The solitary focus light dangled over the balding head. Tension was rife in the air. The fearful and dangerous prisoner was tied to the chair. A crowd of policemen faced him.
Police Inspector to Khan Dada. “Your name?”
Khan Dada: “Chiranjeevi”
Inspector: “Your real name!!”
KD: “Siva Sankara Varaprasad”
Inspector: “Your wife’s name”
Of all the Khans this industry had to offer, this is my favorite Khan by far.
Legend has it that cyclists and motorists stopped short on their journeys at RTC Crossroads, Hyderabad as they beheld a sight they couldn’t completely comprehend.
While the sight of a gigantic Chiranjeevi cutout looming over the busy four roads junction was not unexpected or even felt out of place, a similar sized cutout erected just beside the Megastar was what held the crowds attention.
Fully dressed in denim, a pink shirt underneath an opened jacket and a belt over both the shirt and jacket. A balding man, with a small ring of hair lazily elegant on his severe forehead, adorned with a paunch that seemed to protrude into the Hyderabad skyline and holding a menacing cycle chain no less. A thoroughly sinister look, flanking the Chiru cutout as if he belonged to the same universe. The year was 1993 and the cutout was of Khan Dada.
I often wistfully think about this time of Hyderabad. I was only a summer vacation visitor, but I have nothing but fond memories of the place and the time. Remember, this was a city still largely unpolluted by high rise buildings, Amazon offices and despicable IT employees. A Hyderabad of kallu compounds and rupay phones.
This was a time when the auto rickshaws were still run on petrol engines, those engines with their sweet rhythmic hum, when the drivers reached out to their ingenious horns to blow pedestrians away. Before automatic diesel engines and mechanic horns. This was also the time of the neighborhood shops, those that were manned by different members of the same family at different times of the day. The father during the day, the children after school in their uniforms helping out in the evening. When medical shops needed no electronic bills or didn’t need to have us recite our phone numbers like morons to buy a single pill.
It is at one such family run kirana shop that we first see Khan Dada. One of the most feared goondas in the twin cities, he is always accompanied by his faithful henchmen and the entourage always traveled in three autos (petrol engines of course), with Khan sitting in the middle one. This was protocol for his security.
We see him advance from the center auto and make his way to the shop. The owner is instantly terrified. Khan demands money from all the neighborhood businesses. This is tax they need to pay for him to let them run their business and feed the mouths at home.
You will say, Eyy, this is all routine cinema goonda rowdy stuff. But ask any of his tall burly henchmen and their face will instantly soften and they will tell you all about him. That despite his taxation and his hard as steel exterior, Khan Dada had a heart of gold. They fiercely respected him and although given his small stature, they would gladly give their lives for him.
This small stature of Khan was multiplied by a large factor to put up the cutout of him at RTC Crossroads. Brahmanandam who played the character had never been put out on a poster for a movie as the star. This was uncharted territory and the ploy worked. This was after all Ram Gopal Varma’s early, brilliant and largely sane period.
The movie is entirely shot in Filmnagar, Banjara Hills and thereabouts and looks lovely. Though there are other major plotlines that weave throughout the duration of the film, the friendly neighborhood Dada’s storyline is the one that stands out, for its sheer outrageousness. If the decision to cast a leading comedian as a goonda who hardly ever smiles and only chews through his lines was genius, the subtlety and empathy that is portrayed by the actor possibly has no parallel in his vast career of multiple roles.
But as all great men tend to, even Khan has a fall. A devastating fall from grace. Even as his henchmen implore him to not fall prey to the ploys of the suck-ups plotting his fall (zara joru tagginchu Khanuu), Khan sways ever so slightly at first and then plunges into self-destruction.
He is buoyed by talk from a conniving “cinema person” that he is born to be a hero. That he essentially does in real life what the Chiranjeevi’s do with makeup and the help of stuntmen in front of the camera. Slowly, they lure him and Khan falls for it hook, line and sinker.
But I’ve often gone back to this movie over the years and this character in particular and it gets me every single time. The fall of the benevolent goonda, unintentionally hilarious and yet which tugs at your heart.
It would have been a treat to be a part of his entourage though. Maybe the driver of the middle auto of his convoy. I could get a closer look at the makings of such a tender-hearted goonda.
The movie Money spawned two sequels which did not match the excellence of the first. Khan takes his revenge over those who wronged him. He carries a faulty bomb in a lunch basket to all their locations. But as fate would have it, revenge also eludes him.
He could have carried on with his goondaism. But tempted by his ill-advised desire to be the next Chiranjeevi, he scripts his own destruction.
Khan Dada, thank you for all the lessons in life you have taught me. You taught me that wearing a belt over both your tshirt and jacket was not a pleasant sight. You taught me that carrying a bomb made in Bihar in a lunchbox was a dangerous idea. You taught me to chew gum nonchalantly. You taught us how to terrorize domestic kirana shops with nothing but a stare and a rusting cycle chain.
Maybe most importantly you taught me that there will only be one Chiranjeevi and that you, even you cannot match up to him. And if I ever am in a spot of bother, you taught me that you can be of no help cos well, look at what happened to you. You will still make me laugh and cry though and for that I thank you. Chew away Khan Dada, you adorable rowdy sheeter.
September 2020, Write Club Hyderabad