One would not imagine that a boy coming to India as the son of Afghani refugees and then being brought up in the Kamathipura district of Bombay, infamous for its brothels and illicit gambling addas, would have home in his soul for poetry, for an appreciation of the finest literature. Such an anomaly was the late Kader Khan, the king of tapori dialogues with the sensitivity and finesse to value the classics as well.
How did a young man from Kamathipura get introduced to Bollywood in the first place? Between teaching civil engineering as a professor at the MH Saboo Siddik College of Engineering, Kader Khan, who was a very good mimic in childhood, also used to write plays for theatre and act in them. While performing in a play called ‘Taash ke Patte’ he was spotted by the comedian Agha, who urged Dilip Kumar to go watch him too. The latter was so impressed that he signed up Kadersahab for ‘Sagina’ and ‘Bairaag’ as an actor, however, Kadersahab actually made his film acting debut with the 1973 Rajesh Khanna starrer, ‘Daag’ – Yash Chopra’s runaway hit.
In yet another instance, he was performing in his popular play, ‘Local Train’ when the late Narinder Bedi went to meet him backstage to sign him as a dialogue writer for the Jaya Bhaduri-Randhir Kapoor starrer, ‘Jawaani Diwaani.’ Kadersahab protested that he did not know how to write film dialogues, but Bedi insisted by calling him over to his office and handing over the script. Three hours later, Kadersahab was back and handed over the dialogue sheets to a shocked Bedi. (However, according to Kadersahab’s Wikipedia page, it is Rajesh Khanna who is said to have given him his breakthrough as a dialogue writer, beginning with ‘Roti,’ and going on to many more successful Khanna films such as ‘Chailla Babu,’ ‘Dharam Kanta,’ ‘Fifty Fifty,’ and so on.)
As an actor too, he has given us many joyous cinematic moments, both as a convincing, menacing villain as well with consummate comic timing, be it as a harassed papa or an over-the-top village lout. Today’s actor-in-demand Vicky Kaushal has said that if he has watched any film multiple times it is ‘Baap Numbri Toh Beta Dus Numbri’ and that Kadersahab has been a delightful part of his childhood. In his inimitable style of dialogue delivery, Kadersahab made a superb play on words in this film with the line: “Mujhe taqdeer ne nahin baksha toh main tumko kahan se bakshish doon.”
Perhaps Kadersahab’s greatest contribution as a writer to the film industry lay in his using a balanced Hindustani, without overtly tipping into Urdu, which made the characters more approachable to the audience. He also had an uncanny ability to juxtapose topical issues into his dialogues with a strong undercurrent of humour and this ran over into his personal life as well; in an old interview to Aaj Tak, he said that: “nangapan samaj ka atoot hissa ban ke reh gaya; kahin garibi ne nanga kar diya, kahin fashion ne nanga kar diya!” Similarly, when a reporter asked him the tired, oft-repeated question of what is the formula for making a hit film? he responded by saying, “there is no formula; ek surr-taal ban jaana hai.” Take ‘Agneepath’ where, in reference to Amitabh Bachchan’s actual height, Kadersahab wrote: “Yeh chhe foot ka body ludkane ke liye chaar inch ka goli kam pad gaya, maloom?” This dedication to his craft led to his being hugely in demand by major production houses of the South who were keen to remake their films in Hindi, because he didn’t just translate the language – he actually transposed the entire setting into a more suitable milieu with a north Indian flavour for the Hindi-speaking belt.
For someone who had grown up reading Anton Chekhov and Saadat Hasan Manto while still a teenager, it grieved him to be the one responsible for introducing the Bambaiyya street lingo to Hindi cinema. However, after the runaway success of Anthony Gonsalves’ lines (played by Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ in 1977) it is all that film makers wanted him to churn out. Once Kadersahab wrapped his head around the fact that this Frankenstein was here to stay, he mastered the craft so well that he outdid himself. It is odd that present-day writers bewail the fact that they do not get recognition when, right from the ‘60’s to the ‘90’s, the public was aware of not only who the playback singer was, but very often, the lyricist, music director and writer of the film too! People never said, “woh Rajesh Khanna ka gaana mast hai,” they would know whether it was Anand Bakshi or Shankar-Jaikishen; Mukesh, Rafi or Kishore. Kadersahab has referred to himself as being a “trademark”; movies were being sold piggybacking on the fact that he was the writer and the Kader Khan-Govinda or Kader Khan-Shakti Kapoor pairings set the box office jingling in earnest, so much so that he was specifically asked by producers to write in turns between himself and Govinda in the script! According to producer-director Pahlaj Nihalani: “A part of the success of Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda must go to Kader bhai for his writing.”
