Legendary Entertainment Pioneer, “Dastaan” Farooq Ahmed Khan Passes

Late Farooq Khan

HOUSTON: For many old-time desis who came to the Bayou City in the early 70s, the first real connection with the Old Country in an age of analog media – (not the digital internet one we know now) – was at the two-screen Desi Cinema at the corner of Westheimer and Fondren. Shalimar theater was the brainchild of Farooq Khan a slightly built, mustached man who you would see standing behind the counter wearing a smile on his face eagerly greeting and chatting with the movie goers.

Khan passed away on Thursday, January 12, 2017 after a brief illness and with him passed a legend in the South Asian entertainment industry.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan on December 23, 1943, Farooq Ahmed Khan always had dreams of making his own path, as all entrepreneurs do. The dedication and hard work ethic that he had learned at a young age were lessons that he carried on into his adult life.

Khan met the love of his life Asma at an early age and they fell in love. He described their love as a “old world romance” “a fairy tale” of “two young desis” who fell in love at “a beautiful time and place” in the world.

With the rocky economic climate in Pakistan he decided to migrate to the United States with his wife and two children in 1973 with the dream of carving out his own path. With a leap of faith and determination he landed in Chicago, Illinois and found a job with Rand McNally as a computer programmer.

While living in Chicago Khan and Asma soon began to miss their Pakistani culture and “the feeling of belonging to a community” and this eventually drove him to find his “path”. But when Khan came down with pneumonia, his doctor advised him to “go to a warmer climate”, which brought him to Houston in 1978.

Khan moved to Houston and wanted to find a path he could be happy with, and the light bulb “the feeling of belonging to a community” went off in his head. He was now determined to create a place where the community of South Asians could gather and “feel at home again”.

Pic movie strip

Like many desi’s Khan and Asma grew up watching Bollywood films which enchanted the large crowds of people who watched them. The cinema was a place where the people would gather to watch wonderful films and socialize, a place where all the people felt at home, and this was the feeling the Khan’s were missing.

Determined to recreate this feeling of “belonging”, Khan set out to open the first fully desi movie theater in the US. He struck a deal with the famous comedian Jerry Lewis to rent a two-screen movie theater located on Westheimer and Fondren. The Shalimar theater was huge hit and many desi’s expressed their happiness and feeling of “belonging again” to Farooq.

Khan was the first to bring many Bollywood mega celebrities to the US for shows such as Ambitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar and Sanjeev Kumar and with whom Khan stayed friendly, especially Bachchan who would send him birthday cards for many years. Khan also invited Pakistani President Zia ul Haq to the US and stayed in contact with him long after his visit to the US.

Continuing on his “path”, a few years later Khan opened Shalimar Grill, “a high-end” desi restaurant where the community would gather to eat and socialize.

Even though the restaurant was success, the movie business was always his first passion and in 1987, Khan opened the six screen Plitt Bollywood Theatre located on Bellaire and Highway. This marked the return of the second golden age of Bollywood cinema which he spearheaded in the US. The theatre was a huge success, however the center was eventually sold to HEB.

Determined to create a bigger and better facility for his community, in 1996 the Khans purchased the FunPlex complex on Beechnut. Funplex was one of the largest indoor family entertainment centers in the US with over 200,000sf of indoor capacity and housed a three screen Bollywood cinema, party hall, bowling alley, roller skating rink, 3 story Ferris wheel, go cart track, bumper cars, kids train and many other attractions.

This extremely large facility was a perfect venue for South Asian and American community events, desi concerts, Islamic prayers, fund raisers, high school proms, and other charity events.

Funplex hosted many events which included desi music artist Junoon, desi fashion shows with designers HSY and Nilofer Shahid. Funplex also hosted many legendary American artist such Run DMC, Method Man, Lil Romeo, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Bad Boy Bill, and DJ Irene. Many celebrities including Beyoncé were visitors at the venue and always created a frenzy when they would arrive.

With the Bollywood movies popularity quickly rising again, the three-screen cinema at FunPlex reached its capacity very quickly. To keep up with the demand Khan opened another six-screen cinema on Hwy 6 and Richmond, The Bollywood Six Cinema was a huge success and quickly became the staple movie destination for the South Asian community.

Farooq was a true pioneer, but the motive behind his many entrepreneurial ventures was to unite his people. He believed their common background, art, and history would be a uniting factor for the Southeast Asian community and the cinemas would help his people find a little piece of the home they left abroad.

After a long successful career as an entertainment pioneer, Farooq’s dream was to retire and enjoy his life with his beautiful family. With great hesitation, he eventually sold the Bollywood 6 Cinema and the Funplex Entertainment Mall. He then refocused his career towards commercial real estate, eventually purchasing the 20+ acre lot on Hwy 59 on the southwest near the Beltway that now houses Direct Auto.

Along the way, he made many great friends and he was proud to personally mentor and foster many newly-arrived people. Always willing to help and tirelessly work as a representative for his people.

Khan was very proud of his friendship and closeness to everyone in his community and he would lovingly refer to them as his “family”. He loved his community dearly and truly loved helping them feel at home again!

Through the first desi cinema he started a spark in the community that was infectious, a feeling that all foreigners long for when they are far away from their roots “a feeling of belonging”. He believed by bringing them a piece of the Old Country they left behind through films, he could unite the Asian community, and he was right!!! Through his “desi” cinemas he created a family for everyone. He had truly found his path!!!

Khan paved the way for many other desi entrepreneurs but for him, his greatest accomplishment was his family. He loved his wife Asma immensely and they were always inseparable. He loved his four children Ali, Abbas, Umer and Hassan very much, he gave them everything while paving the way for their success. He was a loving grandfather and adored his eight grandchildren.

Khan’s old-school charm, infectious attitude and kind heart made him easy to love. He touched many people lives in a way that he could have never imagined. He will be remembered as a ‘legend” – a true pioneer of the desi community. The lasting effect he had on the community for nearly forty years will not be forgotten, but missed greatly. To his family, he will be remembered as the greatest husband, father and grandfather and he will be dearly missed.