The Legend of Kader Khan

While not speaking poorly of the dead may be considered a custom more honored in its breach than its observance, one would hope that at least twenty-four hours would elapse before one starts pulling down the legacy of a much-loved  artist, after all if you have nothing good to say about someone better not to say anything, at least for a few days. Alas we live in difficult times, and no sooner had the death of Kader Khan, or as he is known Kader-sahaab, had sunk in, that we get to see the words “cheap roles”, “eminently forgettable” in an article in one of the vanguards of Indian web journalism.

The irony behind those who ask people to recognize their privilege and check it at the door is that they are unable to do it themselves. Kader Khan did not write nor perform for the perfumed patricians that constitute the Hindi film industry’s core audience, because only they are privileged to be able to afford the steep entrance and popcorn costs of today’s multiplexes, whose frame of references are Netflix-HBO, American-tropes-inspired stand-up comedy routines, the wisdom of memes, accessible and affordable broadband, and the concomitant benefits of a post-liberalization lifestyle.

Kader Khan existed in a different time, and his crowd were the subaltern, the unwashed, the factory workers and the wage laborers . And as this crowd was gradually pushed away to the periphery, because the business of Bollywood changed, so was Kader Khan. He ended the last few of his years on the fringes, mostly forgotten, recognized sporadically based on his appearances in some old movie playing on Zee Gold, the throw-away “Hey isn’t that the guy from….”, his legacy largely unrecognized, if not scoffed at.

So here is a bit of throwback.

Once upon a time, just as there are music tracks, there used to be dialogue tracks, sold in conjunction and sometimes separately from the music track. Performers performed these dialogues in front of crowds mimicking the mannerisms of the actor who had delivered it in the original film, a commercially viable form of entertainment at a time when one just couldn’t go to Youtube to watch a favorite sequence or superpose themselves in it through a Tiktok video.

Dialogue was king and Kader Khan was the king of dialogue.

After Salim and Javed broke up, Kader Khan pretty much wrote all the dialogues for Amitabh Bachchan, the theater-thumping chawanni-phenking lines that firmly established the angry young man in the Indian psyche.

Amar Akbar Anthony. Muqaddar ka Sikander. Naseeb. Suhaag. Do Aur Do Paanch. Lawaaris. Coolie. Satte Pe Satta. And did I forget anything? Yes. Agneepath.

And if being the voice of Amitabh was not enough to retire on, then Kader Khan went ahead and became the voice of the single-screen phenomenon of the 90s.

Govinda Ahuja.

Kader Khan’s style was street. In days when censor boards were more intrusive, and one just could not string together gaalis as they do now on Netflix or Amazon Prime, Kader crystallized the essence of “tapori shaanabaazi”, filtered it through his deep knowledge of Urdu,  and created a cinematic lingo that was uniquely distinctive– long sentences of adjectives one after another, short crisp take-downs, intelligent wordplay, and these dialogs when delivered by a generation of actors who knew how to deliver, the Bachchans and the Govindas and the Mithuns, created the experience of what single-screen cinema was, audience participation through whistles and the ceaseless clatter of coins, and clinging to this, a cottage industry of dialogue cassettes and mohalla duplicate shows.

Which brings me to Kader Khan, the performer. The man could not just write, but also dish it out too. His comic chemistry with Govinda, at its acme in the sensational Dulhe Raja, was a vital part of the legend of Govinda, and that is attested to by the fact that once Govinda and David Dhawan tried moving beyond the Kader Khans and Shakti Kapoors, they lost the essence of what had once made them successful. Kader Khan wasn’t just a reliable second fiddle, he could carry it off himself too, and two of my favorite roles of his, in very different genres, which shows he was also not one-note when it came to onscreen presence, was his larger-than-life villainous turn, in the criminally underappreciated Angaar, and, perhaps his most successful independent role, as one half of a father-son conman duo, in the riotously low-brow funny Baap Numbri Beta Dus Numbri.

Performer. Writer. A maker of stars. That’s how I shall remember him.

Khuda hafiz, Kader-sahaab.

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “The Legend of Kader Khan

  1. Nicely eulogised… he was a great actor. Dulhe Raja is one of my all time favorites. He was brilliant in Hum, all the no. 1 movies of govinda, host of David dhawan flicks like haseena man jaayegi, raja babu and the mid 80s jitendra movies.

  2. Also brings back memories of all the Zamindar-villain roles he played in the Jitendra movies…alongside the Shemaroo logo. Very well written.

  3. Navneet Vasishth January 2, 2019 — 9:00 am

    Buzdili ki god mein pale geedad ki sauteli aulaad…an expression i used to repeat endlessly as a kid. A phenomenal writer

  4. I agree. He was a phenomenal writer. Most of the dialogue of the films I watched on his era were written by him. And his comic as well as villainous timing was amazing. Rest In Peace Kader Khan.

  5. Well written. Kader Khan’s voice is also good. This article brought back memories of the past well described by the author. Amitabh Bachan movies’ appeal owes substantially to the dialogues written by Kader Khan. The man was versatile.

    Khuda hafiz, Kader-sahaab.

  6. What an amazing article. You did justice to Kader Khan.

  7. ADITYA NATH JHA January 3, 2019 — 4:39 pm

    Kader Sahab was a minor genius. And, for me, a legend – in the league of Helen.

  8. ‘Mere dimag ke gatar mein idea ke kide bulbula rahe hai’ and ‘ye dunia ek bhikhari ka katora hai!!’ I dont remember the movies but these r my most favorite movie lines ever!

  9. A real tribute….it just so sad that the media today is the slave of the rich….just so sad. RIP the legendary and irreplaceable Kader Khan Sahab.

  10. I first noticed him in Khoon Pasina where he is shown cleaning a gutter. In an inconsequential role, he was noticeable. Of course, after that we saw him and enjoyed his performance in many of those production line model of Govinda-Kader Khan movies. Roles like the determined father of Karishma Kapoor in Coolie No. 1 and the rich father who sacrifices his ego to become a watchman to enable his son to get his lady love in Hero No.1. Now that street lingo has taken over, we will miss the witticisms of Kader Khan. Truly, a loss for those who love Bollywood movies. Probably God is guffawing now that KK is entertaining him.

  11. Excellent article! He was truly a versatile actor…RIP

  12. Tanweer I. Khan March 7, 2019 — 6:20 am

    Excellent article. He was truly a versatile actor…RIP

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