Om Prakash: A Bollywood Character Actor with Unforgettable Charisma

Om Prakash: A Bollywood Character Actor with Unforgettable Charisma

In the Bollywood industry where lead actors ruled the silver screen, the affable character actor Om Prakash left his distinct mark. Beloved by directors and audiences alike, his prolific body of work spans across five decades. With his characteristic giggle, innocent face, bright smile, and unmistakable charisma, he is an unforgettable part of Bollywood.

While actors and actresses flock to Mumbai (Bombay then) - the city of dreams - with hopes of a grand debut, Om Prakash’s career began in Kolkata with the film Howrah Bridge (1958). Helmed by Ashok Kumar and Madhubala, Prakash played a simpleton, a mere tangewala called Shyamu, enchanted by Kolkata, the city of joy.  This eventually became among the highlights of his career, launching him into fame.

He was born as Om Prakash Chibber on the 19th of December, 1919 in Jammu. 

His journey began as a humble theatre artist at the Dewan Mandir Natak Samaj, Jammu. He was married to Prabha Chibber.

In 1937, Prakash joined All India Radio for a monthly pay of solely 25 rupees. He quickly rose to fame in Punjab, playing his gregarious radio persona ‘Fateh Din’. 

He caught the eye of a popular producer-director Dalsukh Pancholi, who was impressed by his skillful comedy. Pancholi called and offered Prakash his very first film, Daasi, which he signed for only Rs 80, but the minor part in that film was enough for him to showcase his talents and establish himself as an actor. Pancholi also gave him chances in Dhamki, and Ayee Bahar, where his performance dazzled yet again. 

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In 1948, he moved to Bombay. His talent was first recognized by Baldev Raj Chopra, a film journalist who directed and produced movies later, who motivated him to persevere with his dream of acting. Om Prakash once said that Chopra believed more in him than himself. His initial career path was filled with obstacles. 

His career breakthrough came in the form of a negative role in the film Lakhpati, which he signed for a thousand rupees. His well-acclaimed execution won him many more roles in hit films, such as Char Din and Raat Ki Raani

At his peak, he starred alongside many distinguished actors - with Dilip Kumar, Sargam, and Raj Kapoor in the film Azaad, with Kishore Kumar in the films Asha and Man Mauji, and with superstars such as Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar, and Raj Kapoor, among others. He proved his mettle and his on-screen character often stood out and outshone other big stars on the screen.

Although he played leading roles in numerous films, Annadata, Charandas, and Dus Lakh to name a few, he remained a prominent supporting actor for most of his career. He produced one film, Jahanara, where he starred in the title role alongside Bharat Bhushan, Mala Sinha, and Prithviraj Kapoor.

His characters, albeit supporting, were instrumental to the storyline of films like Gopi, Chupke Chupke, Joru Ka Ghulam, Pyaar Kiye Jaa, Bharosa, Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Mere Hamdam Mere Dost.

The endless list of his hits includes Naukar Biwi Ka, Chameli Ki Shaadi, and Gopi. Co-starring Dilip Kumar, Prakash delivered one of his most iconic screen performances in Gopi. At the time, critics said that he overshadowed the illustrious Kumar. Dilip Kumar himself quoted, "I was only afraid once in my acting career and it was during Gopi. when Om Prakashji's performance overshadowed mine."

Known for his out-of-the-world comedy timing, he infused vibrancy and life into his films. Om Prakash quickly became a popular face in the industry, owing to the versatility of his fleshed-out characters and his unique style. His sharp acting skills and accurate dialogue delivery fell in step with his faultless timing, making him a joy to watch. 

Om Prakash left a deep impact on the minds and hearts of cinema lovers in the 60s. He was awarded the Filmfare award for ‘best comedy role’ in Devendra Goel’s film Dus Lakh (1966). His acts were also appreciated in Padosan, Pyaar Kiye jaa, and the unforgettable Chupke Chupke.

Om Prakash: A Bollywood Character Actor with Unforgettable Charisma

Chupke Chupke (1975) film poster (Credits: Shemaroo Entertainment)

His charming real-life personality seeped into his silver screen presence.  Among the ones who recognized the true talent of the world-class actor was the ‘Angry Young Man’, Amitabh Bachchan. They collaborated for Parwana (1971). Their association was received positively by the critics, resulting in them teaming up for many commercially and critically successful films, Zanjeer (1973), Laawaris (1981), Namak Halaal (1982), and Sharaabi (1984), to name a few.

