A man of many words

A man of many words

well-worded

A man of many words

At 75, Kader Khan is mentally in the zone of a man 50 years his junior. The hit writer of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and a successful actor as well, has lived a fruitful life. He is back now with two plays that gives him immense satisfaction for two reasons: the fact that he had written them 30 years ago, and that they have been directed by his two sons.

Hamare Bhi Hain Meherbaan Kaise Kaise, directed by Shahnawaz Khan, is a political satire set in a corporate meeting that resembles Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the Maharashtra government, and Local Train, directed by Sarfraz Khan, is a comedy set in a suburban local train in Mumbai.
 Says Kader Khan, “Both plays depict struggles that the common man faces in his life, whether it is commuting to work in the suburban local train, bus or road, or the fact that he does not have a say in political matters. I wrote both plays 35 years ago, but they are still relevant. My sons took it as a challenge to fit the characters to present times.”
Last year, Kader Khan, who until then was not seen in the world of entertainment for seven years, had acted in the television sitcom, Hi Padosi... Kaun Hai Doshi?, which was aired on Sahara One. Why had Kader Khan been off work for so long? The explanation he gives is truly unique and heartwarming. “My father, Moulvi Abdul Rehman, was an aalim, a learned postgraduate in Arabic and Islamic literature,” says Khan. “He migrated to Holland and started his own institute there. Before dying, he said that I should apply my skills to develop awareness on Arabic and Islamic law and the Quran. I told him that I did not know anything about that field. My father retorted, ‘What did you know about theatre or films? You made an effort and succeeded. The need of the hour is to make the subject interesting, just like you do with your boring film stories!’ ”
“I formed a team and have now developed a syllabus right from kindergarten to the postgraduate level,” says Khan with quiet intensity. “The Quran, contrary to popular perception, is a book of law. The text is in Arabic, and if it is understood and followed in its true sense, Muslims will come up in life and progress. Education is the need of the hour for broadening mindsets and horizons. We have to take the responsibility of teaching them right from wrong, in a language they can understand. I want to do a lot for my community and now that I am back to work, I am going to use these media for my mission as well.”
Khan’s life, in fact, is rich material for a biopic, what with the kaleidoscopic changes that saw him being frequently on the move. “Our family migrated from Kabul and settled in Mumbai’s Kamathipura, a locality known for drug-peddlers, bootleggers and prostitution.
I did my civil engineering and after that, taught mathematics, applied mechanics and hydraulics in college,” says the veteran. “I also wrote plays for colleges and acted in them.”

With a broad smile, Khan says, “It was said then, ‘jisne Kader Khan ka play nahin dekha, woh college kabhi gaya hi nahin!’ ” In those days, Jagriti was an all-India dramatic competition in which Khan participated with the same Local Train play and won all the major prizes. The three judges, author and filmmaker Rajinder Singh Bedi, his writer-director son Narendra Bedi and actress Kamini Kaushal had come to meet him backstage and had asked him why he had shown no inclination towards films.
“They took offence when I said something to the effect that I was not mad to think along those lines,” smiles Khan. “‘Do we look mad?’ they retorted. They persuaded me to work on Narendra Bedi’s Jawani Diwani (1972).”
After the film’s success, Kader Khan admits that films became a tempting option. “My salary as a professor was Rs 400 a month. One day, a man came up to me as I was approaching the polytechnic and told me that he wanted me to write his film too. He insisted on giving me a thick envelope. When I opened it, it contained Rs 21,000! The film was Khel Khel Mein and the man was Ravi Malhotra, Rishi Kapoor’s secretary.”
Khan had been put in touch with Manmohan Desai too. “Manji had a prejudice against Muslim dialogue writers. ‘They are only good at sher-o-shaayari and muhaavare,’ he told Khan. “I was hurt, especially at his reference to my religion, but he also said that if I did a good job and gave him what he wanted, he would metaphorically place me like Lord Ganpati on his head and dance around the room. And after I wrote the dialogues for Roti, which released before Khel Khel Mein, he actually kept his promise. He then called up a lot of his friends and told them, ‘Ab industry mein ek asli writer aaya hai!’ ” Dharam Veer, Amar Akbar Anthony, Coolie and more followed in an association that lasted 15 years. 
Kader Khan stresses,“No dialogue writer can pen his lines in isolation.” In the Sanjeev Kumar-Amitabh Bachchan film Khuddar and in Shama, Khan had the chance to write the complete script with dialogues. Shama was also produced by him — his wife being billed as official producer. “It was a very progressive subject that starred Shabana Azmi, but people did not take to it,” says Khan ruefully.
Kader Khan took on some minor acting assignments, like playing a small role as the prosecuting lawyer in Yash Chopra’s debut production Daag and being the voice over of the villain on the telephone in Benaam. But the tide turned with two Bachchan films for which he also wrote the dialogues, Adalat and Khoon Pasina. “I was preferred as the villain and later, down South, as a comic or a comic villain,” says Khan, who chalked up almost thrice the tally of films as actor than as writer, all the way to his last film release, Umar, in 2005.
Though he keeps in touch with current films, he feels that technique has taken precedent over content. “There was fire in the way we narrated a story or scene to the director. Now there are printouts! Too many newcomers are coming in too easily in every field. There is no retention.” 
And who can be a better judge of this than the professor himself?

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