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Feroz Khan: India’s Clint Eastwood

 Coastweek -- Feroz Khan and his films were largely about panache and style, writes DINESH RAHEJA.

Khan did not walk, he swaggered.

No wan smile for him.

This red-blooded man preferred to win women with a cheesy grin that reached his crinkling eyes.

He left his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a brawny chest and sported tight fitting trousers.

A cigarette dangled from his lips, a femme fatale hung on his arm and a horse waited for his bidding.

He spoke with an American twang.

The Clint Eastwood of the East seems to have come via Texas, not Bangalore.

Feroz Khan came in Bollywood at a time when heroes were moony-eyed, flaccid and 40-ish. He knew how to flex his biceps on screen.

His machismo earned a broad fan-following.

He had no proper training in acting and was anxious about whether he was getting the camera angles and facial expressions right.

But Feroz’s good looks soon earned the label of Killer Khan.

His admirers vouch that tough man Khan’s appeal lay in what he held back rather than what he expressed.

In an age when underplaying was considered the domain of character actors like Balraj Sahni and Motilal, Khan’s emotional economy was often mistaken for wooden acting.


Feroz Khan in an action scene | Coastweek

Coastweek -- Feroz Khan in an action scene in the 1980 film Chunaoti.

Some even argued that Khan gave a lot of emphasis on style to distract from deficiencies in his acting.

But there is no debating the ruggedly attractive Feroz Khan had the makings of a matinee idol.

Baffling but true, the industry was reluctant to give Khan his due for a decade.

Faroz Khan was born in Bangalore, to an Afghan immigrant.

His father belonged to a Tanoli tribe of Pashtun ethnicity from Ghazni province of Afghanistan while his mother was Iranian.

After acquiring an English accent from a cosmopolitan school in Bangalore, Khan arrived in Mumbai to make a nondescript debut in Didi (1960).

Throughout the 1960s, he was mired in low-budget thrillers opposite starlets: Reporter Raju (Chitra), Samson (Ameeta), Ek Sapera Ek Lutera (Kum Kum) and CID 909 (Mumtaz).

The budding actor even played villainish younger brother in the Guru Dutt-Mala Sinha weepy Bahurani (1963).

Khan fuelled his thirst to prove himself with the taut black and white drama Oonche Log (1965).

He played an unrepentant playboy who impregnates his girlfriend but refuses to marry her, robs his blind father (Ashok Kumar) and lets his brother (Raaj Kumar) bear the brunt of his father’s whip.

Some of the shine of his senior costars seemed to rub off on him and his confident performance was appreciated.

The same year, Khan reformed to play the sacrificing lover in the mushy musical Arzoo, with big stars like Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana.

He grabbed the role - it gave him a chance to be in the big league.

Khan earned his entry into the A-list through strong second leads in big films like B R Chopra’s Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969) and Asit Sen’s Safar (1970).

His terse performance as the construction magnate with flexible morals who declares war on his righteous friend (Dharmendra) in Aadmi Aur Insaan won Khan the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award.

The buzz is that in Safar, Khan proved the bee in reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna’s bonnet.

Khan’s performance as Sharmila Tagore’s envious husband made compelling viewing.


Feroz Khan and Hema Malini | Coastweek

Coastweek -- Feroz Khan and Hema Malini during the shoot of Dharmatma.

Mukesh’s melodious voice resonated beautifully with Khan’s tender-tough personality.

The romantic solo Jo tumko ho pasand from Safar (with a musical horn accompanying Mukesh’s voice) and the soulful solo Darpan ko dekha tune jab jab kiya shringar from Upaasna became jukebox favourites.

Khan made it to the grade of singing hero, a prerequisite for the Hindi film hero.

But ‘hero’ roles in big banner films and A-list heroines were still beyond the actor’s reach.

Tired of playing second fiddle even to brother Sanjay (who entered the Hindi film fray much after Feroz) in films like Mela and Upaasna, Khan decided to become a producer-director himself.

Right from his maiden venture Apradh (1972), high glamour and slick action were crucial to his oeuvre.

In the Apradh, Khan played a car racer.

