Letter to Bollywood’s Marlboro Man, Feroz Khan, From Reporter Raju

Khalid Mohamed writes an emotional ode to Feroz Khan, the actor who inspired him to try his hand in journalism.

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Entertainment
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Feroz Khan projected a screen presence which defined cool, at a time when the word didn’t figure in everyday patois.
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This is a letter which I longed to write to Feroz Khan but didn’t or couldn’t. For me above all, he was a fearless journalist. The first day I walked in as a trainee reporterinto a newspaper office, I wanted to be an investigative crime buster, just the way he was in the black-and-white movie Reporter Raju.

Fat chance. I couldn’t ever crack cases on the crime beat. Childishly though, Reporter Raju continued to be my role model. Plus, he had me in a thrall during his early bunch of B-graders, be it in the period fantasy Samson playing second fiddle to Dara Singh. Or as a dude obsessing over a portrait of a rather plump woman in Tasveer.

Never really an actor, he could play only one part: Feroz Khan, the star. He projected a screen presence which defined cool, at a time when the word didn’t figure in everyday patois. Some said he would ape Shammi Kapoor, and he’d retort, “Yeah? Go check your ears and eyesight.”

Today, April 27, is his seventh death anniversary. The Khan passed away, after battling with lung cancer, at the age of 69 in Bangalore – his hometown and preferred getaway.Here, then, is the belated letter:

Feroz Khan with Amitabh Bachchan. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/MosesSapir">@<b>MosesSapir</b></a>)<a href="https://twitter.com/MosesSapir"></a>
Feroz Khan with Amitabh Bachchan. (Photo courtesy: @MosesSapir)

My dear dear Mr Khan,

In a very strange way, I owe my job to you.Kids can be very impressionable. So I wanted to become Reporter Raju. Lately, I watched the film on video all over again. It has dated terribly but still it keeps unspooling in my silly head.

Don’t laugh. So does another oddity, Ek Sapera Ek Lutera of slippery ladders and snake charmers. And it was thrilling when you crossed swords with Ashok Kumar and Raaj Kumar in Oonche Log and retained your poise in second leads in Aadmi aur Insaan, Aarzoo and Safar.

Invariably, my Raju didn’t win the leading ladies. And I must admit that even I’d rah-rah for Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar and Rajesh Khanna. Still, you were super suave, and did what the script demanded of you – of transmitting the personality of the dapper counterpoint to the heroes. Chivalrous losers, I guess, can’t be choosers.

Did this ever bug you? Is this the reason why in so many of your latter-day movies you planted strategically lines of dialogue describing you as ‘khubsurat’? Sure looks-wise you were hero material. Opportunity-wise, perhaps, you were zero,till you could make the great escape from the sidebar ghetto.

A poster of the 1980 movie <i>Qurbani</i>. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/dominiq37292655">@dominiq37292655</a>)
A poster of the 1980 movie Qurbani. (Photo courtesy: @dominiq37292655)

Maybe that curry western, Khotte Sikkay, which is regarded as the precursor of Sholay, did the trick. You were the Clint Eastwood-like horse rider on a vendetta spree, complete with the mandatory baleful gaze.

Undoubtedly, Apradh your first outing as a director – now why didn’t you take that decision earlier — is my favourite, associating you forever with fast cars, cigarillos, attitude,hot pants and women oozing sexuality.

Speaking of sex appeal, Zeenat Aman rocked majorly in Qurbani on the beachfront in a sarong and just had to twirl a hip to make the Nazia Hassan-crooned disco anthem, Aap jaisa koi, so saucily seductive.

I’m not so mad about Dharmatma and Dayavan. Why do a Coppola or a Mani Ratnam when you have your own signature, sir? Jaanbaaz, Yalgar, disappointed me, though they were bankably slick and peppered with punchy moments.

Cowboy boots, Stetsonhats, unbuttoned shirts became your dress code on screen, dark suits and glare sat the annual derby and the ritzy SOBO bars. Horses, chimps and tigers would be guest stars in your movies. Off screen, diamond-dripping socialites would be guests at your Bangalore stud farm. Way to be swishy!

But sir, why was your son Fardeen Khan’s debut Prem Agan so unintentionally whacky. You must admit it was a dead-loss, nearly killed Jr’s career, redeemed mercifully with the financial success of Jaanasheen. Truth be told I merely remember Jaanasheen for Celina Jaitley in a bikini playing a violin mid-ocean. Kinky!

Feroz Khan with Salma Agha. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/VintageMuVyz">@<b>VintageMuVyz</b></a>)<a href="https://twitter.com/VintageMuVyz"></a>
Feroz Khan with Salma Agha. (Photo courtesy: @VintageMuVyz)

From what I’ve tracked,  if you’d break into a brawl, or accept your wife’s invectives in Stardust about your wayward ways, your ‘no comments’stance to the media, indicated that you cared a damn about doing the wrong thing. You weren’t the most goody-two-shoes man to know.

Which is why I was apprehensive that evening, when I dropped in at your Juhu villa, to request you to accept the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award.  In fact it was a job to keep a straight face when you heard my colleague and me out. There you were, sitting by the pool, in the teeniest of swimming trunks. Your response was priceless. A humongous pause.

Next: Since yousensed it was my colleague Nilufer Qureshi’s birthday, you sang out full-throatedly, “Happy birthday….oh oh Niloooo, happy birthday to yoooooo hooo Niloooo.”

Champagne was uncorked, a cake was summoned, and you worried, “Are you sure you guys have come to the right address? A Lifetime Achievement Award for me?”

I couldn’t tell you the request for that award happened to be from a lifelong wannabe Reporter Raju.  So thank you sir forever, with duas.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter)

(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Feroz Khan’s birth anniversary.)

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