Remembering India’s first-star comedian, Noor Mohammad Charlie, on his 36th death anniversary today.
The talented actor Noor Mohammad, also known as Charlie, became the highest paid comedian of his time.
Noor Mohammad belonged to the Memon community, and like many young men of his age, he was a great fan of Charlie Chaplin. He loved to walk and talk with Chaplin’s style and even had a tiny mustache like his ideal artiste from Hollywood.
In its infancy, the Hindi film industry handed over the mantle of comic roles to one man, Noor Mohammad aka Baba Charlie. Later on, his version of Charlie Chaplin, complete with the walk, talk, and mustache, became so popular that he added the moniker to his name and was called Noor Mohammad Charlie.
The 1932 film Pak Daman Raqqasa, directed by B. R. Oberoi, introduced this most peculiar young character Baba Charlie, with nudges, prods and his individual hairstyle that took the nation by storm. Later, films like Chandarhasa, Premi Pagal, Nadra, Farzand-e-Hind, Toofan Mail, College Girl, Raat Ki Rani, Secretary, Thokar, Barrister’s Wife, Sanjog, Taqdeer, and Musafir made Charlie a remarkable artiste of the subcontinent.
He even played the lead in some of the humorous movies, including Chand Tara, where he was partnered with Swaranlata, very famous in those days, Ghazal, where Leela Chitnis was his heroine, and Dulha, with Chandraprabha.
He directed a film, Dhandhora, which opened to record numbers in its first week. Such was Charlie’s popularity that he even had songs picturized on him, one of the first comedians to have the privilege. He wasn’t just the token comedian there to fill the comedy quotient, the audience wanted more of him as well.
He began singing comic songs like ‘Jab Se Mali Teri Khak’ from Thokar (1939) and gave hits like ‘Zindagi Hai Fareb’ from Chand Tara (1945). He was no slouch when it came to singing, performing duets opposite Amirbai Karnataki and Suraiya. These comedic songs greatly influenced later comedians Johny Walker and Mehmood.
Not only was Noor Mohammad the first comedian to sing songs, but he was also the first to take a catchphrase and turn it into a hit song. In the film Sanjog (1943), where he was cast opposite Mehtab, he is found singing, “Palat! Tera dhyan kidhar hai?”, decades before Varun Dhawan popularised it in a song in Main Tera Hero (2014).
After Partition, Charlie moved to Pakistan and made around a dozen films. In 1960, he came back to India to act in a few films. Fittingly, his last film, Akeli Mat Jaiyo (1963), was also the final Ranjit production. He was denied citizenship by the government of India and migrated to USA where he died on 30 June 1983.