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Kader Khan: Massy actor-writer who engineered commercial cinema’s biggest hits

More than 300 films on, Kader Khan was always more than the sum of his roles, the consummate multi-hyphenated Bollywood artiste for those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s on a staple diet of commercial films that either featured him or were penned by him.

Engineer-scriptwriter-actor-dialogue writer, Khan, who died in Toronto at the age of 81 before he could see the dawn of a New Year, was all these and more.

Khan was that rare film personality who was equally important on screen and off screen with about 300 roles as an actor and writing credits in over 250 films.

Before he slipped into the skin of his characters on screen — playing the buffoon, controlling father and villain in a range of films good and bad — Khan took his first tentative steps in Bollywood as a back-end writer giving shape to storylines.

The Kabul-born Pathan started his career as a professor of civil engineering before being pulled into the world of showbiz as a writer.

Khan was famously spotted by screen legend Dilip Kumar while he was performing in a play at his college’s Annual Day function.

It was the era of grand commercial films and the romantic hero of the 1960s and the early 1970s was already ceding ground to the ‘angry young man’, embodied by Amitabh Bachchan.

In 1972, he made his debut as a writer with the Jaya Bhaduri-Randhir Kapoor teen romance “Jawani Diwani”, still remembered for its music and its portrayal of young love.

Khan went on to deliver some of Bollywood’s best written screenplays and whistle-worthy dialogues in blockbuster films such as “Amar Akbar Anthony” and “Shola Aur Shabnam”.

He stepped in to help shape Bachchan’s career after Salim-Javed, who wrote “Zanjeer” and “Sholay”, went their separate ways in 1982.

It was Khan who gave Bachchan some of his career’s biggest hits with memorable dialogues and writing in a series of films — “Sharaabi”, “Lawaaris”, “Muqaddar Ka Sikander”, “Naseeb” and “Agneepath”, for which the megastar won his first Best Actor National Film Award in 1991.

Khan and Bachchan were the thread that tied rivals Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra.

The civil engineer-turned-hit writer also helped cement Govinda’s career with his sharp dialogue and screenplays in “Coolie No 1”, “Raja Babu” and “Saajan Chale Sasural”. The troika of filmmaker David Dhawan, actor Govinda and actor-writer Khan produced a number of hit comedies, including “Hero No 1” and “Dulhe Raja”.

All the while, Khan was also acting in a variety of films.

In 1973, a year after he wrote “Jawani Diwani”, Khan made his acting debut with Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore’s “Daag” in the supporting role of a prosecuting attorney.

He established his presence as an actor with roles in “Dil Diwana”, “Muqaddar Ka Sikandar” and “Mr Natwarlal” before evolving as a performer with impeccable comic timing.

There was scarcely any potboiler from the 1990s that did not feature the actor Khan — “Kishen Kanhaiya”, “Bol Radha Bol”, “Aankhen”, “Coolie No 1”, “Hero No 1”, “Dulhe Raja”, the films were many.

As an actor, he will be remembered for striking a balance between comedies and dramas, sometimes exploring the grey side.

 

 

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