Yahan se pachas pachas kos door gaon mein … jab bachcha raat ko rota hai, toh maa kehti hai bete so ja … so ja nahi toh Gabbar Singh aa jayega.
Dressed in a khaki suit and armed with a belt, when the most dreaded dacoit of the country with curly hair and black teeth delivered this dialogue on a 70 mm screen, it sent shivers down my father’s spine who was then barely eight.
“While Sholay had several racy dialogues, this threatening dialogue stayed with me as I walked out of Bombay’s Capitol Theatre. For the next couple of days, I started sleeping without making a fuss fearing Gabbar Singh would appear. Till this date, Amjad Khan’s tone makes me uneasy,” says my father.
The ‘Gabar fever’ went beyond my father and seized millions of cinemagoers, leaving an ever-lasting impact and of course, setting an almost unsurpassable bar for many actors.
With the most simple and not-so-profound dialogues like Kitne Aadmi The, Jo Darr Gaya Samjo Marr Gaya and Tera kya Hoga Kalia, Khan had arrived on the Bollywood scene, giving life to one of the most celebrated and iconic characters in Hindi cinema.
On his 79th birth anniversary, here are five amazing tales of actor Amjad Khan, probably the only actor who could go from sets to sets playing nine different characters in one day!
1) Life Before Movies
Born to actor Jayant (Zakaria Khan) in undivided India’s Peshawar, in 1940, Khan belonged to a Pashtun family.
Khan was a bright student who completed his schooling from St Andrew’s High School in Mumbai and got into R D National College. While at college, Khan was active in his college’s political scene, getting elected as a Student Body President.
He loved reading English poets like Wordsworth and Keats and eagerly engaged in political theories or philosophies of Plato, Socrates and S. Radhakrishnan.
After completing his Masters in Philosophy from Bombay University (now Mumbai University), Khan joined the world of theatre to give a chance to his passion for acting that he had imbibed from his father.
2) Khan was Not the First Choice In Sholay
Can you imagine anyone else ace those dialogues while chewing tobacco in the magnum opus? Though actor Danny Denzongpa had bagged the role of Gabbar, another commitment forced him to give the role up.
It is said that the film’s writers, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, developed a new lingo or the character of Gabbar. No wonder both, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan were ready to shed their ‘hero’ image to play the vicious villian.
But destiny had different plans.
Watch Gabbar Singh’s famous dialogues:
Salim and Javed had spotted Khan on stage plays. Once they arranged a meeting with Khan and director Ramesh Sippy, they wrote Bollywood history.
3) The Family Man
As hard as it may seem to believe, Bollywood’s legendary villain lived a quintessential love story.
Khan and his love interest Shehla, daughter of the late writer and lyricist Akhtar-ul-Iman, lived in the same building in Bandra, Mumbai.
She was merely fourteen when Khan, who was then doing his Bachelors, fell for her. According to Filmfare, he even sent a marriage proposal which was rejected as she was too young.
Their romance continued in true movie fashion through letters when Shehla was sent to Aligarh for studies. And, this particular love story saw a happy fate when the two lovebirds got married in 1972.
Khan and Shehla had three children and the day their eldest son, Shadaab, was born, Khan signed Sholay. Despite being busy with movies, sometimes shooting multiple movies in one day, Khan always made time for his children just like any doting father.
“Obviously, while growing up, kids my age would think that my father’s real-life nature was similar to his on-screen persona, but once they’d meet him they would become very fond of him because in real life he was a fun-loving and gentle person who was particularly good with children,” Khan’s son and actor Shadaab tells Man’s World India magazine.
Though Khan passed away before Shadaab made his onscreen debut in the movie Raja ki Aayegi Baarat, Khan made sure his son did not become a product of nepotism. He always encouraged Shadaab to write his own destiny and leave his ‘ego’ at home.
4) The Versatile Actor
Throughout his professional journey, Amjad Khan portrayed many roles with panache and ease.
Whether it was risking his business and family life as Bishan for his childhood friend Kishan (played by Bachchan) in the superhit movie Yaarana or playing the funny policeman in Kumar Gaurav’s Love Story, Khan never shied away from stepping outside his comfort zone.
One of his most powerful and memorable performances was in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977), where he plays Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, an artist, poet, and a sympathetic character.
Khan received several chances to play interesting and colourful roles and he credits his directors and writers for seeing him beyond ‘Gabbar’ and giving him platforms to explore himself.
“They saved me from getting typecast, always keeping an element of surprise for the audiences,” he said an interview.
He also, unsuccessfully, tried his hand at producing and direction but gave up after a few failed attempts.
5) Being the Right Kind of Senior Colleague
Being a President of the Cine and Television Artists Association, Khan was a benevolent leader who would go out of his way to sort issues in the film industry like demands for fair wages and better working conditions. He was also known for helping his juniors and other industry people in tight spots.
“He helped his friends in turning producers and friends from his theatre days by encouraging them to be directors and actors in films. He helped two of his ordinary tailor friends to start designer outfit shops which are still doing well,” writes veteran film journalist Ali Peter John in Bollywood Hungama.
In a career spanning two decades, Khan went on to do over 130 movies, some of which will always be evergreen classics.
It was in 1976 that Khan met with a serious accident on the Mumbai-Goa highway, on his way to shoot for the film The Great Gambler. It is said that the drugs he was administered during recovery caused him to gain weight very quickly. This led to Khan developing heart complications. And in 1992, at the mere age of 51, Khan died due to heart failure.
A versatile actor still remembered for his portrayals of ruthless antagonist and on point comic timing, Amjad Khan will always live in the collective memory of colleagues, friends, and admirers for his reel and real persona.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)