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Throwback: Johny Lever’s Filmfare Awards Performance Will Never Not Be Funny

By Shreemi Verma 30 November 2022

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Last week, Bollywood magazine Filmfare held the Middle East Achievers Night 2022 at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Stars like Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Vaani Kapoor and others attended the event, picking up awards in some rather controversial categories.

Nothing beats this one though:

The point is that with a new awards show cropping up every month, the whole exercise has become devalued. There’s no excitement, no real passion to it—just a rotating cast of the same faces picking up awards that sound like they were contractually obligated to guarantee attendance (Confident Beauty Of The Year Award, I see you). Now the awards shows from the 1990s weren’t all perfect either, but at least you could count them on one hand. The awards mattered, and the performances did too, in a way that is rarely true today.

Which is why we still remember Shah Rukh Khan choking back tears as he dedicated his 1993 win to his late mother (at a show with a bomb threat, no less), or Shekhar Kapur collecting the Critic’s Award for Bandit Queen wearing handcuffs to protest the ban on the film. Or, for that matter, why we so fondly remember the subject of this particular Tuesday throwback: Johnny Lever’s standup set at the 44th Filmfare Awards in 1999.

At the twilight of the last century, Lever reminded the country what a powerhouse of a talent he is in a storming 13-minute-set. The biggest chunk was dedicated to Michael Jackson performing in Mumbai, including a perfectly timed joke on the pop star’s inappropriate alleged affection for kids. Lever’s own rendition of Jackson’s Black Or White sounded like how a lot of Indian kids would sing it—failing to understand the lyrics because of the accent but vibing hard to the music. He saved the best for last, wishing for a day when Indian artists are revered enough to pack arenas in the West. He builds an elaborate fantasy of a man named Pandu who sings Marathi songs in New Jersey, surrounded by women who can’t get enough of him.

A lot of the jokes don’t land, many haven’t aged well, and Lever’s shrieking can be over-the-top for a lot of us. But there was undeniable charm and more importantly, a complete lack of abandon when it came to performing such juvenile material. Since then, it has become the norm to have actors or comedians like Kapil Sharma and Sunil Grover in charge of entertaining an audience. But it all started with the man who wished nothing but the best for Pandu and we think that’s beautiful.

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Shreemi Verma

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