indian cinema heritage foundation

Forgive Me My Sins ! - Confessions Of The ‘Killer’ Khan

10 Nov, 2020 | Archival Reproductions by Ingrid Albuquerque

Because I am timid by nature and because I scare easy, I was terrified when I was told I had to meet an actor called Sanjay Khan. I remember Feroz Khan. For a week after I'd met him, I'd slept at nights with the lights on. Sanjay is Feroz Khan's little brother. 

I had no intentions of meeting Sanjay (though I was told he was handsome and that he had quite a nice voice and all that). Over the years, and after meeting so many stars, I have become more timid. Even a harmless old man like Dilip Kumar scares me now.
To come to the point, my editor said, "Sanjay is a changed man these days. Drop in and say 'hello' to him".
 I said one did not drop in to say 'hello' to people just because they change. In that case, I would have to drop in to say 'hello' to Shammi Kapoor, Jaya Bhaduri and Shatrughan Sinha—all who have changed for the better, for worse and for the worst respectively.

My editor was insistent. "Sanjay will make a nice colour blow-up. He is looking very attractive these days." 

So is Hema's mother, I said, with her new American wig, and I, for one, vote for an interview with the ex-Prime Minister of the Chakravorty household. 

“Sanjay,- said my editor sternly, "has been out of circulation for far too long. We should try and bring him back into the news. After all, we are a stars' magazine." 

After that, there was no further excuse. In the name of duty I spoke to Sanjay and fixed up an appointment. To repair the circulation bit and all that.

"You are Feroz Khan's brother," I started (speaking a lot more bravely than I felt), , "at one time you were the most popular Khan. Now that Feroz (the Dharmatma Khan) has taken over, doesn't it bug you ?"

"It doesn't,- said Sanjay (the Chandi Sona Khan) as I'd expected he would say. "I am the happiest person on earth. Your question is a bit inconvenient. Feroz is popular. I feel he is too. Yet I feel my self-imposed isolation is splendid! I am in the industry only professionally, not socially. I may not be popular with the industry or with the press, but the people—the audiences—still love me. And they're the ones who count."
I felt the impact of Sanjay's voice—the voice I'd heard so much about. It's a nice voice but it's a bit difficult to describe on paper. Take three ounces of Amitabh B.'s baritone voice, one-and-a-half ounces of Kabir B.'s resonant voice, a pinch of Dilip K.'s put-on voice—put them all together, then polish them with Feroz Khan's well-bred, enlightened, educated voice and—PRESTO! you have the voice of Sanjay.

 "It has become a holy crusade with me," continued the impressive voice, “to put myself where I belong—on the top storey! Okay, I'm at the basement now. But I have the courage and the tenacity. to persist. And I am not going to trample over any-body to get to my place at the top. Since I am not getting the first-choice roles that I want, I will wait. I am not going to pick up the left-over bits—reject roles! When the so-called, quick-buck producers come to me with these roles, I entertain them with patience. When they go, I tighten my belt and embark on my mission with renewed vigour."

 The 'mission' ? Chandi Sona. The 'renewed vigour'? Sanjay's self-allotted four portfolios in the film: production, direction, acting and story-writing. And each time Sanjay talks about the film (which is once every five minutes) he smiles with confidence, love, ambition and desire. There's something nice about Sanjay's confident, loving, ambitious smile. When he's wearing glasses the smile resembles the smile of a bespectacled Rajesh Khanna. Without glasses, however, the smile is a bit too toothy. Nevertheless, at least where smiles are concerned, Sanjay scores easily over his now-more-popular brother Feroz. Even an unqualified judge like myself would give Sanjay's naughty spontaneous smile two points more than Feroz's pasted six-inches wide, lecherous smile (I hope Feroz will be 'civilized' enough to take that with a smile). 

"I," smiled Sanjay, "have never copied my brother in any way. It's just a coincidence that we set about making our individual films around the same time. If I had made my film earlier than his, then people would have probably said that he was copying me. I don't think either of us is copying the other. It has always been my cherished desire to make a film of my own—ever since I experienced the glory and power of the screen as I sat watching the films of David Lean." 

"At this stage," he continued seriously this time without a smile, "I am convinced that I have the technique and ability to make a film. I have been in this line for fourteen years. I have worked as an assistant to an English director, John Gulillerman. now, I do have the 'something' needed to capture sound and image. My film has everything, but not in the cheap sense. It has keenness, substance, action, comedy. Above all, it has a message —a message that will go far and wide—to every man and woman, to every child and adult." 

I asked for a brief outline of the message (not for any other reason except that it was high time I said something. If you're with a film star and you remain silent for too long, you begin feeling a bit foolish). But all Sanjay would reveal was, "The message is Chandi Sona. 'Chandi Sona' is the message."
For an actor, Sanjay talks pleasantly. Unlike Sanjeev Kumar he doesn't play irritatingly on words. Unlike Rajesh Khanna he doesn't speak with double and triple underlying meanings. Unlike Kabir Bedi he doesn't dish out words of philosophy which when analysed turn out to be nonsense. Unlike Dilip Kumar, he doesn't employ turgid vocabulary to confuse the listener. Unlike Dharmendra he doesn't grapple with his grammar. But like Dharam, Sanjay's language is now coated with a strange humility, true or false. 

 "Who's big? Who's small ?" asked Sanjay humbly. "I learned my lesson in humility in 1965 from Prime Minister Shastri—that frail gentleman with a kindly smile. Because of his illness, he couldn't stand and he said quietly to me, 'Pardon me for not standing up to greet you'. It hit me like a thunderbolt. A man at the height of his power and glory could actually talk like that!"

