Smashing cars like he did stereotypes, infatuated with stallions and bikes, rawhide boots and hats to boot… Feroz Khan was raging testosterone. The bravado of Clint Eastwood, the machismo of John Wayne, the shenanigans of James Bond… Feroz Khan was our homegrown buccaneer.
His screen damsels, blatantly sensuous, were distinct from the Bollywood throng.
Mumtaz slithered in a bikini in Apradh. Hema Malini as tribal Reshma in Dharmatma was exotica while casino star Zeenat Aman in Qurbani was erotica.
Dimple Kapadia was steam and sex in Janbaaz, just as Sridevi, in the same, threw away tradition for slinky chiffon – cutting a silhouette of glamour.
Even a reticent Madhuri Dixit gave in to a long-drawn kiss in Dayavan… such was the compulsion of his vision.
Off-screen too, Feroz Khan’s old-world protocol left women charmed. “I’m a man amongst men but better amongst women,” he once described himself. Frank Sinatra’s song, I will do it my way, topped his playlist. It was something Cowboy Khan lived by till he galloped into the sunset.
Born Zulfiqar Ali Shah Khan on 25 September 1939, to an Afghan father and Iranian mother, Feroz Khan was the oldest amongst his siblings – Sanjay Khan, Shahrukh Shah Ali Khan, Sameer Khan and Akbar Khan and sister Dilshad Bibi. The Khan children looked up to their firm but loving father – Baba, who served the Nizam’s government in Hyderabad.
Feroz’s craze for machines began early. Once, gifted a motorcycle on his birthday, he rode it to school. He was banned from class that day! His fascination for horses was as consuming. Legend goes that young Feroz once rode a horse, borrowed from a carriage-wallah, straight into the classroom. Not surprising that later in life, he became a member of the Bangalore Turf Club. He owned around 10 horses.
Sadly, Feroz’s father father developed a brain tumour and lost his vision. Feroz was only 16 when Baba passed away. The family left Hyderabad for Bangalore where his mother had inherited property from her family.
Young Feroz later travelled to Bombay. He worked at a pool table to make ends meet. Brothers Feroz, Sanjay, Sameer and Akbar joined films. The boys remained deeply bonded through their starry journeys, despite rumours of fallouts given the infamous Pathan ‘temper’.
“There’ve been moments of love-hate between us (his brothers) but this happens in every family… Even today… few are talking and few are sulking with each other. That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other… They look upon me as a father figure… All five of us are hot-headed. This trait we’ve inherited from our father, it’s the Khan legacy,” a candid Feroz Khan once told Filmfare.
Feroz made his debut as second lead in Didi (1960). Then on he appeared in fantastical dramas, including Samson (Ameeta), Ek Sapera Ek Lutera (Kum Kum) and Char Darvesh (Saeeda Khan). Even in humdrum fares, his sensuality was palpable as in the OP Nayyar song Chahe to jaan le lo (CID 909) with Mumtaz.
His first hit was Phani Majumdar’s Oonche Log (1965), where he was pitted against Raaj Kumar. “On the first day, Raj Kumar advised me how to say my dialogue. I politely told him, ‘Rajji aap apna kaam kijiye mein apna kaam karoonga. If I need any help I’ll ask you.’… God bless his soul, he was still a nice guy,” Feroz was thus quoted in a throwback Filmfare chat.
In Raat Aur Din (1967), he played a flamboyant socialite smitten by Nargis’ character. He was the second lead in Rajendra Kumar’s Arzoo (1965), Sunil Dutt’s Pyasi Sham (1969) and brother Sanjay Khan’s Mela and Upaasna (both in 1971). BR Chopra’s Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969) won him the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award for his dash of fire and ire as a thwarted capitalist.
Asit Sen’s Safar (1970) cast him against superstar Rajesh Khanna. As Sharmila Tagore’s husband, he played a character overwhelmed by doubt and debt. Jo tumko ho pasand filmed on Sharmila and him against the scenic ghats added colour to an otherwise grim film.
Khote Sikkay (1974) was the curry Western with horses and ponchos, a precursor to the Feroz Khan juggernaut. Just as Geeta Mera Naam (1974) and Nagin (1976) were machismo overkill.