He cast his favourite heroine Mumtaz as a gangster’s stooge on a mission to smuggle diamonds, while bedazzling Khan with her sunny smile and bikini.

A think big specialist, he successfully shot the famous Nuremberg car race (Germany), with the help of a prince from the royal family of the Leopolds.

Apradh was a modest hit and an enthused Khan, inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather made his next glossy saga Dharmatma (1975).

Premnath was cast in Marlon Brando’s role, while Khan fashioned his role after Al Pacino.

Top liner Hema Malini acquiesced to play a fiery Afghan belle.

Khan shot a major chunk of the film in Afghanistan - introducing foreign locations to Bollywood - and incorporated exciting footage of the local sport buzkushi where two horsemen battle for a piece of meat.

He worked for outside producers, but was partial to curry Westerns: Khotte Sikkey (1974), Kala Sona (1975) and Kabeela (1976).


Feroz Khan with his best friend Vinod Khanna | Coastweek

Coastweek -- Feroz Khan with his best friend Vinod Khanna. Both died on same date (April 27), at same age and of same disease - cancer. Feroz and Vinod were the two most good looking heroes of their generation.

His obsession with the underworld continued in his third venture Qurbani (1980), a slick love story with action as its mainstay.

That he reduced an expensive Mercedes to pieces for a scene was much publicised, as was Zeenat Aman’s sexy gyrations to chanteuse Nazia Hassan’s chartbuster Aap jaisa koi.

Qurbani was such a big hit that it was remade in Tamil with Rajnikanth.

But his galloping streak of luck broke into a canter after Qurbani.

In his latter-day performances in colossal home productions like Jaanbaaz (1986), Dayavan (the feeble 1988 adaptation of Kamal Haasan’s Nayakan) and Yalgaar (1992), his charisma seemed frayed at the edges.

After his directorial venture Yalgaar (1992), he went for an 11-year old hiatus from acting.

By 1998, Khan had separated from his wife Sundari.

He launched his son Fardeen with Prem Aggan, a film that failed to fire the imagination of the masses.

Unperturbed, in 2003 he made his acting comeback as well as produced and directed Janasheen, which also starred his son Fardeen.

He always used performing animals in his films — a chimpanzee and lion were used in Janasheen - but People for Animals (PFA) Haryana chairman Naresh Kadyan moved a complaint in the court of law at Faridabad for animal cruelty and legal action as per law against the producer, director, and actor.

The 60-plus Feroz was not going to hang up his cowboy boots soon.

He starred alongside his son again in Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena (2005) and made his last film appearance in Welcome (2007).

He appeared in over 51 films in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and became one of Bollywood’s popular style icons.

He was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and Zee Cine (2008) lifetime achievement awards.

“Ferozji was known as the rajasaab of our times.

“He was royal. He was very loving and caring.” says Farida Jalal who worked with Feroz Khan in quite a few films.

“The thing about Feroz Khan is that if he liked you, he would love you to the core and unquestioningly.


The urban Indian watches Feroz Khan play the stud | Coastweek

Coastweek -- The urban Indian loved to watch Feroz Khan play the stud in self-directed Bollywood movies.

“If he didn’t, you should make sure you never met him again.” says Suparn Verma, director of Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena.

A very well read man - not just in literature but also in religious works right from the Quran to the Bhagwad Gita - his favourite was Oscar Wilde.

He could quote Wilde at the drop of a hat, or pull out a sher and charm a beautiful woman. It came effortlessly to him.

The Bad And The Beautiful (1952), an old classic film, was his favourite. It was his dream was to make a film on it.

In May 2006, Feroz Khan was blacklisted by then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when he went there to promote his brother’s film, Taj Mahal. In an intelligence report submitted to Musharraf, he was said to have gotten drunk and insulted Pakistani singer and anchor Fakhr-e-Alam and criticising the country.

Pakistan’s high commission in India and the foreign and interior ministries were subsequently directed to deny Khan a visa in the future.

He died from lung cancer on 27 April 2009 at the age of 69.

During his illness he returned to rest at his farmhouse in Bangalore.

He was buried in Bangalore near to his mother’s grave at Hosur Road Shia Kabristan.

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