John Prakasa Rao Janumala (born 14 August 1957, in Prakasam), better known as Johnny Lever, is an Indian film actor and one of the most popular comedians in Hindi cinema.
Johnny has received 13 Filmfare Awards nominations in Best Comedian Category, and has won the award twice. He began his career in 1984, and has acted in more than 300 Bollywood films since.
Lever was born to Prakash Rao Janumala and Karunamma Janumala in Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh, India. He 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 Mumbai 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) Tabassum Hit Parade 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.
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 recognised, 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.
Johnny started his mass career by releasing an album where he mimicked various Bollywood stars and created a few famous characters in the process; Chela Ramani being one. Some famous sketches in the album included "Sky Lab", "Madrasi Anna Cricket", "Pathan in the bus", "Hijra Kabaddi" and "Chela Ramani".
Lever got his first break in Tum Par Hum Qurban in which the famous TV and Stage compere and yesteryears actress Baby Tabassum launched her son Hoshang Govil as the leading man, and then with the film Dard Ka Rishta, thanks to Tabassum ji and the late Sunil Dutt. Since then, he has acted in more than 350 films including films like Tezaab, Kasam, Khatarnak and Kishen Kanhaiya . After Dard Ka Rishta, he was seen in Jalwa with Naseerudin Shah, but his first major success came with Baazigar, and after that he was seen in almost every movie as a supporting actor/comedian. Despite being busy with his many movie roles, he continued to do live shows. One of his most memorable live performances was an impersonation of Michael Jackson at the 1999 Filmfare Awards. His most acclaimed performance was the character of "Babulal" in the film, Baazigar, directed by Abbas-Mustan. He is also remembered for some of his other famous characters, like "Chotta Chattri", "Aslam Bhai", etc. His performance in the film, Judaai and his famous dialogues in the movie, Abba Dabba Jabba are also unforgettable.
His first Tamil feature film was Anbirkku Alavillai produced by SIMPL (Shepherd India Media Pvt. Ltd.), released in 2011. He also had a special appearance in one Telugu feature film, Criminal directed by Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt.
Lever also appeared on Zee TV, in his own show, Johny Aala Re. In 2007, he appeared as a judge on the stand-up reality show Comedy Circus.
He is also the president of CINTAA (Cine And T.V. Artist Association) which has its own television show called Superstars ka Jalwa on Star Plus. He is also the president of MAAM (Mimicry Artist Association Mumbai), and has done thousands of live shows all over the world. His younger brother, Jimmy Moses, is also a comedian and mimicry artist.
He is married to Sujatha and has two children, a daughter Jamie and a son Jesse. His brother Jimmy Moses is also a famous stand-up comic who has worked on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and Comedy Circus.
In 1998, Lever was convicted and sentenced to seven days imprisonment for disrespecting the Indian National Anthem, constitution and the flag at a private function hosted by Anees Ibrahim Kaskar, brother of global terrorist Dawood Ibrahim. However all charges against him were dropped and he was sent home within one day.