to finish the film. He suffered another fatal heart attack on 29 June 1949. He was only 43.
Meanwhile, Ghory went to Pakistan after the Partition and continued to act in films like Shammi (1949), Albeli (1951) and Funkar (1956). After that, he retired quietly and eventually passed away on 9 December 1997.
Another comedian pair, that of Yakub and Gope, tried to fill in the Laurel and Hardy roles in their absence with films like Patanga (1949), Beqasoor (1950) and Sagai (1951) before continuing their separate ways. By then, the need to emulate Hollywood had gone, the comedians of Hindi cinema were on their way to establishing their own identities.
Many of the films from the vault of the Ranjit Film Company were lost in a massive fire but the early records of the India's own 'Stan and Ollie' remain with a few photographs and documents to mark as evidence of their presence onscreen.