During the seventies, when Salim-Jaaved were ruling the writers’ roost and the camp system was rife in Bollywood, Kader Khan managed to evade these traps by writing screenplays for both Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra simultaneously, for their films with Amitabh Bachchan. Some of Bachchan’s most popular dialogues of his career have been penned by Khan, notably in: ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony,’ ‘Naseeb,’ ‘Lawaaris,’ ‘Muqaddar ka Sikandar,’ ‘Agneepath,’ and so on. Kadersahab was so painstaking in his efforts that, apart from the writing, he also focused on diction; according to actor Shakti Kapoor, Kadersahab felt that actors today look after their bodies and faces, but none of them focus on zubaan, they don’t have language and diction. Not many will know that although Amitabh Bachchan walked away with accolades as Vijay Dinanath Chauhan (‘Agneepath’) in a hoarse, gravelly voice, Kadersahab had not only written the dialogues but also sent across audio tapes recorded in his voice to Bachchan, clearly elucidating on the correct diction, voice modulation and where emphasis ought to be placed in the lines and previously, had taught Bachchan on how to speak the Catholic style of Hindi in ‘Amar, Akbar, Antony.’ While Salim-Jaaved may have created the ‘angry young man’ on celluloid with ‘Zanjeer’ that set Bachchan’s career on a roll, it is Kadersahab who sustained it; all told, he wrote 22 films for Bachchan. It is almost as if he prophesied the rise of the latter, with his immortal lines in ‘Muqaddar ka Sikandar’: “Taqdeer tere kadmon mein hogi aur tu muqaddar ka badshah hoga.” Sadly, the two had a falling-out when Bachchan’s ego got too big for him, a fact that Kadersahab himself has attested in a video-taped interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Um97C0Tz94) so much so that he found himself out of quite a few Bachachan projects and indeed, wrote only half of the ‘Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati’ script. “Sau ghamon ko nichodne ke baad, ek katra sharab banti hai’…was this line from ‘Naseeb’ a portent of things to come?
Subsequently, he found himself paired up with Govinda, the new rising star of Bollywood and David Dhawan. As if it were not enough that he rued the tapori style, Kadersahab then ventured into risqué territory with double-meaning dialogues, which transported the front-bencher, chavanni crowd into frenzies of delight This was Kader Khan’s busiest phase in terms of both acting and writing and yet, it was a far cry from his dialogues once mouthed by the likes of Dilip Kumar and Rajesh Khanna. The Wire quotes Kadersahab as having found David Dhawan films like ‘Coolie No 1’ and ‘Raja Babu’ “painful to do.” Nonetheless, director David Dhawan has stated recently that Kadersahab was the backbone of his every film and that, when his health started failing and Dhawan was compelled to work with other writers, he told them: “Yeh scene Kader Khan saab ke jaisa chahiye.”
Indisputably, Kader Khan was a talented writer – but there were other good writers around as well. What set him head and shoulders apart from his ilk was the knack of projecting his actor’s personality into that of the dialogues he wrote. And so, while Bachchan got the tapori lines in keeping with the image already created for him, Govinda’s dialogues had a more colloquial Marathi flavour to them, also, the actor had such an impeccable sense of comic timing that he could carry off the silliest of lines, while leaving the audience in splits: “Yahan par garmi bahut zyada hai, main apni AC BC DC car mein jaakar baithta hoon” (‘Coolie no 1.’) For Rajesh Khanna, he penned dialogues that were heavy on the emotion while being slightly self-mocking: “Iss duniya mein apne zakhm dikhane nahi chahiye, varna yeh log marham ki jagah usse namak se bhar dete hai” (‘Chaila Babu’) “Namak khila kar namak haraami pe majboor mat karo mere yaar” (‘Roti.’) For Jeetendra, with his seedha-saadha image, he wrote: “Dukh aur sukh ki tarah galatiyan bhi aadmi ke muqadar mein likhi hoti hai … galatiyan karke joh pachtata hai, wohi insaan kehlata hai” (‘Farz aur Kanoon.’) Rishi Kapoor, the daredevil, chocolate-but-naughty lover boy, spouted: “Maut ko ek baar dhoka dene se zindagi lambi nahin ho jaati,” and “Ajeeb nyay hai bhagwan ka bhi; jinko bhook deta hai unko khane ko nahi deta, aur jinko khane ko deta hai unko bhook nahi deta” (‘Rafoo Chakkar.’)
Yes, he has been accused of bringing crassness to the silver screen with his loud dialogues. However, it was also the need of the day by film makers. According to Kadersahab (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVqgzalP_yE) director Manmohan Desai told him disappointedly that: “Tum mian-bhai (Muslims) logon ko likhna nahin aata. Tum ya toh sher-o-shairi karte ho ya muhaavre bayaan karte ho. Mereko dialogue chahiye – clap-trap.” In point of fact, one should be applauding such a clever mind that observed his humble Kamathipura upbringing and surroundings and seamlessly merged them into dialogues the common man could relate to; problems in a chawl are more immediate and larger-than-life than ones faced by those living in secure apartment complexes and that is what Kadersahab brought to the fore. People may look down on it, but the fact remains that it is his one-liner style that audiences carry away even today; keeping satire and society equally in mind, he came up with one-liners that the audience walked away with long after the movie finished its run in the theatres; “Moochein ho to Nathulal jaisi, warna na ho” from ‘Sharaabi’ is an evergreen quote that remains fresh till today.
Kader Khan also had a serious bent of mind and has written books on Islamic literature for university syllabus, apart from designing simplified Urdu and Arabic language courses. In his recent tribute, actor Shatrughan Sinha has also stated that Kadersahab regaled him with his intellectual mind and deep study of commercial cinema. It is a pity that Hindi cinema never got to explore this facet of the man. Think how sensitive yet hard-hitting he would have been with a ‘Begum Jaan’; what a fiery pair he and Vishal Bharadwaj would have made, especially in a setting like ‘Ishqiya’ or ‘Haider.’ The world has not only lost a prolific writer in Kadersahab, but has never been privy to this writer’s soul; the kind of output he yearned to share with the world, but never found a taker for. Kader Khan was a trademark, yes: he was a genre unto himself and he leaves us with a dialogue extremely pertinent to the way humanity is headed today: “Dosti ka thoda atta lete hain. Ussmein pyaar ka paani milaate hain. Phir goond-te hain. Phir dil ke chulhe par rakh ke ussko pakaate hain” (‘Yaaraana.’)