Self Devotion

The Other Khan

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An encounter with a Bollywood wannabe

There is a subspecies of Homo sapiens that has hitherto gone unnoticed by scientists. Its male members walk with heavy arms and wide puffy chests, are hairless above the waist except for their heads and faces, and seem to possess subnormal intelligence. Their origin is unknown, but they are mostly found in the Four Bungalows-Lokhandwala stretch of Mumbai, prowling around coffee shops. The street term for them, ‘Bollywood strugglers’, only explains a little of what they do. In one bylane of Andheri, however, you may spot an unusual specimen. He is rich, ageing and crass. He wears axiomatic T-shirts and tight-crotch pants. His name is Kamaal Rashid Khan. Or, KRK, as he likes to call himself.

Khan leapt out of nowhere onto TV screens in 2008 in trailers for a B-grade Bollywood film, Deshdrohi, which he directed, produced and starred in. He wore a fringe, leather pants and a light moustache, and delivered dialogues that would make Shatrughan Sinha blush. The film was about a man from Uttar Pradesh fighting politicians in Mumbai who were ill-treating migrants. It was perfect timing; North Indians were then being attacked in Mumbai. The film was banned in Maharashtra. In response, Khan moved the High Court. It was eventually released in the state, many months after its first screening, but Khan was all over the news. He got what he wanted: exposure.

Khan has an office in a house in Versova. He lives a short distance away on the same street in a palatial bungalow that is an ode to self-devotion. His home has a glass front and bears his initials in large size, the ‘R’ in ‘KRK’ marked in red with the two Ks in grey. Inside, he looms on every wall. There are life-size photographs of his on the walls of his living room, along his corridor, and in his gym—with him either holding a gun or wearing sunglasses. In other pictures, he is either receiving or presenting awards, or hobnobbing with the likes of Mahesh Bhatt and Jagdish Tytler.

It seems surprising, therefore, that when he answers his door, he is wearing spectacles. Dressed in a T-shirt over tracksuit pants, he holds a can of Red Bull. “KRK does not drink or smoke,” he reminds us, referring to himself in the third person.

His large living room has a surveillance camera and the couches are big and colourful—blue cushions on green couches, brown cushions on orange couches. On the ceiling, each lamp is framed with ornate wooden carvings. There is a large bedroom on the first floor and a gym occupies the entire second floor.

When our photographer whips out a camera, KRK disappears for a while. When he returns, his hair is gelled, and he is wearing a black coat with a white trim. There is a silver bracelet on his right wrist and a chain with a gun-shaped pendant on his neck. His track pants are still on. “Please don’t take my tracks,” he says. It is a plea aimed at the photographer.

Since Deshdrohi, Khan has appeared in a few TV shows, including Bigg Boss, and is often seen at Bollywood parties. He has not done anything particularly remarkable so far, but has earned the reputation of being a thug in the little that he has. He was the first person ever to be evicted from the Bigg Boss bungalow—for his violence. He had said unprintable things and tried to assault two contestants on the show. In another instance, he insulted two hosts of a show on Zee TV when they presented him with a spoof award. He threw the trophy and swore, even as his bodyguards pushed a few people around, all of it on camera.

Surprisingly or not, KRK has found plenty of fans online. He has 136,000 followers on Twitter, a sizeable number of them real people, presumably. The movie reviews he posts on his YouTube channel get a lot of ‘views’—his Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani review, for instance, got 75,000. He has also put photos of himself online, which can be downloaded as wallpaper. His tweets range from hilarious to crass. He once tweeted a photograph of two papayas and compared them with Bipasha Basu’s bust in the film Jodi Breakers. He has gotten into altercations with Sunny Leone, and rattles off the names of actresses he wants to sleep with every other day. When he dislikes someone on Twitter, he hashtags them as ‘2RSPpl’—apparently short for ‘doh paise ke log (two paisa people)’.

Kamaal R Khan is silly, no doubt. But sometimes you need a buffoon to call out the buffoonery in Bollywood. In a film industry that thrives on back-scratching and self-promotion, that’s probably one reason that KRK garners large audiences. Sitting with his legs tucked under him on his couch, he says, “Let people get upset or say what they want. KRK doesn’t care.”

Unlike others in the industry, he says, he has a successful business unrelated to cinema—he arranges labour for projects in the Middle East and also has apparel and construction interests. This means he does not need to be beholden to anyone. “When they meet me, they say I am ‘awesome’,” he says, “Kareena [Kapoor] sought me out recently at a venue and said, ‘Kamaal, you are awesome.’ I am not an idiot. I know what they mean when they say that. But I don’t care.”

