During one of those nostalgic discussions that have made us '90s kids the subjects of memes, the name of Kader Khan popped up. The excellent comedian who played memorable roles in David Dhawan–Govinda comedies seemed to be the prominent recollection. To tweak a line by cricket journalist CLR James, What do they know of Kader Khan that only the '90s know? Kader Khan's contribution to Hindi cinema goes beyond these comedies that have dated badly (the movies, not his acting). Sung or unsung, his legacy remains for posterity in some of the biggest commercial hits of '70s and '80s, many featuring Amitabh Bachchan.
Although Salim-Javed rightfully get the credit for creating the Angry Young Man image of Amitabh, it was Kader Khan's writing that had a crucial part in some of the subsequent biggest hits that made Bachchan a pan-Indian phenomenon. Kader Khan wrote the screenplay and dialogues for two of the biggest commercial directors of the '70s and '80s, Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai. These were directors from two different schools of filmmaking: while Desai was larger than life, light-hearted and pure masala, Prakash Mehra made heady cocktails of emotion and action (his Muqaddar ka Sikandar is arguably the finest commercial interpretation of Devdas). Along with Amitabh, Kader Khan traversed these diverse worlds and shaped them with equal ease through his writing. His filmography as a screenwriter in mainstream Hindi cinema is a matter of envy for anyone in the same profession – Roti, Amar Akbar Anthony, Khoon Pasina, Muqaddar ka Sikandar, Suhaag, Lawaaris, Namak Halal, Coolie, Sharaabi, Hum and many more.
Whether it was the swag-filled repartee in Sharaabi (Samundar me tairne waale kuoun aur taalabon me dubki nahi lagate) or dispensing notes on the art of living in Muqaddar ka Sikandar (Sukh me haste ho to dukh me kahkahe lagao, zindagi ka andaaz badal jayega), the simple yet funny alcohol-is-injurious-to-health disclaimer through Amitabh's "Daaru peene se liver kharab ho jaata hai" rant in Satte pe Satta, or mocking the queen's language in Namak Halal (I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English, because English is a very funny language) – it was Bachchan's powerful voice echoing in theatres, but it was also the potency of Kader Khan's lines that lent credence to the reverberations.
Then came the '90s where Kader Khan the actor took centrestage and his screenwriting output declined. And one day, Kader Khan disappeared from the screen and as easily from public memory, just like many once-successful stars in the Bollywood sky faded into oblivion, sometimes without good reason. What remained were the Dulhe Rajas and the Saajan Chale Sasurals, where his comic timing was excellent as always, but these snapshots were barely the outer edges of the exquisite portrait whose primary display was his filmography as a writer.
A combination of snobbery and ignorance, sometimes the later inducing the former, leads to people disregarding certain film makers, writers and entire time periods in our film history (the 1980s being a victim of this). One could say the same about this civil engineer born in Kabul. Chroniclers of Hindi film history have more often relegated Kader Khan to the comedy section with at best a footnote in the screenwriting department, and that is a travesty. Khan's contribution to mainstream Hindi cinema and the creation of one of its most iconic superstars deserves a fitting recognition and celebration. A question along the lines of what he wrote for Anupam Kher's Dr. Dang in Karma, 'Kader Khan ke dialogues ki goonj suni tumne?', should get a resounding 'Haan!' in response.