Janardhana Rao, famously known as Johnny Lever, is an actor in Hindi cinema known as a comedian of great regard, who has appeared in several films since the 1980s, playing comic supporting roles.
Johnny Lever 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 could not study much though and dropped out of school when he was in the seventh grade.
Lever got his first break in Indian cinema in the film Dard Ka Rishta, thanks to the late Sunil Dutt, who saw him perform at a charity show organized by Kalyanji-Anandji. Since then, Johnny has worked in more than 160 films.
Even though he mimics many people, he has created a style of his own which makes him unique. His younger brother Jimmy Moses, is too a stand-up comedian and mimcry artist.
He also starred on Zee TV on his own show called Johny Aala Re. In 2007, he also appeared as a judge on the stand-up reality show Comedy Circus.
He often appears in cameos with Shahrukh Khan.
National Anthem Controversy
On 8 December 1998, Johnny Lever was convicted and sentenced to seven days imprisonment for disrespect to the Indian National Anthem and Indian Constitution during a private performance in Dubai. According to the police, this private performance was on the occasion of the birthday party of the son of Anis Ibrahim, brother of international smuggler and terrorist Dawood Ibrahim.
He is married to Sujatha and they have two children, Ishak and Jesse.
Johnny Lever, born in Andhra Pradesh and was brought up in Mumbai's King's Circle area (Dharavi). His mother tongue is Telugu. Johnny studied in Andhra Telugu School till the seventh grade but couldn't study further because of financial problems in his family, after which he decided to leave school and started working different kinds of odd jobs, such as selling pens on the streets of Bombay by imitating Bollywood stars and dancing to the songs of Bollywood stars. He also spent his early ages in Yakutpura a old city of Hyderabad from where he learnt the unique style of comedy acting. He developed a passion for mimicry and stand-up comedy, inspired by watching comedians like Johnny Walker, Kishore Kumar and Mehmood in films and mimicry artists like Dinesh Hingoo and Nerella Venumadhav on stage, and thus decided to be a mimicry artist. To seek guidance and help regarding mimicry, he met his mentor Pratap Jani and mimicry artist Ram Kumar, who helped him and taught him the basics of mimicry. Lever was also employed in Hindustan Lever's factory in Mumbai with his father. While working, he entertained his co-workers in the factory by imitating Elvis Presley.
At one of the functions at his factory he was asked to perform and show his talent. His popularity among coworkers and officers of the factory by his performance earned him the nickname "Johnny Lever". He started to perform in musical shows (orchestras) and after earning fame, joined the group of Kalyanji-Anandji, a legendary music direction duo. He did a lot of shows and world tours with them, one of his first big tours being with Amitabh Bachchan in 1982. Since he became an instant hit at orchestras and was unable to find time, another comedian who substituted him by the name of Johnny Fever evolved. However, Fever's fame was short-lived as Raju Srivastav came to Mumbai during the same time and started filling gaps of Johnny Lever at orchestras. During this period he learned a lot from his mentor Kalyanji, who was described by Lever as a great philosopher and a very humorous person.
At one of his shows, actor Sunil Dutt noticed his talent and potential and offered him his first movie Dard Ka Rishta. In the 1980s, he released his mimicry/comedy album, Hansee Ke Hungame, which became a hit in India and the world over, increasing his fame to another level. During this time period, he also did few commercials for Kachua chhap incense, directed by Shekhar Kapoor. In 1986, he performed in a charity show called "Hope 86", in front of the whole Hindi film industry as a filler and was loved by audience. His talent was recognized, which resulted in producer Gul Anand offering him a film called Jalwa with Naseeruddin Shah. He is considered an influential Indian comedian who has been cited as inspiration by many other comics.
He has received 13 Filmfare Awards nominations in Best Comedian Category, and has won the award twice.