If there was one man in Bollywood who could be called flamboyant, that man would be Feroz Khan.
Feroz Khan was hardly a ‘desi’ hero. He was overtly Westernised and unapologetic about it. His Afghan descent gave him ruggedly handsome looks, and with his polished manner and impeccable fashion sense, Khan was a trend-setter of a different kind. He carried off his cowboy image with ease.
No other leading man in Bollywood could get away with the incongruity of an Indian hero riding across a typically desi countryside, with a Stetson on his head, bandanna around his neck, sporting a pair of six-guns, a Mexican cigarillo dangling from his lips, looking like a character directly out of a Louis L’Amour novel, and then breaking into a desi dance and speaking pure Bambaiya Hindi. Only Feroz Khan could pull that off.
Feroz Khan hails from my town, Bangalore. He was born here in 1939 and did his education here. He began his career in Bollywood in 1960, as second lead in a movie called Didi. He was first noted for his performance in the 1965 hit Oonche Log. In the same year, he played second lead in Arzoo, a runaway hit. After that, Khan came into his own. His role in Aadmi aur Insaan (1970) got him the Filmfare award for best supporting actor.
In 1971, Khan became a film maker in his own right. Apradh, his directorial debut, was shot in Germany and was the first Bollywood movie to be shot entirely abroad. The movie was fast-paced and well made, but Indian audiences thought it was too Westernised, what with all those skimpily clad videshi women and exotic locales. I liked it, though, for the same reasons!
Feroz Khan’s next attempt was Dharmatma in 1975, during India’s Emergency period. The movie was loosely based on Mario Puzo’s Godfather and was a huge hit. Khan did not look back after that. Through the next decade, he produced and directed several hits like Dayavaan, Jaanbaaz, Yalgaar, and Qurbani.
In Qurbani, Khan brought a major singing sensation to India, Nazia Hassan. Her ‘Aap jaisa koi‘ number composed by Biddu Appaiah is one of Bollywood’s top all-time hits.
Khan had one big weakness – his temper. And alcohol could bring out his bad side. His drunken brawls were legendary in Bangalore. As was his love for horses.
Feroz Khan certainly knew how to live life king-size. His vast estate off Tumkur Road, 40 km from Bangalore has a spectacular farmhouse, fully equipped film studio, swimming pool, billiards room, several works of art from around the world and a top-class stable. The estate was used for the shooting of Qurbani.
India’s favorite cowboy died on April 29, 2009 in the same farmhouse, after he lost his battle with cancer. I still find it hard to believe that such a larger-than-life personality could be no more.
Here is a rare and exquisite soft number rendered by Mohammad Rafi, as only he can, from Oonche Log.
Cheers … Srini.