indian cinema heritage foundation

V H Desai

  • Died: 25 January, 1949 (Baroda)
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi

Actor V H Desai was a well-known comedian in Hindi films. Such was his comedic prowess that he was dubbed ‘God’s Clown’ by Saadat Hasan Manto. Attached to the famous Bombay Talkies studio, he was known for films such as Bhabi (1938), Kangan (1939), Kismet (1943), and also Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949). Infamous for not being able to remember his lines properly, he had the knack of often turning them into funnier versions of what was originally written. 

Graduating from Baroda College in 1925, Desai decided to become an actor. He started off his film career as a comedian with Sagar Movietone. However, on joining Bombay Talkies, it was with the studio’s Bhabi (1938), that he got his big break in films. He played the nervous, dithering father of Renu (Renuka Devi), the female lead in the film; his performance was dubbed “superb” by Baburao Patel, the editor of the cine magazine FilmIndia. A social family drama directed by Franz Osten, the film was based on a Bengali novel written by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay called Bisher Dhoan. Dealing with the issue of young widows, it put a special focus on the Indian society's attitude towards them, and society's bigoted approach to man- woman relationships. 

Over more than a decade, he went on to play supporting roles in a range of Bombay Talkies films such as Navjeevan (1939), Kangan (1939), Bandhan (1940), Naya Sansar (1941), Jhoola (1941), Anjaan (1941), Kismet (1943). After Bonbay Talkies, he worked in Chal Chal Re Naujawan (1944), Begum (1945), Leela (1947), Shehnai (1947), Khidki (1948), Shaheed (1948), Roshni (1949), and Andaz (1949). 

The family drama Bandhan saw him play a character named Bholanath in the Leela Chitnis-Ashok Kumar starrer about a young couple in love who face challenges when a third party decides to create a rift between them.

He played the postmaster in the Gyan Mukherjee-directed Jhoola, which became the fourth-highest grossing film of that year. A romantic drama, it was a breath of fresh air amidst the socials and mythologicals that ruled the box office at the time. The film followed the tale of a dying zamindar who bequeaths his property equally among his two sons: the elder, irresponsible and hedonistic Mahesh (Shah Nawaz) and the dutiful adopted son Ramesh (Ashok Kumar). 

Gyan Mukherjee’s Kismet saw him play a character named Bankey, in the Ashok Kumar-Mumtaz Shanti drama revolving around a young man, who when he learns that a young woman has become disabled on account of him, decides to help her by hiding his real identity. The film, which incorporated bold themes, such as an anti-hero thief with a heart and an unwed pregnant woman,  was the first big hit in the history of Bombay cinema, and is also considered the first blockbuster in Indian cinema. 

He essayed a comic role in the P L Santoshi romance film Shehnai, which was a top-earner of the year of its release. He would play another prominent role in Santoshi’s next, the comedy Khidki which also starred Rehana and Leela Mishra

The Mehboob Khan-directed romantic drama Andaz (1949) also featured him in a cast headlined by Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Revolving around a love triangle, the film became the highest-grossing Hindi film at the time of its release. 

In 1949, while on a holiday in Baroda, Desai passed away on 25th January.