The first half of the 1970s has the element of a standalone in the annals of Hindi Cinema. For one, it was a break-away from conventional fetters and a walkathon towards hitherto, uncharted terrain. The cult of idyllic snow-capped mountains leapfrogged into to a more rarefied realm of stark, dusty ravines with their boulders and stonewalls, even as high-voltage action now began to take centre-stage. In this setting, a new genre of films began to take shape – the ‘Curry Western’. Mind you, the slew of dacoit dramas that initially came out, encapsulated this genre in what could be termed a ‘kaleidoscope of kitsch’ as technology was yet to gain strides and the dacoits themselves, looked like denizens of the woods with their genial robes and a stark vermillion on the forehead; yet such yuppy flicks were being offered dime a dozen.
It was this genre which brought in a new kind of hero – rugged, handsome, stylishly brash and evasive. Feroz Khan, for long in the fringes as a parallel hero in ‘A’ graders and a nondescript performer in ‘B’ grader crime flicks of the 60s, suddenly emerged as the epitome of this ‘Cowboy Cult’ which if anything, trans-grafted the Hollywood assembly-liners to suit the fertile influxes of the Indian milieu. Feroz’s rise was a natural corollary to his stately outdoor image and this added ‘saddle ’n stirrups’ swagger, led to his final acceptance as a viable box-office proposition. Before his advent, we had close-ups of stars supposedly riding the horse interspersed with the long-shots of a double doing the galloping act just to create a falsified illusion of dare-devilry. Feroz was a trendsetter in that all the shots featuring him riding a horse were done without a body double and none was a more striking example than his cult-hit – ‘Khote Sikkey’. For those who have seen the film would recall the opening sequence of a lone horse-rider in a black robe fiercely galloping across a barren landscape, silhouetted against the orangish hues of the twilight hour. And a star was born! Feroz and nobody else could have performed the role with such panache, which was a pre-cursor to two other films in the same genre – ‘Kala Sona’ and ‘Kabeela’, not to mention ‘Dharmatma’ and ‘Janbaaz’ all of which, were propelled with considerable ‘horse-power’ in the high stakes of the box-office turnstiles.
Now destiny has led one of our greatest star-actor-directors ever, who transformed horse-riding to a fine art of glad tidings, beyond a silent bourn from where no traveler returns. As the boot-scoot ‘Gaucho’ gallops away into the blue yonder, the desert sands of thought continue to regale us with the bitter-sweet memories of perhaps, India’s only ‘Cowboy Star’.