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Thousands of people crowded the ISNA Canada mosque in Mississauga, Ont. for funeral services for Kader Khan on Jan. 2, 2019.Fred Lum

It was a day for millions across the world, and many in Mississauga, to mourn the loss of Kader Khan, a Bollywood legend who transformed Hindi cinema decades ago by using the language of everyday Indian life.

Thousands gathered at the ISNA Canada mosque in the city west of Toronto when word spread that the funeral for the prolific actor and screenwriter, who had appeared in more than 300 films and written dialogue for more than 250, would be held there on Wednesday. A Canadian citizen, Mr. Khan had been undergoing treatment in this country for a degenerative brain disease, said his son Sarfaraz, taking a moment to collect his thoughts earlier in the afternoon as his family prepared for the funeral.

Mr. Khan had for years split his time between India and Canada. However, he had been residing in Mississauga since 2015 because of his failing health and was admitted to Trillium Health Partners Mississauga Hospital a few days ago. He died there on Dec. 31 at the age of 81.

News of his death spread quickly across the globe as condolence messages poured in. His legacy to Indian mainstream cinema was noted on Twitter by luminaries ranging from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Amitabh Bachchan, one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars.

The special namaz-e-janaza, or funeral prayer, for Mr. Khan was held Wednesday afternoon, after the traditional noon Zuhr prayer at 1:30. The mosque hall was filled by the time the call for prayers sounded out, with last-minute congregants squeezing into the straight lines. Expecting large crowds, the mosque used the adjacent gym to accommodate the overflow. As they waited, people whispered quietly among themselves, expressing shock at hearing the news of Mr. Khan’s death, as well as relating their appreciation for the many roles he played in the Indian film industry.

During his address to the gathering, the imam talked about the prominence of Mr. Khan in the community, as well as his return to the Koran later in life. Disenchanted with the way contemporary Hindi movies began to pay more attention to special effects and cinematography than the story, Mr. Khan started studying Islamic and Arab literature when he was 56. He earned a master’s degree from Osmania University in Hyderabad, southern India.

Speaking to the crowd in Urdu after the imam’s address, Sarfaraz talked about his father’s love for his fans.

“My father always told me and my brothers, ‘even if you will forget me, my fans will never forget me,’ ” he said, overcome with emotion. “And he was correct. Just look at the number of people who have come to say goodbye to him. We will give him a grand farewell.”

Mr. Khan was afflicted with the rare brain disorder progressive supranuclear palsy, which affects movement, gait, balance, speech and thought processes, among other symptoms.

“It’s a strange kind of a disease. You basically lose the will to live. … Even if there’s a glass of water next to you, you will ask someone else to lift it up," Sarfaraz continued. "But even in the end, in his final moments, he tried to kiss my cheek.”

Although Mr. Khan was a huge star, he was also a humble man and liked to regularly remind his sons − Sarfaraz, Shahnawaz and Quddus − of his simple beginnings. Born in 1937 in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Mr. Khan moved to Mumbai with his parents when he was a young boy. The family lived near the slums of Kamathipura, known as Mumbai’s red-light district.

“It was where refugees like him landed,” Sarfaraz said. “I remember my father once took me and my brothers to the neighbourhood, though the gullies and alleyways, showing us around. When I asked him − ‘Why did you bring us here?’ − he responded, ‘So that you remember that your father grew up here.’ ”

Bollywood lore has it that after his family’s move to Mumbai, his childhood antics at a Jewish graveyard near his house, where he imitated people he had observed during the day, caught the eye of a local theatre group. His childhood association with theatre continued even as he graduated with a degree in civil engineering. He was known to pore over books ranging from mathematics and physics to Indian, English and Russian literature, devouring Saadat Hasan Manto, Chekov and Jeffrey Archer alike.

After another Bollywood legend, Dilip Kumar, saw Mr. Khan act in a play that Mr. Kumar had written and directed himself, he gave Mr. Khan a chance to act in his films. His first Bollywood scriptwriting break came with Jawani Diwani (1972). In those days, movie theatres dictated the story for Bollywood movies; Mr. Khan would be hired to write the dialogue and emotional climaxes. Then he met Bollywood’s madcap director Manmohan Desai, who was so thrilled with the dialogue Mr. Khan came up with for Roti (1974) that he gave him a TV, a gold bracelet and a significant salary hike.

But it was his colloquial dialogue for Mr. Bachchan in Amar Akbar Anthony (1974) that truly set Mr. Khan apart from other much more celebrated scriptwriters, said Mustansir Dalvi, an essayist, translator and professor of architecture at the University of Mumbai. In fact, Mr. Khan went on to pen iconic dialogue for many of Mr. Bachchan’s later movies, such as Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Coolie (1983) and Sharaabi (1984).

“Long before I truly appreciated who Kader Khan was, I was reciting his dialogue by heart, like many other people. His dialogue had the flavour of the everyman, of the streets of Mumbai − a language we now call Bambaiyya,” Mr. Dalvi said. “There was poetry in the everyday prose that he wrote in his dialogue.”

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