WHEN the first Punjabi film to receive a National Award in 1981, Chann Pardesee, was penned, its original script never had a character for Mehar Mittal to feature in. “Looking back, I do find it strange! When the producers and distributors asked which is Mehar Mittal’s character, we were stumped because there was none. Their reaction was – if you want to sit at home and watch the film on your own, make it without Mehar Mittal,” recalls Punjabi film producer J S Cheema. Soon, the character of Pappu to be essayed by Mehar Mittal was weaved in as Raj Babbar’s friend in the film. The producers were right — the film was a phenomenal success and Mittal only enhanced the viewing experience. Such was the hysteria this legendary comedian of Punjabi cinema generated, for more than two decades, reigning supreme over during the Seventies and Eighties, standing shoulder to shoulder with the heroes.
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On Saturday afternoon, Mehar Mittal breathed his last after a prolonged illness at an ashram in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. Mittal was 82 and was admitted in a hospital in Ahmedabad last week.
Awarded by the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy at the 136th Dadasaheb Phalke Jayanti in Mumbai, Mittal will be remembered for his films and iconic characters he played in them with an enviable ease and fantastic comic timing. He is survived by his four daughters, three of whom are settled in Chandigarh and eight grandchildren.
According to his grandson and Punjab Haryana High Court advocate Sanjeev Garg, Mittal was in coma for last couple of days and suffered a stroke on Saturday. He had been going to the Brahm Kumari ashram at Mount Abu for three-four years now and was heavily into meditation. “He got into it many years back, in fact, when he lost two sons right after their birth,” shares close friend and actor Vijay Tandon.
Cheema and Tandon fondly recall Mittal’s ‘down to earth personality’, and how he was a ‘director’s delight’.
“He was a master of improvisation and 90 per cent of time would pen his own comedy lines. Who can forget his Malwai accent, the slurpy drawl he would render his dialogues in,” says Tandon, adding how films that didn’t have him, were remade with his scenes added in it! Friends for 50 years, Tandon recently celebrated the late actor’s 82nd birthday on September 20. “We started theatre together, with Balwant Gargi, and I remember how our play, Laadla, was such an insane hit that we sold tickets in black for it!” says Tandon. The play was later made into a film in 1973, Maa Da Laadla with Tandon as hero and produced by Mittal. They came again together in Teri Meri Ek Jindri. From Sacha Tera Roop Hai, Mamla Gadbad Hai, Jeeja Saali, Kunwara Mama, Laung da Lashkara, Do Madaari, Walayti Babu, to Yamla Jatt, Ucha Dar Babe Nanak Da, Fauji Chacha, Patwari, Laajo etc, Mittal left a indelible mark in each and every film.
Born in Bathinda village in 1934, Mittal worked in more than 200 films as a comedian and was certainly the ‘Mehboob of Punjabi cinema’. Mittal, post graduation also worked as a teacher and later moved to Chandigarh where he practised law for some years. He would play small roles in Ram Leela and at a function, once revealed how he was paid only Rs 5 that included travelling allowance as remuneration for his first Punjabi film in 1972. Honored by the Federation of North Zone Film and Tv Association two ttal would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the hero and was as ‘essential to Punjabi cinema as raw stock’.
“He was my godfather and I was his Mardana,” says Tandon.