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Death of a comedian & other tragedies

Wednesday, 13 August 2014 - 6:25am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
  • Robin Williams with his daughter. The 63-year-old actor and comedian took his own life after a battle with depression AFP

While his colleagues and co-stars mourn maverick comedian, known for his the mad-cap antics, and versatile Oscar-winner Robin Willaims who committed sucide at 63 in his North California apartment, comedians in India too joined in lamenting what some like Johnny Lever called "a profound loss to the world of performing arts and humanity".

A saddened Lever told dna: "It feels so tough to think that Williams was battling alcoholism and depression." Himself once a regular at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings he said:

"Even as we make people crack up, many comedians lead really tough lives; some even unsure of where the next meal will come from. To go out and dig deep within, to find material to make people laugh can be very tough. You know making people cry is easy but to make them laugh needs a lot of effort."

Lever should know. The much-celebrated 57-year-old who's acted in over 300 films has seen a very tough life growing up in the Dharavi slums. "I had to drop out of the local Telugu school in the grade VII because we didn't have money... From selling pens on the footpath to working at a local arrack den I did so many odd jobs to help my family. I polished my ability to mimic stars and dance like them while living in a Hyderabad suburb."

Others like theatre person S Ramachandran, who began doing mimicry with Lever, remembers his struggle. "Instead of allowing himself to be embittered, Johnny bhai used all those characters he encountered to pick up nuances and mannerisms. This is the reason his characters seem so real. Even when people are laughing at a thelawallah's accent, everybody feels a pinch of empathy too."

Lamenting the demise of the Hollywood star, Ramachandran told dna: "When you see an expectant audience in front of you and want to ensure they go home happy, you borrow their sorrows. As long as you don't fall a victim to self-pity, you should be good. Else it troubles you. A comedian should ideally laugh at his frailties like how he does at the world. That is what the real sense of humour is."

Lever speaks of going for shows even when his son was diagnosed with cancer. "Helpless, I prayed all the time. I had stopped working in films because of the long schedules but I had a house to run and began doing shows. You can imagine what I was going through," he says thanking God that his son was cured.

Others like stand-up comedian Rajneesh Kapoor can identify with that situation. "Five years ago when my dad was battling for his life, I'd be sitting near him and scripting my acts. It was a way of trying to block the pain of seeing one's parent suffer." He felt the Hollywood fraternity should've reached out and extended their support to Williams "when he felt all alone".

Cultural historian Mukul Joshi speaks of legends like Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Mukri, Dada Kondke and Bhagvan Dada who went through many setbacks in their personal lives despite which they continued to regale audiences. "Mehmoodbhai once reported for shooting straight from the cemetery after losing his sister. He was asked whether the comedy scene should be cancelled but he brushed it off to don the make-up and act."

While his colleagues and co-stars mourn maverick comedian known for his the mad-cap antics and versatile Oscar-winner Robin Willaims who committed sucide at 63 in his North California apartment, comedians in India too joined in lamenting what some like Johnny Lever called “a profound loss to the world of performing arts and humanity.”

A saddened Lever told dna, “It feels so tough to think that Williams was battling alcoholism and depression." Himself once a regular at Alcohlics Anonymous meetings he added, " Even as we make people crack up, many comedians lead really tough lives, some even unsure of where the next meal is coming from. To go out and dig deep within to find material to make people laugh can be very tough. You know making people cry is easy but to make them laugh needs a lot of effort.”

Lever should know. The much-celebrated 57-year-old who’s acted in over 300 films has seen a very tough life growing up in the Dharavi slums. “I I had to drop out of the local Telugu school in the grade VII because we didn’t have money,” he recounts and adds, “From selling pens on the footpath to working at a local arrack den I did so many odd jobs to help my family. My ability to mimic the stars and dance like them, a skill I further polished while living in a Hyderabad suburb.”

Others like theatre person S Ramachandran who began doing mimickry with Lever remember his struggle. “Instead of allowing himself to embittered, Johnny bhai has used all those characters he encountered to pick up nuances and mannerisms. This is the reason his characters seem so real. Even when people are laughing at a thelawallah’s accent, everybody feels a pinch of empathy within too.”

Lamenting the demise of the Hollywood star Ramachandran told dna, “When you see an expectant audience in front of you and want to ensure they go home happy, you borrow their sorrows. As long as you don't fall a victim to self-pity, you should be good. Else it troubles you. A comedian should ideally laugh at his frailties like how he does at the world. That is what the real sense of humour is. You cannot but fault those sorrows for robbin' Williams from us,” unable to stave off the urge to pun on Williams’ name. Lever speaks of going for shows even when his son was diagnosed with cancer. “Helpless, I prayed all the time. I had stopped working in films because of the long schedules but I had a house to run and began doing shows. You can imagine what I was going through,” he says thanking God that his son was cured.

Others like stand-up comedian Rajneesh Kapoor can identify with that situation. “Five years ago when my dad was battling for his life I’d be sitting near him and scripting my acts. It was a way of maybe trying to block the pain of seeing one’s parent suffer.” He felt the Hollywood fraternity should’ve reached out and extended their support to Williams’ “when he felt all alone.”

Cultural historian Mukul Joshi speaks of legends like Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Mukri, Dada Kondke and Bhagvan Dada who went through many setbacks in their personal lives despite which they continued to regale audiences. “Mehmoodbhai once reported for shooting straight from the cemetery after losing his sister. He was asked whether the comedy scene to be shot should be cancelled but he brushed off protests to don make-up and act.”

He remembers Raj Kapoor’s ode to the clown who hides his sorrows in Mera Naam Joker. “Jag ko hasane behrupiya. Roop badal phir aayega,” he recites hoping for Williams’ to come back to make us laugh.




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