Each tweet of his, he says, is carefully thought out: “I make an aim for myself. I need to be retweeted a number of times. I need to be spoken about. That is essential. This is showbiz.” He frequently leaves many of the film fraternity miffed with his comments. Some even approached the Federation of Western India Cine Employees to have action taken against him. An FIR was lodged with the police against him when a Lucknow man named Amitabh Thakur took offence to his views on Dhanush in his review of Raanjhanaa on YouTube. “Sir, I don’t know whether you [Anand L Rai, the film’s director] are from UP or not, but I am,” he says in the video clip, “In the whole of UP, you will find cobblers and sweepers who look like Dhanush but you will not find a single Brahmin of such dirty looks as him in entire UP.”

According to Khan, he is not rude, just someone who calls a spade a spade. “An actress will dress to titillate. Yet, when I say, ‘I’m titillated’ then apparently I’m being offensive and rude to the actress,” he complains. “If I don’t like a film, I’ll say it’s bad. If I don’t like someone, I will say that too. Do you know the number of people I block everyday on Twitter because they’re turning abusive?” Every week, he claims to block at least 10 individuals who are so upset with what he has said about their idols that they’ve started swearing.

Khan was born in UP—in a village near Deoband—to a family of farmers. He has five younger brothers who work with him in his business. He says he left home at 16 to become an actor in Mumbai. Someone from his village was working in the film industry, but when Khan reached the city, he learnt that his fellow villager was just an extra. After about half a month, realising he wouldn’t make it as a film star, Khan left for Delhi. He did a variety of odd jobs there before he helped someone get a work visa for Dubai. “I made about Rs 10,000 as commission for that job, a great sum of money for me then, in the early 1990s,” he says. So he stuck with the visa business.

Some years later, Khan started Kamaal International Exports (Recruitment and Consulting), a firm that sends unskilled labourers from India to countries in the Gulf. He says his firm sends around 1,000 labourers there every year. He also started exporting garments to those countries and turned into a builder once an opportunity arose. “Whatever I have tried, I have done well,” he says, “But what kept haunting me was my failure in Bollywood. That’s when I moved to Bombay from Dubai in 2004.”

Determined to succeed with celluloid, Khan first produced a low-budget Hindi film named Sitam. He followed this with two successful Bhojpuri films, Tum Hamaar Haoo and Munna Pandey Berozgar—the latter, as he points out, was the first Bhojpuri film to be shot in London. Then came Deshdrohi.

There is something fishy about Khan’s claims. He tells me he is 39 years old, for example, although his website says he is 33. Most news reports put him around 50, which seems closer to the truth. His name is actually just Rashid Khan. He appended ‘Kaamal’ later. He says he is a bachelor while some websites claim he has a wife and two children in Dubai.

He says work on Deshdrohi 2, about the life of Abu Salem, will start soon. Sudhir Mishra will direct it, or so he says, and he will play the gangster lead. In his imaginary world, it seems KRK is as big a star as SRK. While SRK has a bungalow called ‘Mannat’ in Mumbai, KRK has named his mansion in Dubai ‘Jannat’. While he was on Bigg Boss, he told host Amitabh Bachchan that he lives in a 21,000 sq ft mansion in Dubai, and that he gets his milk from Holland, water from France and tea from London. To mark the grace of his grandeur, he even offered Bachchan a role in Deshdrohi 2.

Firoze Shakir, a Bollywood costume designer who was introduced to KRK by Shakti Kapoor, says that Khan is a well-connected man. Although Shakir doesn’t explain his statement, he seems to imply that he has useful political links. “When I met Ajay Devgn some time back, he had just visited KRK in Dubai,” says Shakir. “One of the first things he said to me was, ‘Do you know? KRK lives in a palace’.” Shakir, who was responsible for Govinda’s trademark get-up in his heyday, now works on Khan’s wardrobe. “KRK likes his clothes to be a little flashy... they should have a little bling in them. And I think what he wears now suits him,” says Shakir, “It brings out his personality well.”

Comedian Raju Srivastava, with whom Khan had a run-in on Bigg Boss, finds Khan temperamental: “One moment, he is a friendly chap. He participates when I’m cracking jokes [on the show]. The next, he wants to get into a physical fight.” Srivastava was surprised when Khan invited him for dinner to his house at the end of the show season. He accepted it hesitantly, he says. “But throughout dinner, he was cordial,” he recounts, “We had food, sang a few songs, danced a bit. I think he does half the things [he does] just for attention.”

There are many in Bollywood who speak of themselves in the third person. But it takes special self-reverence to do it with one’s initials. Khan’s conversations are littered with dropped names. “Deepika has my phone number”, “I met Amitabh a few times in his house” and so on. And he certainly has an exalted image of himself: “Why does Shahrukh Khan call himself SRK? It is actually SK. I, on the other hand, am KRK.”

It’s easy to dismiss Khan as crass and idiotic. But, spending time with him, you realise who he really is: a middle-aged man in flashy clothes, too plainlooking to be a star and too impolite to gain friends. No one has probably said this to him. Or perhaps he just doesn’t listen.