Om Prakash: A Bollywood Character Actor with Unforgettable Charisma

Zanjeer (1973) movie poster (Credits: Prakash Mehra Productions)

Om Prakash played a plethora of roles, ranging from the comedian, an old man, a simpleton, a person with obsessive traits, a corrupt politician, a nagging husband, a hapless alcoholic, among many others. His role as a puzzling, queer millionaire in Budha Mil Gaya with his flair for bizarre acts deserves a special mention.

 His acting appeared effortlessly natural despite the parts he was asked to play, and many of the best directors looked to him to improvise and add his specialized nuance. 

Here is a quick recap of some of his most memorable films: 

Dus Lakh (1966)
Om Prakash plays a family patriarch who lucks into a lottery of ten lakhs. Consequently, he is tricked repeatedly and his life transforms into a tale of ups and downs. The supporting cast included Sanjay Khan, Babita, and Pran. This role earned him a prestigious Filmfare award for Best Actor.

Padosan (1968)

While this film wasn’t very successful, Om Prakash’s supporting role as Sunil Dutt’s uncle was memorable and hilarious. Subtle and pared-back, his portrayal allowed him to capture the nitty gritties of acting. 

Gol Maal (1979)

We all remember Gol Maal for the legendary Amol Palekar and his brilliant performance as Ram/Laxman. But, Om Prakash’s scene in the movie finale as a police officer is still worth a mention, highlighting his versatility. 

Buddha Mil Gaya (1971)

It is difficult for performers to get stereotypical acts right, let alone excel at them with ease. Om Prakash got an opportunity to discover new attributes of acting playing an elderly millionaire gone missing. It was one of few films where he played the lead.

Chupke Chupke (1975)

Chupke Chupke is among the most memorable films Om Prakash starred in. He plays a mysterious man, Raghavendra Sharma. The film had stars like Amitabh Bachhan and Dharmendra, who need no introduction, yet Om Prakash’s part holds its own. Even decades later,the plot and comedy that Chupke Chupke delivered holds relevance.

Pyar Kiye Jaa (1966)

Again leaving his mark in a star-studded film featuring Kishore Kumar, Mehmood, and an impressive Shashi Kapoor, Om Prakash managed to make his act stand out. His coordination with Mehmood was something to look at, with an orchestrated synchronisation of expressions.

Crediting his senior, Mehmood once said, “The action has no value if there is no reaction. Today, lots of people are giving me credit. 'What a scene Mehmood has done!' But it is not Mehmood who has done it. The undercurrent is that it is Om Prakash ji who has brought Mehmood up for giving the reaction."

Namak Halaal (1982)

As Amitabh Bachchan lived through his peak years in Bollywood, he bonded well with Om Prakash. They both successfully partnered for films from Zanjeer to Sharabi.

In Namak Halaal, Om Prakash played a grandfather, who secretly kept a watch on his nincompoop grandson. The role, though short, was memorable and loved by the audience.

Sharaabi (1984)

As the name suggests, Sharaabi was an alcoholic cult-hit, featuring the successful Amitabh Bachchan-Om Prakash duo. He played a very sensitive and simple character, and this was the closest he came to acting out his persona in real life, on screen. 

Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986)                            

A perfectly done comedy by Basu Chatterjee, this was one of his last films. Anil Kapoor and Om Prakash play out a teacher-pupil relationship, with Om Prakash in the character of Mastram Pehelwan. His costumes such as the eye-popping turban over his head and the powerful dialogue delivery elevated the film. Anil Kapoor’s student played a perfect foil to Mastram Pehlwan. 

Lending a wonderfully intimate and heartfelt allure to all his on-screen personalities, Om Prakash churned out stellar performances one after the other throughout his extensive career in films. In January 1998, suffering from a massive cardiac arrest, Om Prakashji was taken to the Lilawati Hospital in Mumbai. On 21st February, 1998, the industry giant passed away, leaving behind a glorious legacy of character acting, unseen by the country before. 

Author Biographical Note: The author is pursuing Bcom (Hons) from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, University of Delhi, India. He is working for Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern. 

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