Yakub – Interview
He joined the Navy to see the world and he saw a bit more than just the sea! Yakub toured the Continent, then came back to become a “stunt hero”.
Born in Jabalpur in 1904, Yukubkhan Mehboob Khan, the Indian screen’s unsurpassable villain, was a little “villainous” even in his younger days. He hated school and preferred to watch Eddie Polo, Hollywood’s brave stunt king, and all those terrific serials featuring “hard ridin’ and fast shootin'”.
The young truant one day expanded his activities and ran away from home, because he wanted to be “someone in the world”.
With Eddie Polo as his ideal, he came to Bombay to try his luck in films. At the time a beardless and good-looking youth of twenty— this was in 1924—he did not have occasion to play the villain. He started as an extra and soon graduated to more important roles. He made a sprightly, dashing and virile hero and he performed all the acrobatics required in stunt pictures himself. He would have no stand-ins. His experience as a deck hand on board the ship had hardened his muscles and besides he had not sat entranced through all those Eddie Polo films for nothing!
In the days when a film cost about Rs. 4,000/- to complete, Yukub was a highly paid artist earning Rs. 60/- per month. The silent film “Bajirao Mastani” (a mythological) was his first picture. On the sets there was fun galore. The Industry was a new-born babe and everyone toiled cheerfully, spicing their work with gaiety and laughter.
In the absence of sound, the dialogues were just something to give the impression that the actors were saying something. Consequently, Yakub and the other stars adopted an attitude of “anything goes”. They came out with jokes, abuse and other unprintable stuff that passed for dialogues!
In 1931, Yakub appeared in his first talkie, “Romantic Prince”, playing the title role with a dash and aplomb which made him immensely popular. Yet, he has always displayed a hearty contempt for screen heroes and felt he was wasting his time and talent just “getting the girl” in every picture. He discovered that villainy came more easily to him and paid better dividends. That famous and forbidding mole on his left cheek also helped. Yakub chilled the hearts of audiences with his tough-guy roles and went on to become the best bad man the screen has ever -had.
“It is easier to play the hero than the villain,” says Yakub. “Yet, in our films, the villain does not get the same respect he does in foreign movies. Here, even a four-foot-nothing hero is made to appear stronger than the villain.”
Even on the foreign screen, he admired tough and adventurous characters like Wallace Beery, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Humphrey Bogart. Beery was his prime favourite and, for a long time, when playing in adventure films Yakub modelled his acting after this famous star.
Yakub has appeared in close upon three hundred films, but not always as the villain of the piece.
A few years ago, he did a complete turn-about which left no doubt about his versatility. “I was thrust into comedy,” said Yakub with a smile. “I would never have thought I could make people laugh.”
But he did make them laugh and often he teamed up with ace funsters like Gope and Agha to bring the house down.
Early in his career, the versatile Yakub tried his hand at direction and wielded the megaphone for “Shahi Lootera,” “Sagar ka Sher” and “Her Last Desire”.
In 1949. Yakub “made the mistake of his life”. Under the banner of Indian Productions he produced and directed “Aiye”–a miserable flop. Good-humouredly he says, ” ‘Aiye’ turned out to be a ease of ‘Paisa Jaiye’ “!
His favourite directors are R. S. Chowdhary, Shantaram, Nitin Bose and Mehboob. His unforgettable and grand portrayal as Sardar Akhtar’s “goonda” son in Mehboob’s “Aurat” still ranks as one of the finest performances on the Indian screen.
Among his other successful pictures are “Watan,” “Judgment of Allah,” “Patanga,” “Grahasti,” “Deedar” and “Malkin”.
He has just completed work in Sohrab Modi’s “Waris” in which he plays the villain and now to appear in Dharamsey’s “Enam” in wich he has a light comedy role.
A deeply religious person, Yakub is known as “Maulana” to his friends, who are legion. He is easy to get along with, good-natured and co-operative and the only thing he does not like about studios are the meals served there. He is never known to have partaken of a studio lunch in all his thirty years of film work.
A man of simple habits with no ambition but to “keep on acting”, Yakub has only one hobby—billiards, which is his second love.
Whenever he has time off from his work, he is to be found at the Islam Gymkhana, indulging in his favourite game with a couple of close friends.
Acting, however, remains his first love. He does not think himself capable of doing anything else to his satisfaction and is quite content to leave “greater achievements” to “greater people.”
He recalls with nostalgia the old days when films could claim to be artistic and when actors were more important than love lyrics and ornate sets. “But,” say he, “times have changed. The hero of yesteryear was a virile fellow who commanded respect. Today’s hero is more concerned with how he looks and peeps furtively into the mirror at every opportunity. The good old days are gone forever.” (This interview was conducted in 1954)