Probably the easiest way to describe Feroz Khan’s school of filmmaking is: James Bond meets Clint Eastwood in Bombay.
Guns, bikes, cowboy hats, fancy cars, women in bikinis and sequinned gowns with thigh-high slits, catchy music and cheesy dialogues that will later acquire cult status — when you watch a Feroz Khan movie, you get the whole package. The fact that the plot often makes no sense is part of the package.
Perhaps his most successful movie, though, is one that certainly combines all of these things, but also has heart and soul. There’s true love, a feisty, independent woman with a mind and career of her own, a sensitive, widowed father with a cute daughter and a loving, physically affectionate male friendship between the two rivals for the leading lady’s love. The movie in question, of course, is the 1980 smash hit, Qurbani.
In the week of Feroz Khan’s birth anniversary, there is no better movie to rewind to.
All about the bro code
Edited, produced and directed by Khan, the movie stars him as Rajesh, a former motorcycle stuntman who’s now a thief with a particular talent for breaking open safes. He’s not doing this for himself, though — he’s doing it because he wants to dispossess the undeserving of their riches and lay them at the feet of his beloved Sheela (Zeenat Aman) so that she doesn’t have to sing at nightclubs where she is the object of many lewd gazes. (She throws this back in his face later on in the movie, by the way, much to the joy of many women who wonder why she stayed silent earlier on.)
He’s no Robin Hood, but he does have some sympathy for the poor — when he sees a wealthy man abuse and beat a poor beggar, he gets into the driver’s seat of the man’s Mercedes and wrecks the vehicle. The man, a crime lord by the name of Raka (Amrish Puri), is reduced to looking on helplessly. (The story goes that Feroz Khan actually bought a Mercedes just so he could destroy it for this scene. That is how unwilling he was to compromise on his vision.)
Rajesh gets caught one day, by a sharp-tongued cop, played by Amjad Khan, who has a great time being the good guy, for once, and has some phenomenal one-liners. Rajesh is sentenced to three and a half years in jail, where he meets Vikram (Shakti Kapoor), who wants revenge on his former boss, the very same Raka who had swindled his sister, Jwala (Aruna Irani). Vikram hires Rajesh for the job when the two are out of jail, but Sheela puts her foot down and burns the Rs 50,000 that Rajesh receives as an advance.
A parallel track involves Sheela’s friendship with Amar (Vinod Khanna), a widowed father of a young daughter and himself a former employee of Raka’s. The two grow close during the time Rajesh is in jail, and he falls in love with her. But he also later grows extremely close to Rajesh, and the movie then gives equal billing to their friendship, which is a nice touch.
But what this means is that now Vikram and Jwala want revenge not only on Raka, but also on Rajesh for ditching them and on Amar, who got into a fight with Vikram.
The whole movie then hinges on that one word, qurbani, on the sacrifices that Rajesh is willing to make for Sheela, that Rajesh and Amar are willing to make for each other, and the ultimate sacrifice that Amar does make. (In a strange twist of fate, in real life, Feroz Khan and Vinod Khanna, whose most successful film together was Qurbani, died on the same day, 27 April, eight years apart.)
Comedy, drama and a hit song
The film’s plot sounds confusing and inane, but actually, thanks to some nifty editing, fast-paced action and hilarious dialogues (courtesy Kader Khan), it trots along smoothly and the improbable details (like Raka’s lurid den with tiger heads and red lights, or the fact that Sheela didn’t know Rajesh was a thief until his arrest even though they had been dating for over a year) are minor technicalities. This is a film that is pure, out-and-out fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Sample, for instance, a scene when Sheela, just after a sizzling performance, is accosted by a too-familiar male fan who compliments just how sexy she is. Rajesh gives him a few solid ones and asks him “Do you think I’m sexy?” When Sheela tries to calm him down and explain that the guy was just a fan, Rajesh says, “Doosri baar kabhi aisa fan mila, toh pankhe se latka doonga” (If I meet such a fan again, I’ll hang him from the fan).
Perhaps the most serious bit of the movie comes at the beginning, with a monologue by Feroz Khan dedicating the movie to the late Sanjay Gandhi, son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had, that year, died in a plane crash. It is a bit odd, given that Feroz Khan never actually met “sleeping prince of India”, but perhaps it’s in keeping with the fact that Khan was known to have his whims and quirks.
Zeenat Aman, for example, recalled that one day when she reached the set an hour late, he made her pay the entire crew their fees for that wasted hour. And everyone by now knows that Feroz Khan went against all Bollywood convention and got an international composer, Biddu, to compose one song for the film’s soundtrack, the rest of which was the handiwork of Kalyanji-Anandji. The duo, and everyone around him, tried to convince him this was a bad idea, but Feroz Khan stuck to his guns. The result was Aap Jaisa Koi, sung by 15-year-old Pakistani Nazia Hassan, who became a sensation in India. She was the first non-Indian to win a Filmfare and remains the youngest winner.