When a man is as well versed in languages as he was and has experienced life’s many extremes as he had, eloquence is a natural response. And, beyond question, Kader Khan’s fluid expressions and witty rhythm evoked the deepest sighs and loudest laughs.
The impact was doubly good when he appeared on screen to mouth some of that wit or wisdom in his inimitable baritone that could growl or grovel as per a character’s requirement. It is a testament to Kader Khan’s incredible flexibility how easily he switched from businessman to beggar. He could be horribly intimidating, impossibly silly, achingly human and, sometimes, all at once. I was drawn to his magic and magnetism even when I didn’t know he was behind it.
Oblivious to his achievement as the dialogue writer of campus movies like Jawaani Diwani and Khel Khel Mein, I lapped up every bit of cheer and catchphrases he tossed my way through Satte Pe Satta‘s buck up slogan Chain Kulli Ki Main Kulli Ki Chain, the Kacha Paapad Pakka Pappad tongue twister in Yaarana or Sharaabi‘s Moochein Ho Toh Nathulalji Jaisi Ho Warna Na Ho fixation.
Listen carefully enough and you might hear Kader Khan booming in Amitach Bachchan’s voice. I know I did — years later — when I revisited the Big B’s emotional speech right before the poignant Muqaddar Ka Sikandar melody, O Saathi Re.
‘Footpath ki god thi, bhook aur gareebi ka saaya. Main tha, meri tanhayi thi. Thokre thi. Zamaane ki dudhkar thi. Logon ki gaaliyan thi. Aise main ek humdard mila. Usse meri haalat pe rahem aaya. Pyaar se usne mere sarr pe haath rakha. Main ro pada…’
The unmistakable heartache in those lines, harking back to memories of his own impoverished childhood, never fails to brings a lump in my throat.
Back when the Kabul-born actor was still doing theatre, his towering confidence and oratory prowess caught Dilip Kumar’s eye, who recommended him for a small role in his under production Sagina and later, Bairaag.
A decade later, the star writer would return the favour by giving Yusufsaab some fiery patriotism to spout at Anupam Kher’s villainous Dr Dang during Karma‘s iconic slap scene: ‘Mujhe khushi hai tumhe Hindustani thappad ka andaaz ho gaya.’
My earliest memories of Kader Khan are in peripheral roles — Kamal Haasan’s long-lost daddy in Sanam Teri Kasam and Amjad Khan’s tickled driver in Yaarana. But it was his muhahaha-ing turn as the evil sorcerer Mantrik in Pataal Bhairavi, a remake of the superhit 1951 Telugu fantasy, that turned me into a fan for life.
His droll face is virtually unrecognisable under all that fierce facial hair as he fiddles with his beard, wields his staff, chants mumbo jumbo and cuts off his arm in one stroke to summon power-doling goddesses. Kader Khan has a blast balancing Mantrik’s ferocity and foolishness against an overwhelmingly garish setting. My fascination for Mantrik refuses to dismiss Pataal Bhairavi as guilty pleasure or childhood nostalgia. Truth be told, Mantrik Origins occupies top spot in the wish list of movies I’d love to see made.
Pataal Bhairavi is one of the many Jeetendra-Amjad Khan-Shakti Kapoor campy combo meals Kader Khan served up in the 1980s. Yet, the actor’s willingness to acknowledge the farce and play it up for laughs gave his comedy its goofy brand — the one thing that the remakes could never repeat nor recreate. Take Himmatwala and its no-holds-barred volubility for instance — ‘Mere ghamand ke sheeshe ko tod kar sachai ke aaine mein meri surat dikha di.’
The man turned wordplay into an art form.
I didn’t always remember his dialogues verbatim but their essence and metric style, always so unique in its imagery and playfulness, stuck to me. I’d play my own private game of crunchy quips and comical barbs — the Kader Khanisms I’d call them — as an ode to the master insulter and hyperbolic philosopher.
Long before Chandler Bing used humour as a defence mechanism, there was Kader Khan’s henpecked husband in interchangeable family dramas like Biwi Ho Toh Aisi and Ghar Ho Toh Aisa.
