Birthday Tribute: Feroz Khan’s Films Were Ahead of Their Time
Filmmaker Feroz Khan passed away after a brief illness on 27 April 2009. Commonly referred to as ‘Khan saab’ by the film fraternity and as ‘stylish Khan’ by the younger stars, Khan lived life king-size.
Never in the rat race, Khan was always choosy about his roles. When he turned filmmaker, he reduced his acting assignments to his own banner. He loved making larger-than-life films and was instrumental in transforming Hema Malini’s image as Reshma in Dharmatma.
It was a new phase for him when he launched son Fardeen as hero in Prem Aggan but the film failed miserably at the box office. He wanted to make another film with Fardeen and was working towards it but it was taking long - partly because Fardeen did not have dates and partly because Khan was unwell.
I was scheduled to interview Feroz Khan but at the last minute, his manager called it off saying he was unwell. An appointment was fixed again next day and when I reached his office, he is in the middle of a script narration. He spotted me from his glass cabin and rushed out. Apologetic, he requested me to postpone our interview by a couple of hours. “It will be my privilege if you have some fragrant tea with me later in the evening and I promise you I will not be boring,” he smiled.
A few hours later, I was in his Lokhandwala office again. Behind a huge desk, the filmmaker, dressed in a radiant yellow T-shirt, was a bit weighed down, a bit frail, but his humour was intact. Khan lowered his guard to walk down the forgotten lanes of life.
Over to Khan:
It is said that I was an extremely naughty child and much to my mother’s dismay, my father whipped me every single day. Later, when I was fast asleep at night, he would steal into my bed room and kiss me on the forehead. My mother revealed this to me when I was a little older.Feroz Khan, Actor-Filmmaker
“Being the oldest child, I had a special place in my parents’ heart and I was always aware of it, but that did not mean I could have my way or break the rules of the house.
All of us were mortally scared of father... we called him Baba... he was fierce and feudal, a man of strong will. No one dared to take liberties with him. A towering presence, he could lift me with just one hand and squeeze me in his grip.
In my growing up years, we were not affluent, but there were no deprivations in our modest home in Hyderabad. Baba served the Nizam’s government and all the children were enrolled in an English medium school. I remember I was presented a motorcycle to mark my adult birthday and I was so excited to show it off to my friends that I rode it to school the following day. It made so much noise that I was pulled up by my teachers for disturbing the classes and punished. I was outside the class for the entire day!
As long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for horses. I loved watching films, particularly the westerns and cowboy films and fantasised about becoming an actor. Of course I never shared my secret with anyone because ours was a traditional family and cinema was not a part of Baba’s world. I knew he would have never approved of it because he had dreams of me becoming a barrister and I dare not let him down.
Life takes ugly turns and seldom prepares you for the change. We discovered that Baba suffered from brain tumor. He lost his vision and it was heartbreaking to see a robust man like him turn frail and dependent. When he died, I was only 16 and suddenly looked upon by my mother and younger siblings as the head of the family. I grew up overnight and it was goodbye to carefree days.
We decided to leave Hyderabad and migrate to Bangalore where my mother inherited a lot of property from her forefathers. For a while, we survived on that income but I knew this could not continue forever.
I gave up my studies and travelled to Bombay in search of a career. It was a long struggle before I could find a roof above my head. When I became slightly secure, I invited the rest of the family to join me. There were good days and there were bad days but what was reassuring was that we were all together.
Out of my six siblings, three pursued academics. Shahrukh took up MBA, Sameer went for engineering and Dilshad, my only sister, enrolled into Sophia College. The school dropouts – that is my brothers Sanjay, Akbar and I had no option but to join films.
Sanjay was by far the luckiest in his career. His career progressed rapidly while mine dragged feet. People said I was good looking, but somehow no great roles ever came my way and certainly not from the big banners. Yes, I was luckier in launching my production house and made my debut as a director much before my brothers, but eventually all of us were proud owners of our individual banners.
Akbar had to endure a lot but then what is life without struggle? My heart went out to him during his difficult time. Later of course even he prospered in television and finally launched himself as a director and I was relieved that he had found his limelight. As brothers, we've had our share of disagreements but we are together in times of trouble. I can never forget the nightmare Sanjay went through after the fire tragedy on the sets of The Sword of Tipu Sultan.
I may not show it but I'm a passionate guy. Whatever I do in life, in films, for my horses or other business, it can never be half-baked. That is one of the reasons why I didn’t work in too many films because for me, life cannot be a regime or a routine. I cannot shoot day in and out, I need space. Life for me is a journey to relish and reflect.
All my films were ahead of their time. As an actor, I did few films but they were meaningful roles be it Safar, Upaasna or Raat Aur Din with Nargis. As a filmmaker, I was among the first in my time to introduce grandeur and sensuality in mainstream cinema, be it Qurbani or Jaanbaaz. I don’t know why the critics never acknowledged the fact that in my films. Dayavan travelled to fantasy land and also to the slums. In all my films I have made a conscious effort to deconstruct my heroines. So many years ago I put Mumtaz in a bikini for Apradh, Zeenat Aman boogied as a club dancer in Qurbani. Rekha did her first item number in my film and Sridevi was so fabulous as a drug addict that I had a tough time fighting the censors! Finally Hema Malini was the unforgettable gypsy girl Reshma in Dharmatma.
Filmmaking is a co-ordination of content and craftsmanship and I'm a creator, not a lion-tamer. My strength as a filmmaker is that because I’m an actor, I’m sensitive to what goes on in the actor’s head. Granted patience is not my virtue, but I am tolerant when circumstances are reasonable. I have never troubled my directors as an actor and I expect the same from my actors.
I will make another confession. As much as I loved acting, I was never very good at it. I tried my best, felt a lot but failed in projection. In my 40-plus career, I did some 60 odd films - most of them insignificant, but happy experiences. But roles stopped coming my way once I turned filmmaker. This is another mystery of the film fraternity - if you divert into another field, it is assumed you are no more interested in what you were doing.
I wonder what it is about growing old that you question everything - in your career and your personal life.
I don’t review my marriage, because one reviews what one regrets. My association with Sundari was wonderful while it lasted. When it turned to suffering, we parted. We are divorced for almost two decades, but it does not alter our feelings or our commitment towards our children as parents. I have been responsible in my relationships. I have been a fair father. My son and I discuss various issues with an open mind. Fardeen loves me but isn’t in awe of me.
Destiny did not allow me to complete my education. I wanted Fardeen to complete his education and he did. My father didn’t live to see me prosper but as long as I live, I'll make sure that my son does not make any mistakes. And when I’m no more, I’ll watch over him like a guardian angel.
When the interview ended, Feroz Khan insisted on another round of tea. I found him unusually emotional that day - probably because he was under the weather. A few weeks later came the sad news of his demise.
At the prayer meeting held by his family, I met Fardeen but did not tell him what his father had told me about him because I believe that Fardeen knows that already.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 13 books. Twitter: @bhawanasomaaya)
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Feroz Khan’s birth anniversary.)