The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar really triggered an explosion of information after its release on Netflix. It landed on streaming in September 2023 as part of four short movies directed by Wes Anderson in a unique partnership with Netflix. Every work is an adaptation of a story by Roald Dahl, so you may believe there is no true story behind any of them. But if you investigate long enough, you’ll find out something different: behind the first short movie and the Indian character of Imdad Khan, there is a personality that really existed. Is Imdad Khan based on a real person? Let’s find out.
You can watch the official trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar here on Youtube.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar: is Imdad Khan real?
In short: yes, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is surprisingly inspired by a true story, and his character Imdad Khan is based on a Pakistani magician who really existed in the 1900s. His name was Kuda Bux; he was born in 1905 and died in 1981. He even toured the world, showing his magic abilities and shocking everybody: he was famous as DareDevil because of his incredible firewalking skills and as “The Man Who Can See Without His Eyes.”
In the video below, you can watch real footage of Kuda Bux, the man who inspired Imdad Khan and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. The footage is from 1938: we see Kuda Bux carefully blindfolded, proving he can read something written on a blackboard, light candles, and walk through obstacles even though he cannot see.
Not everybody believed his magic was real, as the character in Roald Dahl’s book and Wes Anderson’s short movie. According to Kuda Bux, he learned the ability to see without eyes from an Indian yogi, Banerjee, when he was young. Kuda Bux became the protagonist of many documentaries in the first half of the last century. In 1950, a TV series was released on him, titled “Kuda Bux, Hindu Mystic.” In 1938, he proved his firewalking abilities for Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not program.
There are still sources on the Internet that talk about his real life. You can find here the article about his life on encyclopedia.com, and here his Wikipedia page.
The real story of Kuda Box inspired Roald Dahl, who wrote an essay about him, The Amazing Eyes of Kuda Bux, published in 1953. Roald Dahl really met Kuda Bux and heard his true story, then wrote this essay, adding a few more characters. In the essay, Roald Dahl created the character of Imhrat Khan, who is entirely fictional but based on Kuda Bux’s real life. And yes, the character’s name in Dahl’s essay differs from the one in Wes Anderson’s short movie: in the Netflix production, the mysterious man is called “Imdad Khan.”
Years later, in 1977, Dahl wrote a new fictional story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, introducing the character of Henry Sugar as a man who learned about the existence of Imhrat/Imdad Khan and managed to acquire his talent. Henry Sugar never existed: he’s another fictional character born from Roald Dahl’s fantasy.
If you want to know more about the two works written by Roald Dahl about Kuda Bux and the few differences with the true story, you can refer to this interesting overview on roalddahlfans.com, where the real magician is compared with Imdad Khan (Imhrat in Dahl’s works) and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.
In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Wes Anderson, Imdad Khan is interpreted by Ben Kingsley.