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How Kader Khan shaped Amitabh Bachchan's best one-liners

In the five years between 1975 and 1980, Kader Khan established himself as the go-to man for directors like Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra. At that time, Amitabh Bachchan was carving his way to the top as Hindi cinema's superstar. On Kader Khan's 78th birthday, we look at his contribution to Bachchan's film persona.

Shriram Iyengar

Vijay Deenanath Chauhan. Poora naam. Baap ka naam Deenanath Chauhan. Maa ka naam Suhasini Chauhan. Gaanv Mandva. Umr 36 saal, nau mahina, aath din, yeh solva ghanta chal raha hai.. haain? – Agneepath (1990)

Hum jahaan khade ho jaate hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hai. – Kaalia (1981)

Moochein ho to Nathulal jaisi, warna na ho. – Sharaabi (1984)

Apan bohot famous aadmi. Bada bada paper me apanka chota chota photo chapta hai. – Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)

These iconic lines are some of the dialogues that defined the charismatic machismo of Amitabh Bachchan. At the peak of his powers between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s, any Amitabh Bachchan film was sure to contain at least one line that would stay with you long after you had left the theatre.

Backed by two of the most powerful directors in Hindi cinema at the time, Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai, Bachchan became a superstar. Yet, the firepower of his acting prowess required the right ammunition to go with it. After the explosive duo of Salim-Javed, Kader Khan stands out in the list of dialogue writers in Bollywood who were able to deliver the ammo.

Born in the cosmopolitan city of Bombay, Kader Khan was trained to be a civil engineer. Films were a far cry from the middle-class neighbourhood he lived in. Yet, there was an innate connection. While teaching at the Sabu Siddiqui College in Byculla, Kader Khan would write and conduct plays for students.

At one such event, he was spotted by Dilip Kumar, who advised him to try his luck in films. When Dilip Kumar tells you that you are good enough for films, there is not much sense in questioning it. Dilip Kumar was also to give him his first break as an actor in Bairaag (1976). But it was his writing that quickly caught the eye of the fraternity. Simple, humorous, but with a fresh local flavour, these dialogues were resounding statements.

Kader Khan's climb up the ladder was fast. Soon, the baap of blockbusters, Manmohan Desai, approached him to pen lines for his Rajesh Khanna-starrer Roti (1974). The film was a hit, and it made Kader Khan the most sought after dialogue writer in Bombay.

Fighting Amitabh in 'Naseeb'

By the early 1970s, Hindi cinema had acquired a taste for high-flying Urdu which had almost become pantomime. In an interview, Kader Khan mentioned that he found this style of writing artificial. "I hate this language. These writers, they write all proverbs and muhaavras and similes. I want my colloquial language," he said.

Khan's familiar language and direct style made him popular with the masses. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Laawaris (1981), Kaalia (1981), Naseeb (1981) and Coolie (1983) were among the more popular hits Khan delivered for the trio of Manmohan Desai, Amitabh Bachchan and Prakash Mehra. In an increasingly divided industry, Khan was the only artiste, apart from Bachchan himself, who could work for both Desai and Mehra with equal success.

There is bitter humour in some of Khan's dialogues. Later on, he came to be criticised for cliched writing and crass humour, but he never deviated from his simple, conversational style. His lines were effective and straight to the point. They were cheeky, irreverent, without the baggage of grandiose language. Yet, they conveyed timeless truths, making them all the more quotable.

Sample these lines spoken by Bachchan's delightful Anthony in Amar Akbar Anthony: “Aisa to aadmi life mein do heech time bhaagta hai... Olympic ka race ho ya phir police ka case ho. Tum kaay ko bhaagta hai men?” The addition of Bambaiya slang and the East Indian twang of 'men' at the end made Anthony Gonsalves the icon of a million hearts.

Kader Khan's work served to bridge the gap between the high-flying style of the 1970s and the more local, tapori language that became the preferred lingua in the 1990s. For instance, in the celebrated drunken scene, much as the credit goes to Bachchan's improvisation, some measure of applause ought to be reserved for Khan whose timing and local lingo add to the magic of the scene. 

Kader Khan went on to become one of Hindi cinema's most loved comic actors. His sense of timing, panache, and dry humour made him the perfect foil to Govinda's boisterous, over-the-top hysterics. He slipped into the silliest of roles simply.

But it is his writing that requires a lot more praise than it receives. Coming from a middle-class background, Kader Khan brought back the sense of social awareness and colloquial language that had come to be looked down upon in Hindi cinema.

His dialogues synthesised Hindi and Urdu. Bachchan fans continue to mouth these immortal lines. Memes on Facebook and Twitter have spread these lines across the internet generation. At a time when one-liners are the rage, it would be apt to remember the man who wrote about as many as we can remember.

For over 250 films, armed with a pen and some quick wit, Kader Khan taught writers how to make an impact without reaching for the thesaurus.