There is nothing memorable about its outdated ideas of feminism any more, but are worth watching purely for Kader Khan’s Mr Bennet-like ripostes to bully Bindu’s ‘Secretary, Follow Me’ tyranny in one and breaking-the-fourth-wall antics to complain about grouchy Reeta Bhaduri in another. The latter reminds me of the legend’s wizardry in double roles.
Be it Ghar Ho Toh Aisa, where his Air India Maharaja-inspired avatar of the not-quite deceased daddy pops out of a photo frame to lecture his meek son on developing a spine, Main Khiladi Tu Anari‘s constable-commissioner twin brothers banter or Hum‘s comical confusion of chalk and cheese lookalikes to name a few, the actor ensured there was nothing identical about his portrayal.
His self-parodying, itchy-skinned stage actor in Hum is in complete contrast to the arrogant armyman and steals the scene every time he gives into the nagging irritation. How synonymous ‘khujli‘ is with this scene is something I would realise years later after I got married and my husband remarked, “Aye Kader” every time I scratched my humidity-accustomed Mumbaikar-going-mad-in-Delhi’s dry weather-skin in abandon.
Once Kader Khan graduated from sidekick and relinquished the meanie, his funny side was perennially up in a spate of David Dhawan entertainers pairing him as the worrying papa or penny-pincher father-in-law.
Aankhen, Coolie No 1, Judwaa, Mr and Mrs Khiladi, Raja Babu, Saajan Chale Sasural and Haseena Maan Jayegi owe a great deal of their spunk to the unrivalled Kader Khan touch. Of these, his chemistry with Govinda, of course, is most prolific and successful. Their impeccable comic timing and spirited reciprocity brought the house down in numerous comedies.
Dulhe Raja, though helmed by Harmesh Malhotra and not Dhawan, is my utmost favourite. The duo’s hilarious quarrel over their food business coupled with a pitch perfect Johnny Lever creates a new ‘misaal‘ in Bollywood comedy.
Having said that, my favourite moment between the two is a sweet scene from Hero No 1.
Govinda is a millionaire’s son masquerading as a domestic help at his ladylove’s home to win over her eccentric family. At midnight, there is a knock on the kitchen window. It is his father, Kader Khan, dressed up as a watchman holding a birthday cake for his darling son. After all, who understands ‘baap ki baapta‘ better than Kader Khan? A bashful smile accompanies the old man’s admission, ‘Teri bahut yaad aa rahi thi.’ ‘How sweet,’ chirps Govinda. As do you. And for those few seconds, the screen is filled with warm fuzzies, the kind you don’t expect in a movie whose song goes ‘Main tujhko bhaga laaya hoon tere ghar se tere baap ke darr se.
Kader Khan the clown often overshadowed the intensity and sentimentality powering his hard-hitting work in Angaar where he plays a fictional version of the underworld don Karim Lala. One look at him wolfing down cups and cups of heem cream befitting of his ‘Yam Hain Hum‘ entitlement in Taqdeerwala makes me wonder if that is such a bad thing.
I grew up on peak Kader Khan and avidly consumed his swaggering show of cunning and mockery, sarcasm and stupidity as he took centre stage in movies designed to showcase just that: Baap Numbri Beta Dus Numbri and Hum Hain Kamaal Ke.
As we entered the new millennium, tastes changed. And like all creative mediums, comedy too moved in a more real, terse direction. Kader Khan’s disability-of-the-day shenanigans in one of his final significant roles, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi act as a fond reminder of all the laughter he provided us in the decades before.
It is true he wasn’t celebrated and rewarded in the manner he deserved to. But the bravado in his words is mightier than the bitterness. I dare not feel bad for the man who once recommended ‘Sukh mein hanste ho toh dukh mein kehkahe lagao. Zindagi ka andaaz badal jayega.’
I loved Kader Khan. I spoke Kader Khan. I hope he can relish all the heem creem where he has left to regale next.