Article Hindi

10 memorable performances by the versatile Om Prakash: Death anniversary special


On his 20th death anniversary (he passed away on 21 February 1998), we take a look at 10 of Om Prakash's memorable performances in Hindi cinema. 

Shriram Iyengar

In an industry that worships its stars and forgets character artistes, it is incredible that Om Prakash remains so memorable. His inimitable giggle, and the cherubic face, have become part and parcel of Hindi cinema's comic history.

Having started his career as an All India Radio announcer using the moniker Fateh Din, his comic genius spread across the country. It was only in 1944 that he made his debut in films with Hiren Bose's Daasi. From the early 1950s he became a regular on the silver screen with films like Awara (1951), Basant Bahar (1956), and Howrah Bridge (1958), among others.

However, it was only in the 1960s that he started to really make an impact. He bagged a Best Comedian Filmfare trophy for his performance as the dizzied millionaire in Devendra Goel's Dus Lakh (1966). The film was followed by the likes of Pyar Kiye Jaa (1966), Padosan (1968), and the iconic Chupke Chupke (1975).

Genial, witty, and with an incredible versatility, he manage to avoid being stereotyped as a comedian. He even managed to bag a couple of films as the quasi-leading man. Buddha Mil Gaya (1971) saw him play the mysterious millionaire with a vendetta.

It was also the decade where he discovered the unique talent of Amitabh Bachchan while acting alongside him in Parwana (1971). He went on to form a very effective partnership with the 'Angry Young Man' over the next decade through films like Zanjeer (1973), Laawaris (1981), Namak Halaal (1982) and Sharaabi (1984). Om Prakash was a stalwart who enjoyed a career of over 300 films.

On the actor's 20th death anniversary, it is perhaps appropriate to remember 10 films that define his versatility, sense of comedy, and talent. 

1. Howrah Bridge (1958)

Johnny Walker might have 'Ye Hai Bombay Meri Jaan' from CID (1956), but Om Prakash certainly got the best of Calcutta.

Alongside Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, he played Shyamu the tangewala (the tonga driver) who gives a wondeful description of the city of Calcutta, with its beauty, squalor, and heartbreak in this song. Bombay had competition.

2. Dus Lakh (1966)

The only film for which he won a Filmfare Award for Best Comedian was this comedy starring Sanjay Khan, Babita and the inimitable Pran.

Om Prakash played the miserly father of a large family, who loses his bearings after he comes into a lottery of Rs10 lakh. His turn as the comical man who gets thugged into making bad decisions is an example of how an actor can be free of any inhibitions at any age.

3. Pyar Kiye Jaa (1966)

Again part of a fantastic star cast including Kishore Kumar, Shashi Kapoor and the brilliant Mehmood, the actor managed to stand out. This fantastic scene between Mehmood and Om Prakash remains iconic for the synchronised reactions of the two actors.

Years later, Mehmood would credit the senior actor for transforming the scene with his accurate reactions. He would say, "The action has got no value if there is no reaction. Today, lots of people are giving me credit 'What a scene Mehmood has done!' But it is not Mehmood who has done it. The undercurrent is that it is Om Prakash ji who has brought Mehmood up for giving the reaction."

4. Padosan (1968)

It did not take an entire film for the actor to stand out either.

In another iconic comedy of the 1960s, Padosan, the senior actor had a small walk on part playing Sunil Dutt's lecherous uncle. Yet, the simplistic way in which he plays it ensured that the character remained memorable in the film.

5. Buddha Mil Gaya (1971)

It is always hard for character actors to emerge from under the burden of a stereotype.

In Buddha Mil Gaya, the senior veteran managed to find a new dimension to his character of a mysterious millionaire with a vendetta. The comedy remains one of the rare occasions where he was among the leading faces of the film.

6. Chupke Chupke (1975)

 

Of all the films in his filmography, this remains the most iconic and definitive performance of the late veteran.

His portrayal as the suspicious, bumbling Raghavendra Sharma is a fantastic one. He manages to outshine a peak Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan combination, to deliver the foundation to the comic scenes. Decades later, it is hard to find another ensemble comedy that was so well structured in its plot.

7. Gol Maal (1979)

A particular favourite of director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Om Prakash was given a walk-on part in the final scene of this cult classic.

Playing another bumbling inspector who arrests Utpal Dutt's furious disciplinarian, he plays off the other actor with an ease that belies his experience and talent.

8. Namak Halaal (1982)

In his later years, the actor found a partnership with Amitabh Bachchan who was entering his peak years.

In Namak Halaal, he played the overbearing, fond grandfather who goes undercover to check up on his buffoon grandson. While the role was small, his camaraderie with Bachchan remains memorable.

9. Sharaabi (1984)

The two actors teamed up again in this alcoholic cult hit, Sharaabi. Playing the kind Mr Jeeves to Bachchan's millionaire brat, Om Prakash exuded a kindness and gentlemanly attitude that was reflective of his real life character.

10. Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986)

One of his last films was this fabulously over-the-top comedy by Basu Chatterjee.

With Anil Kapoor playing his honest bachelor 'chela' (pupil), Om Prakash took on the character of Mastram Pehelwan. It was not much, but his colourful pagdi (turban), and his unique dialogue delivery made him a vital part of another loved ensemble.