“I’m too much of an independent person. When I do an outside film, I feel like a paid labourer. I’m my own boss,” Feroz once explained why he ventured into direction. He turned producer/director with FK International’s Apradh (1970). The film showcased the Grand Prix in Germany and was famous for the funk-rock song Ae naujawan hai sab sung by Asha Bhosle.
He later directed the Godfather-inspired Dharmatma (1975). Shot in Afghanistan, it included the horse sport Buzkashi. Premnath was cast in Marlon Brando’s role, while Feroz stepped into Al Pacino’s realm.
The aerial shots along the rough topography, won Kamal Bose the Filmfare Award for Best Cinematographer. Kalyanji-Anandji’s album including Kya khoob lagti ho, Tere chehre mein woh jaadoo hai, Tumne kabhi kisise pyaar kiya hai… was a sell-out.
Apparently based on the Kirk Douglas movie The Master Touch, Qurbani (1980), was a blockbuster. Late Pakistani pop singer Nazia Hassan’s Aap jaisa koi, composed by Biddu, ushered the disco mania.
Zeenat Aman’s bikini shot, which Feroz refused to chop, got the film an A certificate. Laila O Laila featuring Zeenat and Amjad Khan and Hum tumhein chahte hain aise... filmed on Zeenat and Vinod Khanna are a rage on the remix circuit.
Janbaaz (1986) was about love, drugs and death. Inspired by the Gregory Peck-Joseph Cotten starrer Duel In The Sun, it had pulsating music by Kalyanji-Anandji.
Dayavan (1988) was the remake of the South film, Nayagan, about a benevolent don. The lingering kiss between Madhuri Dixit and Vinod Khanna ignited auditoriums just as did the song Aaj phir tum pe (later reprised in Hate Story 2).
Yalgaar (1992), front-lined by Feroz Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Kabir Bedi and Mukesh Khanna had two friends on the opposite sides of the law. The Channi Singh composed Baarish ka bahana hai (Sanjay-Nagma) was a crowd-puller.
“When I portrayed sex on screen, it was never vulgar. When the censor board lady objected to the two-minute kiss in Dayavan I asked her, ‘Haven’t you experienced this? Or else your husband is not a romantic man, ignoring a beautiful lady like you’,” said Feroz (DNA).
Feroz launched son Fardeen Khan with the tepid Prem Aggan (1998). He redeemed himself with the hit Janasheen in 2003, which also starred Fardeen and Celina Jaitley. It captured the World Mobike Championship in Melbourne. Anees Bazmee’s Welcome (2007), where he played the quirky don RDX, was Feroz’s last unforgettable screen appearance.
Coming to his personal life, Feroz and Sundari met in 1962 and dated for three years before getting married. The couple was blessed with daughter, Laila (Khan) and son Fardeen (Khan).
Reportedly, it was Feroz’s relationship with air-hostess Jyotika Dhanrajgir that caused them to split in 1985. The ex-spouses, who remained friends, lived under the same roof but on different floors.
“I’ve been a romantic at heart. But my relationships are not all about sex. You can’t see the most beautiful woman naked every day. A woman has her facets, her adas. She should reflect both sensuousness and sincerity,” Feroz told DNA. Asked whether he’d like to pen an autobiography his reply was, “It would dig out a lot of skeletons.”
He asserted that he’d been a good father to Fardeen and Laila. “The kids and I share a fabulous relationship. With their parents having divorced when they were barely 10 or 11, it must have been tough on them,” he said.
About Fardeen he said, “We are close… yet I don’t invade his privacy and he doesn’t encroach mine… we’ve discussed every aspect of life be it his profession, women or sex.” (Filmfare)
In 2000, Feroz was diagnosed with cancer. After fighting cancer for almost nine years – way beyond what doctors had predicted - Feroz breathed his last on April 27, 2009.
The actor had once said, “The tragedy is that nothing lasts. But the sunset is beautiful.” To add colour to the fading moments, he spent the last days of his life at his cherished farmhouse in Chikkabidarakallu village in Bangalore with his horses and loved ones.
According to his wishes, he was buried in Bangalore, next to his mother.
“People who’re scared of death, forget to live… I’ve lived each moment. I’ve had some triumphs and some tribulations. I would never trade places with anyone else in the world (Filmfare),” once said the actor. Nothing could be truer.