Kader Khan: Bollywood’s Most Underrated Villain
Let’s not forget that Kader Khan could also play a really intimidating bad guy.
The legend is no more. After suffering for years from a long illness, actor and writer Kader Khan finally left us on the morning of 1 January, 2019. He’s an artiste who has for decades regaled the desi audience by adding the much needed tadka to a typical Bollywood masala film, be it through his acting or his terrific writing. He was in short - a genius.
Probably, kids from the 90s will remember Kader Khan as a comedian whose pairing with Govinda and Shakti Kapoor always managed to bring out laughter with their on-screen antics. However, this Professor of Civil Engineering, started his filmi career as a writer and worked extensively for popular directors like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra. It was then that he began to face the camera as an actor - playing the bad guy.
During Kader Khan’s initial phase as an actor, he was mainly known as a villain, his first major role being in Khoon Pasina (1977) as the tyrannical Thakur Zaalim Singh where he was pitted against two of the biggest stars of the time - Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan.
And when his villainy worked, Kader Khan became Supremo in Parvarish (1977). It is interesting that “Supremo” later became the name of a comic book series featuring Amitabh Bachchan as a superhero, that became very popular in the 80s. Kader Khan's Supremo was a cool villain, relying on technology as he hid in his private submarine while spreading his network and influence.
Kader Khan with his sonorous voice played the perfect Supremo but he wasn't going to be shackled by these stereotypical roles. While many Bollywood villains at the height of their careers often refused to experiment or were not given the opportunity to, Kader Khan wasn’t one among them. He equally dabbled in serious roles like that of Fakeer baba in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978) or if you remember him as the village head in Mr Natwarlal (1979) and with this he continued working in countless movies as a screenplay and dialogue writer. However, soon Kader Khan also began to be noticed as a comedian, changing the trajectory of his acting career completely.
But, there are two films where Kader Khan gave us his finest performances as a villain. The first one is Coolie (1983), the blockbuster that almost snatched Amitabh Bachchan away from us. Here Kader Khan plays Zafar Khan who is obsessed with Salma (Waheeda Rehman), and this obsession forms the crux of the story. He literally crosses every possible boundary to own Salma. He doesn't event hesitate in breaking up her family, separating her from her son Iqbal (Amitabh Bachchan). Zafar Khan was in many ways a long distant relative of the obsessive Rahul Mehra from Darr (1993), but only a bit more masalafied with a lot of help at his disposal. But even then, Kader Khan successfully managed to create a cold and calculative character who was driven by a deep sense of ownership and megalomania.
In Shashilal Nair's Angaar (1992), that had a stellar cast of Jackie Shroff, Dimple Kapadia, Nana Patekar and Om Puri among others, Kader Khan was outstanding as Jahangir Khan, who is shown as the Godfather of Mumbai. He is a kind and benevolent man but has a dubious quality which finally brings his downfall. He likes to help people but often doesn't realise the death and destruction he is causing. He is blinded by his own righteousness. Behind this facade lies a highly egoistical and brutal man who loses his cool when Jaikishan (Jackie Shroff) stands against the atrocities of his sons (Nana Patekar and Mazhar Khan). Jahangir Khan cannot see beyond it and orders his elimination only to understand his folly later.
The trope of a Godfather has been used countless times in Indian movies and many have played it, but Jahangir Khan's strength and weaknesses were perfectly brought out by Kader Khan. Strangely, throughout his career, barring Family (2006), which felt like an extended cameo, Kader Khan hardly got a chance to play such a role again. And yes, we have to exclude Sapoot (1996) here where he played a similar role but minus Jahangir Khan's hubris or complications.
Do Aur Do Paanch
The reason why we never saw Kader Khan repeat his terrific performances as the baddie in films like Coolie and Angaar again could've been because his flair for comedy overtook his menacing villainy. Even though he was merciless and inhuman in some movies, you could see him have some comical elements thrown in to inspire the body language of the character. For example Do Aur Do Paanch (1980) saw him as a character trying to kidnap a kid. His role as a mastermind behind the plot is deadly and dangerous, yet the minor buffoonery became evident when his minions called him Uncle.
And this continues in movies like Inquilaab (1984) and Geraftaar (1985). Kader Khan plays the slimy leech, the most deviously scheming person on planet earth, but somehow manages to justify it all. In Inquilaab he is the one who traps Amitabh Bachchan in the chakravyuh of politics for his own benefit and thinks he has won the battle. In Geraftaar, he tries hard to bring down Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan but nothing works.
But it was Himmatwala (1983) where his comic timing fused with his villainy to perfection. He is seen as the comical evil Munimji, supporting Amjad Khan's Zamindar as they plan to destroy Ravi (Jeetendra). And as Kader Khan's son we get to see Shakti Kapoor. The Shakti-Kader pair probably became one of the most famous jodis of Bollywood, delivering numerous hits together, often playing father-son as well as partners-in-crime.
And such comical villainy is present in Pataal Bhairavi (1985) as well, where his Mantrik tries to dupe Ramu (Jeetendra) by promising to help him marry the princess (Jaya Prada) of the land. In Insaaf Ki Awaaz (1986), we see him play an ex-MLA who uses fake news and rhetoric to malign his political rivals (and people think Bollywood in the 80s was trash when it predicted the future so well!).
Baap Numbri Beta Dus Numbri
No tribute for Kader Khan can be completed without Baap Numbri Beta Dus Numbri (1990), where he once again teamed up with Shakti Kapoor for fun, frolic and a bit of debauchery as they are out to con people. Their intent is to earn a quick buck but in this, Kader Khan ends up ruining the family of his own sister. And in Khoon Ka Karz (1991), where he played three roles - Champaklal, Hitler Champaklal and Ravana Champaklal - Kader Khan manages to be more evil than before.
Though we mostly remember Kader Khan as a comedian, his villainous roles are definitely some of the best that Bollywood has witnessed as he brought a change in the way villains were portrayed with his very own personal swag.
So long legend, we will miss you.
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