He seems to be in every Bollywood film. Well, at least 400 of them (and counting!).
He is a trusted friend, a crazy neighbor, the comic relief. He is one of the most popular comedians in Bollywood and you've probably seen him more than once.
John Prakasa Rao Janumala, better known as Johnny Lever, was born on 14 August 1957 in the district of Prakasam in Andhra Pradesh, India. He studied in Andhra Telugu School until the seventh grade when his family encountered financial constraints. He chose to leave school and picked up odd jobs on the streets of Mumbai. Here, he got attention by mimicking Bollywood stars and dancing to Bollywood songs. Eventually, his father got him a regular job. According to Koimoi:
Johnny Lever had been an employee in a factory in Mumbai belonging to Hindustan Lever. During his working hours, he often entertained his colleagues by imitating the American singer and actor, Elvis Presley. He once even performed on stage at some function in his factory. Johnny’s popularity amongst his colleagues and officers got him the nickname of "Johnny Lever".
Though his mother tongue is Telugu, he prefers to act in Hindi films. He had a special appearance in one Telugu feature film, Criminal (1995) directed by Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt. According to a GreatAndra.com article, one of the reasons he has not appeared in Telugu films is that he is not fluent with Telugu and doesn't like to get his voice dubbed:
"The comedians in Telugu films need good diction that is unique and suits the nativity. I'm not that fluent as many assume. I feel comfortable in Hindi. And I'm happy with what I'm getting in Hindi films."
Lever's first film is credited as the little known Tum Par Hum Qurban (1985). But Lever's big break came when Sunil Dutt witnessed Lever’s performance in one of his stage shows and was quite impressed with his talent and potential. Dutt offered Lever a small role in the film Dard Ka Rishta.
Lever is often seen in early Shah Rukh Khan films including Chamatkar (1992), Baazigar (1993), Anjaam (1994), Karan Arjun (1995), Koyla (1997), Yes Boss (1997), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Baadshah (1999) and Asoka (2001).
Memory Game Films: Chamatkar (1992, Cricket Commentator); Karan Arjun (1995, Linghaiyya); Raja Hindustani (1996, Balvant Singh); Koyla (1997, Shanker's Friend); Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998, Col. Almeida, Camp Manager); Baadshah (1999; Ramlal); Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000, Inspector Parab); Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000; Pappu Junior); Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (2000; Chatterjee); Asoka (2001; Magadha Soldier); Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001; Anjali's neighbor).
Lever has received more than 13 Filmfare award nominations for Best Comedian. He won Best Comedian for Deewana Mastana (1997) and Dulhe Raja (1999). In 1997, Johnny Lever won the Star Screen Best Comedian Award for his role as Balvant Singh in Raja Hindustani with Aamir Khan and Karishma Kapoor.
In 2002, Johnny Lever won the prestigious Zee Cine Best Actor in a Comic Role Award for his performance in the crime comedy film Love Ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega ("Will Do Anything for Love").
Despite his successes, he feels he has much more to offer. In a 2012 Hindustan Times interview, he explained:
“Most filmmakers, who offer me roles say ‘Johnny bhai, come on the sets and do what you feel like.’ That isn’t the way I like to work,” he says, adding, “I have done it in the past, but, of late, I don’t like it. If I get a well-defined role and properly etched scenes, then I feel motivated to perform better. I prefer improvising, rather than creating comedy out of thin air.”
His favorite role? Lever often points to his role as Babu Lal in the 1993 thriller Baazigar. Lever plays an inept head servant in the Chopra household who seems to have memory issues: He forgets to include tea leaves when he serves tea and he screws up phone messages. "People loved me in the movie and I liked my character."
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