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Feroz Khan: India's Clint Eastwood

March 25, 2003 16:51 IST

Dinesh Raheja

Feroz Khan and his films were largely about panache and style.Feroz Khan

Khan did not walk, he swaggered.

No wan smile for him. This red-blooded man preferred to win women with a cheesy grin that reached his crinkling eyes.

He left his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a brawny chest and sported tight fitting trousers.

A cigarette dangled from his lips, a femme fatale hung on his arm and a horse waited for his bidding. He spoke with an American twang.

The Clint Eastwood of the East seems to have come via Texas, not Bangalore.

His admirers vouch that tough man Khan's appeal lay in what he held back rather than what he expressed. In an age when underplaying was considered the domain of character actors like Balraj Sahni and Motilal, Khan's emotional economy was often mistaken for wooden acting. Some even argued that Khan gave a lot of emphasis on style to distract from deficiencies in his acting.

Feroz Khan's landmark films





 Oonche Log

 K R Vijaya



 Rajendra Kumar,  Sadhana


 Aadmi Aur  Insaan 

 Dharmendra, Saira Banu,  Mumtaz



 Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila  Tagore





 Khotte Sikkey

 Rehana Sultan



 Hema Malini, Rekha



 Zeenat Aman



 Anil Kapoor, Dimple  Kapadia, Sridevi

But there is no debating the ruggedly attractive Feroz Khan had the makings of a matinee idol. Baffling but true, the industry was reluctant to give Khan his due for a decade.

After acquiring an English accent from a cosmopolitan school in Bangalore, Khan arrived in Mumbai to make a nondescript debut in Didi (1960). Throughout the 1960s, he was mired in low-budget thrillers opposite starlets: Reporter Raju (Chitra), Samson (Ameeta), Ek Sapera Ek Lutera (Kum Kum) and CID 909 (Mumtaz). The budding actor even played villainish younger brother in the Guru Dutt-Mala Sinha weepy Bahurani (1963).

Khan fuelled his thirst to prove himself with the taut black and white drama Oonche Log (1965). He played an unrepentant playboy who impregnates his girlfriend but refuses to marry her, robs his blind father (Ashok Kumar) and lets his brother (Raaj Kumar) bear the brunt of his father's whip. Some of the shine of his senior costars seemed to rub off on him and his confident performance was appreciated.

The same year, Khan reformed to play the sacrificing lover in the mushy musical Arzoo, with big stars like Rajendra Kumar and Sadhana. He grabbed the role -- it gave him a chance to be in the big league. Khan earned his entry into the A-list through strong second leads in big films like B R Chopra's Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969) and Asit Sen's Safar (1970). His terse performance as the construction magnate with flexible morals who declares war on his righteous friend (Dharmendra) in Aadmi Aur Insaan won Khan the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award.

The buzz is that in Safar, Khan proved the bee in reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna's bonnet. Khan's performance as Sharmila Tagore's envious husband made compelling viewing. Mukesh's melodious voice resonated beautifully with Khan's tender-tough personality. The romantic solo Jo tumko ho pasand from Safar (with a musical horn accompanying Mukesh's voice) and the soulful solo Darpan ko dekha tune jab jab kiya shringar from Upaasna became jukebox favourites.

Khan made it to the grade of singing hero, a prerequisite for the Hindi film hero.

But 'hero' roles in big banner films and A-list heroines were still beyond the actor's reach.

Tired of playing second fiddle even to brother Sanjay (who entered the Hindi film fray much after Feroz) in films like Mela and Upaasna, Khan decided to become a producer-director himself.

Right from his maiden venture Apradh (1972), high glamour and slick action were crucial to his oeuvre.

Feroz Khan's famous songs




 Jaag dil-e-deewana

 Oonche Log

 Mohammed  Rafi

 Dil ki girah khol do

 Raat Aur  Din

 Manna  Dey, Lata  Mangeshkar

 Jo tumko ho pasand



 Darpan ko dekha



 Hamare siwa  tumhare


 Kishore  Kumar, Lata  Mangeshkar

 Mujhe nahin  poochni 

 Anjaan  Raahein


 Jeevan mein tu  darna

 Khotte  Sikkey

 Kishore  Kumar

 Kya khoob lagti ho


 Mukesh,  Kanchan

 Kya dekhte ho


 Mohammed  Rafi, Asha  Bhonsle

In the pacy Apradh, Khan played a car racer. He cast his favourite heroine Mumtaz as a gangster's stooge on a mission to smuggle diamonds, while bedazzling Khan with her sunny smile and bikini. A think big specialist, he successfully shot the famous Nuremberg car race (Germany), with the help of a prince from the royal family of the Leopolds.

Apradh was a modest hit and an enthused Khan, inspired by Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather made his next glossy saga Dharmatma (1975). Premnath was cast in Marlon Brando's role, while Khan fashioned his role after Al Pacino. Top liner Hema Malini acquiesced to play a fiery Afghan belle. Khan shot a major chunk of the film in Afghanistan and incorporated exciting footage of the local sport buzkushi where two horsemen battle for a piece of meat.

He worked for outside producers, but was partial to curry Westerns: Khotte Sikkey (1974), Kala Sona (1975) and Kabeela (1976). His obsession with the underworld continued in his third venture Qurbani (1980), a slick love story with action as its mainstay. That he reduced an expensive Mercedes to pieces for a scene was much publicised, as was Zeenat Aman's sexy gyrations to chanteuse Nazia Hassan's chartbuster Aap jaisa koi.

But his galloping streak of luck broke into a canter after Qurbani. In his latter-day performances in colossal home productions like Jaanbaaz (1986), Dayavan (the feeble 1988 adaptation of Kamal Haasan's Nayakan) and Yalgaar (1992), his charisma seemed frayed at the edges.

By 1998, Khan had separated from his wife Sundari. He launched his son Fardeen with Prem Aggan, a film that failed to fire the imagination of the masses. Unperturbed, he plunged into making Jaanasheen for Fardeen.
The 60-plus Feroz is not going to hang up his cowboy boots soon.

Dinesh Raheja