During his prime, most didn’t know actor Razak Khan’s name or care to ask. But almost everyone knew him by his plethora of screen names, either as Babu Bisleri, Ninja Chacha or Fiyyaz Takkar. But over the years, Razak Khan has developed a dedicated cult following.
The Incredible Razak Khan
As Razak was being flogged by the principal, he howled in pain but was secretly happy. He delighted in the thought that this was the same man who had probably disciplined Dilip Kumar as well. The principal of Anjuman-i-Islam School where Razak studied, had been a teacher back when Yusuf Khan used to go there. This was another connection he had with his idol. Razak was a Dilip Kumar fanatic. When the boy saw Azad and Kohinoor, he sneaked out a ladle from the kitchen, used it as a makeshift sword and played out scenes from those swashbuckling films.
For Razak, Dilip Kumar was the ultimate actor, and his ultimate inspiration. He aped him, spouted his dialogues, acted out his scenes, and wanted to be like him. His was the most spacious house in the tenement they lived in, so the other neighborhood kids converged on his house to play. And that’s where all the fun began. In addition to Dilip Kumar movies, Razak was also a fan of big-ticket Hollywood action movies. Being schooled in Urdu, English wasn’t exactly his strong suit, but you didn’t need to know a lot of English to appreciate Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). Razak and his pals donned the bedsheets and tablecloths as capes and unleashed some daredevilry on the living room.
90s was the last era in which Bollywood’s holy storytelling tradition continued unabated, till the 2000s came along and shook things up. Since the very beginning, Hindi films have had distinct roles for heroes, heroines, villains, and comedians. Even in the 30s, the decade in which Hindi cinema was born, comedians like Bhudo Advani, Gope and Noor Mohammed Charlie held sway. This was followed by the Mehmoods and Johnny Walkers of the world, who themselves became stars. Every story had to have place for a comedian to showcase their skills. In the 90s, comedy became even more important owing to the whole Govinda-Kader Khan school of cinema. In these films, the hero was adept at slapstick humour, but was also constantly surrounded by comedians with impeccable comic timing. Inane, meaningless and often crass, these films doled out entertainment in droves. This is where performers like Johnny Lever, Laxmikant Berde and Rajpal Yadav. This is the tribe that Razak Khan belonged to. He might not have achieved the level of stardom these others did, but over the years Razak developed a solid cult following of his own, especially once the Internet became a thing.
Razak was one of those actors you don’t essentially know by name, but their very arrival on screen would light up your face and you’d point to him and go, “Look, it’s him!” or “Hey, Ninja Chacha/ Lucky Chikna/ Babu Bisleri is here!”. Razak’s career was an array of quirky colorful characters with equally colourful screen names. But in real life, he was a calm, cultured connoisseur of Urdu shayari. Sometimes, his command over the language would come in handy, like when he played Nawab Nadi Dinda Din Changezi in Indra Kumar’s Ishq (1997). A broken mannequin is stacked in the wrong order with its posterior turned to the front. One look at this anatomical marvel, and Nawab changezi (Razak) goes into raptures, wondering “Kisne banaya ye mujassima?”. similarly, in Joru ka Ghulam (2000), Razak and Govinda (impersonating a wealthy Gujarati businessman) go toe-to-toe with the former throwing a word or phrase in chaste Urdu and the other twisting it into a similar-sounding colloquialism. Mulazim becomes mujrim, sar-anjaam becomes hajaam, taamir becomes Tamil Nadu. It is impossible to keep watching with a straight face.
Despite his lean frame – or maybe because of it – Razak would often be cast as goons and strongmen. Faiyaaz Takkar (Ankhiyon Se Goli Maare, 2002), for example, was supposedly known for killing people with just a bump of his head. Or Ninja Chacha, the only memorable thing about Hello Brother (1999) – a lungi-wearing, lathi-toting Ninja assassin. He also played the seemingly dreaded gangster Fainku Haseena Maan Jaayegi (1999), who you end up feeling sorry for by the end of it.
Razak started off in television, back in the mid-80s. He was seen in two iconic comedy shows during the golden age of Doordarshan – Aziz Mirza’s Nukkad (1986) and Farooq Sheikh’s Chamatkar (1988). He did minor walk-on parts in Agneekal (1990) Meera Ka Mohan (1992), but the first major project he took part in was Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1993) as a henchman of Anupam Kher. In the years that followed, Razak Khan’s hall of fame included names like Pappu Kanghi, Munna Mobile, Babu Bisleri, Ninja Chacha, Faiyyaz Takkar and Manikchand,. In addition to the bambaiyya lingo, what became Razak Khan’s signature was his mop of golden hair.
As with all comic actors, Razak found work dwindling at one point, as changed cinema and films didn’t seem to need staple “comedy” scenes anymore. Humor in these films was situational, and there was no demand for a designated funny man/woman. He had to fall back on vaudeville TV comedy shows, which became the only way old-school comedians could stay in circulation. In a career that lasted a little more than two decades, Razak Khan played characters which stayed on screen for a short span of time compared to his colleagues who often had more elaborate, author-backed roles with pages upon pages of dialogue. It’s a testament to Razak’s talent that even with such minuscule roles, he managed to build an identity, and a fan following of his own. He was quite capable of laughing at himself, and pushing his own boundaries, as is evident from his appearance in Sulemani Keeda (2014). Razak Khan passed away on June 1, 2016 of a cardiac arrest. Till the end of days, he kept referring to himself as a “student of acting”.
Amborish is a National Film Award winning writer, biographer and film historian.
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