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Kader Khan’s career took off right in front of my eyes, recalls Satish Shah


Satish Shah knew Kader Khan from the days when he was an engineering professor writing and directing socio-political plays at inter-college competitions.

Keyur Seta

Film lovers in India were left in a state of sorrow on New Year's Day with news of the demise of veteran actor and dialogue writer Kader Khan, coming on the heels of the passing of legendary filmmaker Mrinal Sen.

Kader Khan was known for a number of entertainers from the 1970s through the early 2000s. But not many of today's generation may know he was a professor of civil engineering at a reputed Bombay college, or that he had flourished as a theatre writer and director much before he came to cinema.

Actor Satish Shah looked back at this part of Kader Khan’s career in an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com.

Kader Khan (1937 – 2018): A master at writing dialogue as well as delivering it

"I knew him long before he made it to the movies," veteran actor and comedian Shah said. "I knew him when he was a professor in Saboo Siddik College. Not many may know that he was also a civil engineer.”

Despite being an engineer and a professor, Khan was very much inclined towards theatre, Shah recalled, and directed plays at St Xavier’s College, where Shah was a student. “He wrote a lot of one-act plays," he said, "and I performed in a few of them. So I knew him as a playwright and theatre director, not as an actor. If invited, he would come and direct plays at Xavier's and charge a nominal fee.”

Going on to Khan’s long and successful stint in the movies, Shah said, “In Jawani Diwani (1972), he wrote the dialogues and then he started making appearances. He acted in small movies and then he hit the big time.”

Shah himself went on to act in movies that also starred Kader Khan. Some of these were Saajan Chale Sasural (1996), Judwaa (1997), Hero No 1 (1997), and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004). Interestingly, in Aag Aur Shola (1986), Satish Shah played an over-aged student while Kader Khan played the professor.

Shah said he never had any problems working with Khan. “Of course he had all the punch lines because he wrote them! But I managed to cope with that. We acted together, but I was never with him the way Shakti Kapoor and Asrani were. I had my own characters and there wasn’t much coordination happening with his,” he said.

Of course, there were moments when Shah and Khan would go on a nostalgic trip thinking about their theatre days. “After the shoot or between shots we all sat together and had a lot of fun," he said. "We also discussed the good old days when I was a student and he would come and direct us. He knew I had great respect for the one-act plays he had written.” 

Some of these plays garnered a lot of admiration at inter-collegiate competitions and also won awards. Recalling some of them, Shah said, “Local Train Ka Dibba was one famous play of his. Then there were Badi Der Ki Meherbaan Aate Aate and Agar Yehi Raftaar Rahi Toh. They all had socio-political comments wrapped in humour.” 

The last time Shah met Kader Khan was probably eight years ago at an event. “He said he was doing an interpretation of the Quran and translating it in English," Shah said. "He was living in his house in Pune for that. He stayed there in tranquillity. That was the last conversation I had with him. I wished him all the best.” Shah also promised Khan he would visit him if he went to Pune. That never happened and a few years later Khan left India to be with his son in Canada.

In a sense, Satish Shah has been a witness to Kader Khan’s journey from the days of inter-college theatre competition to the heights of popularity in Hindi cinema. “Everything in his life and his career happened right in front of me," he said. "Not that I was in his age group. But I was around when it all took place. He was a very witty and talented man, even in real life. His passing is a great loss, of course."