Johnny Lever speaks of his return to films after an eight-year hiatus, his debut as producer and the launch of his son, Jesse, as a comic hero
“It is said that a person who makes other people laugh has a lot of pain in his heart. On the contrary, I have thoroughly enjoyed being a comedian and don't nurse such thoughts,” said John Prakasa Rao Janumala famously known as Johny Lever. The ace comedian of Hindi movies was in the city to launch his film academy that he started in partnership with Ryan Group of Institutions. He said he was coming out of “self-imposed exile”, and termed his re-entry as “second innings” in Bollywood.
Before he settled down for a tete-a-tete, Johny Lever, the actor with an excellent comic timing enthralled the children mimicking his co-stars and choreographers. He made them laugh in his own inimitable style. “About eight years ago, I realised that I was not concentrating on my family. I always used to be out shooting while my wife took care of the children. She is a wonderful person and took good care of the children but I felt something was missing… probably it was father's love. The ‘seize within' was unbearable and hence, I quit acting… and not because I did not have offers,” explained the comedian with a rare candour.
After a hiatus of eight years, he has returned to the big screen and he said he had a huge challenge before him to make the new generation laugh. “I wonder whether they like my style or not. I have to come up with new ideas to make them laugh... I am on the job. I am reading books and watching movies in various languages including to bring in refinement in my acting,” he said.
The comedian in him was always at work. “I agree to an extent that the Bollywood movies are vitiating the minds of younger generation. The onus is on us to produce movies that everyone in the family can watch. I am planning to produce a movie and I will launch my second child Jesse in the movie. My son will be a comic-hero and not a comedian,” said the ace comedian.
He said he started off as a comedian in real life while still at school. His beginnings as a comedian in his village consisted mainly of imitations of his teachers, his father and his grandfather. He dropped out of school when he was in seventh class. His first break in Bollywood was with “Dard Ka Rishta”. He has worked in more than 350 movies since. “I started as a stand-up comedian at charity shows in Mumbai. Life in Bollywood was not easy. It took me many years to establish myself, it was a struggle,” he said.
He said he had offers from south Indian film-makers but refused them because “I do not fully understand these languages. I can converse in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu but to do justice to a role, you have to know a language well,” he said. However, he did not rule out the possibility of acting in regional movies. “If I am happy about the role, sooner or later I will take a decision,” he said and signed off.