Hindi screenwriter and actor Kader Khan died at 6pm on December 31 in Canada. He was 81 years old. Khan had been suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy and diabetes, and was being treated at a hospital in Toronto, where one of his sons, Sarfaraz lives.
Khan’s contributions to Hindi cinema as a writer and actor extend to more than 400 films. Through the 1970s and ’80s, the former college lecturer was one of Hindi cinema’s most sought-after dialogue writers. He wrote for the top stars, including Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan, and the hitmakers Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra.
For Desai, he wrote films such as Dharam Veer (1977), Coolie (1983) and Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988). For Mehra, Desai wrote Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Lawaaris (1981) and Sharaabi (1984). Khan also wrote the dialogue for several Amitabh Bachchan films, including Mr Natwarlal (1979), Satte Pe Satta (1982) and Agneepath (1990).
Khan was also a character actor, appearing in villainous and comic roles. In the 1990s, he often worked a double shift as a writer and actor, and his lengthy creative partnership with director David Dhawan and the actor Govinda created some the decade’s biggest hits.
Kader Khan was born on October 22, 1937, in Kabul in Afghanistan. When he was a child, his parents left Kabul and moved to Mumbai, where they lived in the red-light district Kamathipura. In a rare interview with Connie Haham, the author of the biography Enchantment of the Mind: Manmohan Desai’s Films, Khan recalled his hardscrabble childhood: “Unknown place. Unknown country. Unknown city. Nowhere to go. No money. They came to the worst slums of this city, Kamathipura... If anyone wants to spoil his life, he can just go there, and he gets whatever he wants. From the age of one till I completed my diploma in civil engineering, I was there.”
Alongside working as a lecturer at a local engineering college, Khan had begun writing plays. Living in poverty, which led to the early separation of his parents when he was four, and growing up with an abusive stepfather, had pushed Khan towards reading and writing. He poured himself into the worlds created by Saadat Hasan Manto, Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekov, and took inspiration from the desperate and yet colourful survivors of his Kamathipura neighbourhood. “A human being wants love,” Khan told Connie Haham. “But there was no love. So all that love I devoted to revolution. I used to write. Pungent lines I used to write. Pungent plays.”
In the audience for one of Khan’s plays was influential producer Ramesh Behl. Behl asked Khan to write the dialogue for his new film, director Narender Bedi’s Randhir Kapoor-Jaya Bhaduri-starrer Jawani Diwani (1972) in under a week.
“I went to Cross Maidan where people play football,” Khan told Connie Haham. “I wrote the script in four hours.”
The following year, Khan began an association with Manmohan Desai, one of the decade’s most popular and influential directors. Khan told Sidharth Bhatia about the exchange in Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai: “He was a very frank kind of person. He told me, ‘I have had some problems with some Muslim writers. I will try you and if your stuff is bad, I will throw it in the gutter.’ ‘And if my work is good?’ I asked him. ‘Then I will carry you on my back.’”
Khan had been paid Rs 25,000 for the 1975 production Khel Khel Mein, he told Bhatia. Desai offered him Rs 1.25 lakh, a portable Toshiba television set and a gold bracelet. “I became his regular writer from then on.’”
Khan would write out the scenes and act them out for Desai, who liked Khan’s narration style so much that he would record the conversation on tape. Khan’s ability to breathe life into his lines proved helpful to Amitabh Bachchan, who said in a 2015 interview that he was initially flummoxed by a 16-page soliloquy that Khan wrote for his character in Prakash Mehra’s Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. Only after Khan recorded his narration of all 16 pages on tape was Bachchan, in tears by then, convinced.
Kader Khan had an acute understanding of what audiences wanted, which made him a top writer for nearly two decades. “Every writer should have an auditorium inside their head and fill it with the audience,” he once said. “The rich will sit in the balcony. But the poor will sit below and they will be the ones to whistle. Write for them.”
In the 1980s, Khan began writing for the Hindi remakes of South Indian films, most of which starred Jeetendra. “I went away from the industry because all the people I enjoyed working with, like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra, are no more,” Khan told Rediff.com in 2012.
His second innings with Govinda and David Dhawan produced numerous laugh riots, including the entire No.1 series. Khan later said that it was because of working with Govinda that his comic timing improved.
Alongside collaborating with Dhawan, Khan also wrote the dialogue for Mukul S Anand’s Agneepath (1990) and Shashilal K Nair’s Angaar (1992), for which he won a Filmfare Award for Best Dialogue.
In the past decade, Khan returned to academics and devoted himself to translating works in Arabic. He made occasional screen appearances, and his last billed role is in Masti Nahi Sasti from 2017.
Amitabh Bachchan led the tributes on Twitter.