"It has matured me and opened my eyes to the world. There's so much to see, to learn, to know—and there's so little time. And to think there are people who actually want to waste time on petty things. Very small people gossip. People with great minds discuss ideas rather than talk about somebody's mother or somebody else's sister!"

 'That's an interesting attitude, coming from you,' I commented while writing very fast as he kept talking very slowly so that I didn't miss a word. What, I asked him, had brought about this new, sober, detached outlook which was a direct contrast to his earlier 'Killer Khan' image? 

"The 'Killer Khan' image was given to me. I can't disown it since in any case it was not propelled from my side. But it puzzles me. I am not even handsome—when I look at myself in the mirror I wonder. I won't call myself a pygmy either. I am just a man of muscle and brain, six-feet-one with a giant of a heart and hungry for love.

The hunger was very apparent in the years gone by when Sanjay could be spotted all around town with (not Zarine) his over-painted, under-clad and tarty-looking woman.
"I am not a saint. There have been times when I have slipped without realising what I was doing. I should be forgiven for my sins. For, self-realization has come. This is the real me. Even the prophets, Jesus Christ and Mohammed and Buddha took some time before they came out and preached. I am not trying to equate myself with those great people. But I have had my own revelation and the message has come to me."
The message, in case anyone has forgotten, is Chandi Sona. And Chandi Sona is the message. 

We were interrupted by a ring. A diamond-set -in-platinum ring which, the jeweller claimed, would cost a cool 40,000 bucks (if paid for the film-star-way—in instalments). Sanjay put the ring on his little finger and eyed it covetously. Then he returned it saying, "U-huh, with that much money I can do nearly four days of shooting for my film."
In Chandi Sona this reputed "gambler" seems to have staked his highest stakes.
Danny Denzongpa with Sanjay Khan

Sanjay (and this is only my personal observation) feels one-up on every other Indian film-maker because his film, he says, is an ORIGINAL.
"The proudest thing in the world for me is that my film is my own. I feel like standing on Mt. Everest and shouting, 'Sanjay Khan, you have made AN ORIGINAL'. Any person who can claim it is otherwise, should come forward and prove his bonafides. I've not taken 'inspiration' from any other book or film or person.

"I suppose (and I have no basis for this supposition except a nasty mind) this is just a sly dig at Feroz and his Dharmatma. Feroz, the brother who Sanjay never addresses by name out of respect. He calls him, 'bhaijaan' since "Feroz is three-and-a-half years older than me."

 The two brothers have never gotten into a slugging match (with each other that is) inspite of their volcanic tempers. "Maybe when we were children we did have a few scraps. But that was because my father forced Feroz (I was three-and-a-half years younger) to take me with him wherever he went. I think having a kid brother around cramped his style.

" Over the years, Sanjay developed a style of his own. Like for instance, he met, "established terrific tuning with", and proposed to a girl within the course of a night (May 30th). He's married to her now and he hopes it will last forever because, "a woman is the greatest thing that ever happens to a man."

 "Zarine and I are like a broad-gauge train on a journey. Okay, at certain stations I do get down and go off for scooter rides. But I always come back to the train." 

It sounded like a conviction (and a convenience). For, while Sanjay goes off for his scooter rides, Zarine is expected to remain put (in the train). "Of course I expect fidelity from my wife. She is absolutely a one-man woman. No man in this country can say he has had anything to do with MY wife." For the first time that evening, Sanjay sounded like a Khan.

 It was only for a flash though. The next minute he had reverted to his new sober image. I wondered again what had caused it (the new image). Mellowing ? Maturing? Ageing?

"I'm thirty-four!" Sanjay retorted. "Do you think that is ageing? Or mellowing? I think it's maturity.

Experience. That is why I don't hold it against anybody who has contributed to my miseries or depreciation." 
We headed towards home. At every traffic stop urchins would clamour around the car and shout with joy when they spotted the star. At one stop, however, there were shouts of Dharmatma, Dharmatma. "They know I'm Feroz's brother," laughed Sanjay embarrassedly. The lights turned green. The car moved on and Sanjay said, "If only we'd stopped for a minute longer they would have shouted Chandi Sona."I found that a bit of a joke but I didn't laugh for fear of hurting Sanjay's feelings which would have been a mean thing to do when he's so resolute about his new life, and career.

 "I'm never going to get into that rat race again of having ten and twenty films at a time. There's no sense in it. Imagine, even an actor like Dilip Kumar who has always set up an example for us by working in one film at a time, has today suddenly announced five films simultaneously. Is it panic? I am not criticizing him. I'm an admirer of his and would like to speak to him through this interview." I was tempted to give him Yusuf Saab's telephone number. I'm nervous of playing the go-between. 

The car speeded on. Outside, it was already night. Every empty space seemed to be taken up with gaudy filmy posters and hoardings of Dharmendra and Amitabh and even Randhir Kapoor and everybody else but Sanjay.

 "It's sheer prostitution! And it's being brought in by these small chaps (so-called producers) who scramble about peddling their inferior goods. Their eyes are only on the pot at the end of the rainbow."

 "I'm glad I'm not chasing any rainbow. I may not be the hottest star going but I've been around. Unlike many others, I have not had a meteoric rise one minute and a descent into oblivion the next. Most important—I've recognised myself. I discovered in me a reservoir of talent waiting to be tapped". 

And, since nobody else obliged, poor Sanjay's doing the tapping himself!

This article was originally published in Stardust magazine in September 1975 issue. All the images used were part of the original article. 

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