Ali Peter John
It is strange how there are different stories about a popular and successful man after his death. The reports I have been reading since this morning, New Year’s day about the death of actor-writer Kadar Khan say that he made a small beginning with Yash Chopra’s “Daag'” starring Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee. But I have the first-hand story of his beginning told to me by my very dear friend, Narinder Bedi who made films like “Khote Sikkey” which many said was the source of inspiration for Ramesh Sippy to make Sholay and who after seeing Marlon Brando in the “Godfather” was so excited that he had said that he could make 10 films inspired by “Godfather”. Narender, the son of the famous Urdu writer-filmmaker Rajender Singh Bedi was making a film called “Benaam” with Amitabh Bachchan who was his good friend and was still struggling to make it big. Narender wanted a big dialogue writer and he remembered a friend from his theatre days in Bombay whose name was Kadar Khan. He with his team went looking for Kadar Khan somewhere in the heart of the city and found him sleeping under the staircase of an old building. He woke him up and told him about the assignment he wanted to give him. Kadar who hardly made any money in theatre was very glad when Narender handed over a sum of five hundred rupees to him and told him that he was on to write the dialogue for “Benaam”. The film was good for many reasons, the performance of Amitabh being one of them, but it was the dialogue of the film that caught the attention of those in the industry and those who were film buffs and Kadar Khan was on his way to unprecedented success.
It was the combination of Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra who made a string of hits with Amitabh who made the best use of Kadar Khan both as a dialogue writer and an actor. He wrote and acted in almost all the films made by these two magicians of commercial Hindi cinema.
By the 80s (He had started his career in 1973), he was the most in demand dialogue writer and actor than any other writer or actor in his category of a man who specialised in playing and writing characters which directly connected with the common man. He could have been an intellectual writer as he had a very sound background of literature when he was in theatre with contemporaries like Amjad Khan, Rajesh Khanna and a writer-actor called V. K Sharma who later went on to be known as Rajesh Khanna’s guru when he had taken his first few steps towards superstardom. But Kadar decided to write the language of the common man and played characters which appealed to the gallery which in turn made him a great success and he was one of the highest paid writers after Salim-Javed. The man who did not have a roof over his head had now bought a posh house on Hasnabaad Lane the Santacruz station (west) and had the entire Mukherjee family as his neighbours as they lived on the same Lane in a huge property which was built by the pioneer S. Mukherjee in a bungalow called Groto Villa. Kadar Khan continued climbing long steps of success.
But the real good time when it came to making lots of money and earning the praises of the masses started when he became a part of the David Dhavan and Govinda team who together worked in more than thirty films which were all hits.
The highlight of these chaalu films was the comedy created by David Dhavan, of course with the active support of Govinda and Kadar Khan and sometimes Shakti Kapoor and Asrani. It was during this time that he almost became like a guru to actors like Govinda, Shakti Kapoor and even Asrani who was a professor of acting at the FTII. He taught them how to hold the attention of the audience and they entirely dependent on him for the best scenes and lines which ultimately gave them their popularity and the adulation of the janta. Kadar Khan had become a star like any of the other big stars and he was sometimes given more respect than some of the stars who envied in but couldn’t do anything because he was what he had become only because of his unbridled talent.
His success story kept getting more and more interesting, but his popularity reached its peak when the filmmaker from the South started making Hindi films which were mostly remakes of their own successful films in the South. He started falling in his standards as an actor and also as a writer as he was asked to write the most silly and many times even double meaning and outrite vulgar language. He was so busy as a writer and actor that he shot three films in a day in places like Hyderabad, Rajahmundry and Vijayvaada among places that he sometimes wrote the dialogue of another film while he was shooting for a film and send the lines written on pieces of paper through his assistants and even his secretaries, Jamshed. For the films he was writing in Bombay, he had men who flew to Bombay with pieces of paper with his dialogue and then flew back. He wrote an acted in some of his worst work while being busy in the South. It was at this time that I once asked him where the man with a strong literary and theatre background had gone. He took me with him to a meeting he had with a producer from the South and before he could have his cup of coffee, the producer handed over a bag to him. On our way back, he showed me what was in the bag. It was a bag full of currency notes and he said, “Ali Sahab, bakwas likhne se aur usse bhi bakwas acting karne se yeh milta hai, aisa paisa Bombay ke film wale kabhi deneka soch bhi nahi sakte”. He said he knew that he was doing work that was against his conscience, but he wanted to make the best of the opportunity because it would not come again and I remember his words when he said, “mujhe maloom hai ki main galat kaam kar raha hoon, lekin woh waqt bhi ayega jab Kadar Khan apne papo ke badle bahot accha kaam karke dikhayega”. But those days didn’t come, unfortunately.
The careers of many including Jeetendra who was the real superstar for the makers from the South received a major setback when the maker from the South realised that the men and women from Bombay were cheating them in every way and fleecing them of their money, they took a unanimous decision to stop making Hindi films and all those who were riding high while the South wave lasted had to come back to Bombay and find to their horror that the Bombay industry did not want them because they felt they had betrayed them. All of them were left high and dry, but Kadar Khan still had filmmakers who were faithful to him and wanted him on his terms, but the money was less than half that he made on a film in the South.
This was the time when Kadar could think of going back to theatre and he also tried but without any success. He tried producing and directing a film called “Jaahil” with his best friend Amitabh Bachchan, but Amitabh is said to have let him down by refusing to do the film like he had refused to do a film with his other friends, Amjad Khan called “Lambaayi Chaudaai’. Amitabh’s decision broke his heart and he lost interest in films and decided to write a book, but even the book remained a fable which could not come true.
Kadar like many other actors was deeply inspired by Dilip Kumar and surprisingly, he also shared his birthday with the Thesein (December 11). He sometimes clearly showed how good he was at immiating Dilip Kumar, but Dilip Kumar was very unhappy with what he was doing.
He with his son Sarfaraz decided to go into business and opened a Mall in Holland which did well for some time and then went into total loss. He also started falling sick after the age of 75 and his health complications only grew with time till he was shifted to one of the best hospitals in Canada and was treated by the best doctors for more than three months but the battle to survive ended when he first lost control over his speech which was his strong point, then his brain and finally all the systems of his body. And finally while here in Bombay his friends were making preparations to bring in the New Year, Kadar Khan said Khuda Hafeez to the world and an era of entertainment of a rare kind came to an end and what was more painful was that his family decided to bury him in Toronto in Canada while his friends and lakhs of his admirers wondered why his body couldn’t be flown to Bombay, the city which had made him the Kadar Khan of the world.
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