The year, 1977. The speaker of that iconic dialogue, Anthony Gonsalves. The film, Amar Akbar Anthony. The director, the king of masala, Manmohan Desai. And the dialogue writer, the one and only Kader Khan.
Those lines, and practically every other classic cluster from this bachpan-mein-bichade-bhai blockbuster, made us laugh louder than we had in a long time. We held our bellies. We guffawed. And we returned, just to hear those lines again. And again.
By then, Amitabh Bachchan had cemented his reputation as the hero who could fight off 20 people in a godown, wiping blood off his chin, glowering that famous glower. He had also done a bunch of brooding, intense parts in melodramas.
The only film before Amar Akbar Anthony in which Bachchan’s funny bone was visible was in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chupke Chupke. What Amar Akbar Anthony did was to give him the chance to cross over to the comic side, and own it. With it, he became the ‘complete star’ and went on to demolish every other pretender to the Number One slot. It could well be that Bachchan got so big because he was at the intersection of a certain time and place in Hindi cinema, but there’s no doubt that a lot of it had to do with the genius of Kader Khan. Khan died in Toronto, Canada on Monday after a prolonged illness. He was 81.
Only those who have experienced and loved the masala cinema of 70s and 80s Bollywood will understand the real significance of that moniker ‘dialogue writer’. Khan was the man who made those movies what they were. He spanned 40 years plus in Hindi cinema, coming up with the best lines for Rajesh Khanna, Bachchan and Govinda, and helped create some of their most memorable characters.
As an actor who lasted all the way until the mid-2000s, he was no slouch. But the sheer number of acting credits he amassed in one forgettable film after another made you feel that he was just switching sets. He could be as light on his feet as the star he shared maximum screen time with, Govinda. He also played the villain in a few films but was mostly stuck to broad comic roles, his success depending on him being one of those performers who breathed life into the most ridiculous situations and characters just because they went at it with everything they got.
But what he really did best was nail the cadence and rhythm of the character he was writing for, and that’s what made those dialogues so perfect, and so apt. He brought his knowledge of the world and a certain kind of erudition to the table when he sat down to write: his dialogues never felt grafted on, they felt organic. Like who else but Anthony Bhai, the tapori who could be street-smart and sassy, could say these hilarious lines: “Aisa to aadmi life mein do heech time bhaagta hai… Olympic ka race ho ya phir police ka case ho.”
It’s safe to say Amitabh Bachchan wouldn’t have been Amitabh Bachchan, the all-round star, who could fight and dance and sing and throw out comic lines with equal panache if it hadn’t been for Khan. Those who understand just how hard it is to write funnies should take a tip or two from Khan’s whip-fast repertoire and the ability to insert just the right amount of a certain something -endearing bawdiness for Govinda, lewdness for Kapoor, and self-awareness laced fun for Bachchan.
It is true, Kader saheb. The line started from where you began.