The Qurbani star was charismatic, path-breaking and ahead of the times, writes his daughter Laila Khan Furniturewalla
They say your parents never die. They live through you and they leave things through you and that’s the law of the cycle of life. – Laila Khan Furniturewalla
My father was a man larger than life. “Be unapologetic for who you are, do what you want. You want to fall in love at 65? fall in love, if you want to marry get married. Don’t hide or be apologetic about your life rather be bold and make your choices, be upfront about it.” That’s the way he would look at life – and age didn’t matter, for him age was all about how you feel. Even in his sixties sometimes he would wear an earring, his bracelet and he would carry it off. According to him every age has to be lived. He was a modern man – the way he sat, smoked his cigarette, the kind of clothes he wore that was just him.
Coming from an orthodox Muslim family didn’t stop him to live his life in his terms. At the age of fourteen on one hand he was a Quran Hafiz – he could recite Quran and on the other hand he would strut among orthodox Muslims with his cowboy hat, his toy gun and boots in the lanes of an old town in Bangalore, where they lived. While his father wanted him to become a barrister just like him, my father had stars in his eyes. He loved Hollywood and the films made there. He admired Italian Film directors. His passion for cinema got him to Bombay. He arrived with no money, contacts, or a godfather; all he had was the passion of becoming an actor and that was his destiny. He struggled, worked hard and rest is history.
On set he was a stickler for professionalism. He didn’t like people coming late. He was a no-nonsense person when it came to work. He expected professionalism that is how he would treat his actors. He was very particular about his work and didn’t take it lightly. If someone took their work lightly, he didn’t like that. He was very passionate; he gave it all and expected the same.
Back then most of the Muslim actors would change their real name to a Hindu name. Before him Yusuf Khan changed his name to Dilip Kumar. But my father was the first Muslim actor to keep his real name, Feroz Khan and I admire that he chose to keep it real. Although I feel he should have done more movies. I remember after he finished Qurbani, he had so many offers and he refused most of them because he wouldn’t do things just for money. I asked him one day, why are you refusing these films? To that he said, “I will have to work under someone else’s production and vision, I don’t want that happening.” When he made his films, he would not only produce, direct, edit but also be involved in the music and writing. We never saw him while he was filming, he would be so engrossed.
He was a very secular man and before his movie mahurat he would always have a pandit and a maulvi on the set. However, he introduced the Western genre to Bollywood with his cow-boyish stagger and flamboyant masculine style, being referred as the Clint Eastwood and a style icon of the glam industry. Also he brought many firsts to Indian cinema – the disco genre, flew down international dancers at that time, created beautiful, Hollywood-inspired sets, he brought in that disco music – aap jaisa koi. His films were very slick, fast-paced with dynamic angles and sharp cutting patterns; the quality of production value was refined. His filmmaking was unique and ahead of the time. He was very much into the sensuality of women. His movies had a lot of passion involved but they were never vulgar, he handled it artistically.
He had a lot of talent but he wasn’t a show-off; he was a reserved guy. He didn’t like too much attention. He gave his interviews only when his movies were being released. Because that’s the time he wanted to talk about them. Rest of the time he would keep the publicity away. And when he was out if it, he was out of it. If you notice between all his films there are breaks for a few years because that’s how he worked.
He lived his life, did whatever he wanted. He would take care of his food, never over-ate, did not have a strict diet but he would always get up when he was half full. During his breaks he would meet his friends, travel, read, write, recite poetry. We would go to our farmhouse in Bangalore, he loved spending time with us over there. We had horses there, so we would go racing. Also, he loved them and most Sundays would be a race day for him. At times he would go for shikaar – hunting, he was fond of it. We have some lovely memories of us being in our farmhouse and our parties there. He was everything but he wasn’t the typical father or the typical family man. He had his own life and liked the ease of it.
I was named Laila by him as he loved the name. I clearly remember, when he was making Qurbani I was eight years old. One evening he came home and said ‘I have a gift for you and I think you are going to like this one’ I got curious to know what it was and he played the song Laila O Laila. He had composed that song after my name and I truly cherish this memory. The song was composed in 1978. It’s been more than 40 years and till date it is played. Recently Shah Rukh Khan remixed it in his film Raees and it was beautifully received.
My father wasn’t an expressive man but I understood him. I related to him. He was very protective of me and that’s how I was brought up. Loved but never spoilt. He would entrust a lot of responsibilities on me and I tried my best to carry them out as much as I could. He wasn’t easy, he was a perfectionist hence I learned a lot from him. The responsibilities made me grow up overnight.
Sometimes when your parents are a little hard on you when you are growing up, that should be taken as an advantage and never a disadvantage. Always look at it with the right perspective.
He loved this poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley that I would read out to him –
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: Though unreal shapes be pictured there
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread…
He was very close to his mother. He looked after her beautifully. My grandmother, who lost her husband at a fairly young age, brought up her five sons with an iron hand and in return her sons gave back a lot to her. He loved his mother and he was the apple of her eye. He was emotional and practical at the same time.
Being an artist, a painter I feel blessed to have many interactions with him about my artwork. He always encouraged and inspired me by attending most of my shows. We would discuss the body of my work and if ever he mentioned he wanted a particular work I took it as a real compliment. The thing was he always gave me honest and in-depth opinion; he never tried to make me happy just because I was his daughter.
My father has been my pinnacle, my hero and my biggest critic. The persona of Feroz Khan is immortal in Indian cinema and I feel very proud to be his daughter.