Khan Zada (1974)
Cast: Asad Bukhari, Aasia, Iqbal Hassan, Afzal Ahmed, Najma, Naghma, Habib
Director: Akram Khan
Nutshell: Brutal city life turns mild mannered Akram into feared crime kingpin Khan Zada
Clearly producer director Akram Khan believes that given enough time, lightening can indeed strike the same spot twice……..or so he hopes. 27 years after his original scored a bulls-eye at the Box Office Khan has decided to resurrect his crowd-pleasing pot-boiler with an updated version which even retains the same title; Khan Zada.
While the new version featuring Shaan in the title role has just opened, its worth checking out the original to see what all the fuss was about to begin with – and why the film became a monster success. First up Akram (who is also credited for discovering Saima) was able to assemble a stellar cast of big guns for his Punjabi feature including stalwart veteran Matinee idol Asad, who was paired with 70’s siren Aasia, at least half his age. The supporting cast includes peoples (c)hunk Iqbal Hassan and fresh Heera Mandi recruit Najma who has a short but telling contribution in the form of a stunningly saucy dance number to the chart topping Nahid Akhter song Akh Lade te Ladai ja which played a major role in the films success and is in fact being repeated in the updated 2001 version. People apparently went wild showering the screen with coins whenever the song appeared on screen and by all accounts the highlight of the new Khan Zada is this very song lifted from the original. The hit was also a breakthrough for Nahid Akhter who went on to challenge the great Madame Noor Jehan for popularity during the Babra Sharif era.
Other notables lending weight to the cast are another 60’s and early 70’s siren Naghma whose most alluring attribute other than her shapely bum was her notably bushy moustache! Habib, who looks remarkably urbane, soft spoken and polished to be a Punjabi film hero, also makes a brief appearance before disappearing as suddenly as he appeared. 70’s /80’s idol Shahid of the trademark mutton chop sideburns and paunch of affluence also makes a brief guest appearance.
The film begins with an errant husband stealing his wife’s few remaining jewels for the nightly round of satta (gambling) – which of course he proceeds to loose. There is a scuffle and the idiot ends up murdering his adversary. So the bushy haired hubby flees the village and ends up at an old mate’s place who advises him to go to the city and borrow from his elder brother who has amassed a fortune. When refused, he murders his brother in cold blood and takes off into the cover of the dark night. Meanwhile his simpering wife Nasra takes refuge at a kindly business magnate’s house where she is given shelter by the couple who have a small daughter of their own. Nasra’s daughter grows up into Zarina (Aasia) the college topping Ms.Goody Two Shoes. Little does she know that the child that the business magnate has adopted is actually her lost son from the night that they fled the village all those years ago. Fate will bring every one together by the conclusion but for the moment there are the usual bunches of tangled relationships that will slowly untangle as the film goes on.
Zarina demands that her mother Nasra tell her about her father but all she discovers is that he murdered someone and ran away. Later Zarina starts looking for a job and is nearly conned into working at a sleazy club run by none other than her father, who she of course doesn’t recognize. Then the action switches to the village once more where we hear learn about the plight of Zarina’s Aunt who is about to keel over from some illness or the other (or just boredom). Her son, a distinctly craggy, paunchy and wrinkled Asad is desperately worried about mom and consults the local wandering minstrel for advice. The village sage tells Asad to head for the big city where medicine and hospital’s are all free as are doctors! Obviously the sage has smoked one bhang plant too many but Asad heeds his loopy advice and trollops off to the city with ailing Mum hoping to find free hospitals, doctors and medicine.
When Asad discovers that medicine and hospital care cost money he lapses into pseudo-Bhuttoist socialist soliloquies, sobbing profusely and wallowing in pools of self pity. His mother does keel over and instead of burying her, Asad takes the corpse back to the village all the way in a taxi (how did he afford it!?). He arrives back home with the corpse of a festering mother, far more concerned about exercising his socialist diatribes rather than burying her. Just when he has delivered a particularly potent lecture about the evils of the big city he is told that his little sister Naghma has gone off to the very same den of evil in his search. She arrives in the city and is promptly run over by a dashing young prince (Asad) who proceeds to fall madly in love with her despite the bandages. He vows to help her find her mother not knowing that she’s back in the village being denied a burial by her demented son.
Asad returns to the city looking for Naghma and finds the city a most unwelcoming and nasty place full of mean spirited people who haven’t the time of day for a village bumpkin like him. He is treated with disdain wherever he goes and after taking one knock after the other he slowly realizes that his mild mannered, village idiot act won’t get him very far and he transforms himself (largely by wearing a rather camp black cape) into the notorious underworld kingpin known in hushed tones as Khan Zada. Meanwhile he discovers that his sister has jumped to her death trying to escape Jack the nasty scarred henchman who works at the club where innocent young babe’s fresh from the village are duped into “performing”.
The film winds its way to its predictable conclusion and one just waits for the various tangled threads of the plot to unravel in the way that we all know they will. Policeman goes to arrest woman’s beau only to find his own picture hanging in their living room and discovers that the old lady living there is his long lost mother and the woman who is dating the beau is his sister, only problem is she’s being courted by the dreaded criminal known as Khan Zada……….but they all don’t yet know that Khan Zada is actually the Aunt who lives in the village’s (but who is now dead) son!
To call the plot of Khan Zada convoluted would be a huge disservice – it is way beyond that. The film is a typical masala pot-boiler with a tangled web for a plot which miraculously manages to hold together till the end when all strings come together and all ends as it should. The film is carried on the sagging shoulders of Asad who shows his aptitude for delivering high voltage, passion arousing diatribes and turns in a crowd pleasing performance that had us in fits of giggles with its overwhelming levels of ham. The quivering lips, the impassioned speeches, the wailing, the ranting are all construed as superlative acting in these parts and it comes as little surprise that Asad’s career spanned several decades.
Iqbal Hassan is another man who surely couldn’t have been famous for his looks, but then his acting isn’t much to write home about either, so it must have been that bulbous, well rounded physique and those roly-poly cheeks that the audiences found so endearing over the years. Aasia doesn’t have much to do but Najma the new starlet in her debut feature shines and fizzles in her dance number even if she doesn’t have much else to do. It’s pretty average fare really, but with one of those plots that people can sink their teeth into and with enough fiery lecturing diatribes about nasty rich city folk to satisfy the local cinema going audiences. Asad’s dramatics do have a certain je ne sais quoi about them as well as an old world charm and all in all the film at least has a semblance of a plot, however fangled and nonsensical that may be.