New Delhi: Every tale needs a good old-fashioned villain. For Bollywood, that villain was often Amjad Khan — the iconic Gabbar Singh from Sholay (1975).
Khan’s two-decade career included over 130 films, many regarded as Bollywood classics. On what would have been his 78th birthday, here’s a look at the man who became synonymous with villains in the Mumbai film industry.
The Sholay factor
Born to actor Jayant (Zakira Khan) in 1940, Khan completed his education in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Long before Sholay made him a household name, Khan made his foray into Hindi films as a child artiste. He made his debut as an adult actor in Hindustan Ki Kasam (1973). However, he was destined to find his space in the annals of history as Bollywood’s favourite villain.
Khan’s deep baritone and ruthless laughter immortalised him as Gabbar Singh but surprisingly, he wasn’t the first choice for the role, which even Amitabh Bachchan was vying to play.
Khan completely immersed himself in the character that would come to define him for many. He brought alive the Iago in Gabbar, unsurprising given that he was well-regarded in the theatre circuit before making it to the silver screen.
The legendary dialogues from the 1975 classic — ‘Kitne aadmi the’ and ‘So ja beta, nahin to Gabbar aa jayega’ — still send shivers down the spine. Many of them have become metaphors over the years.
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A versatile actor
But Gabbar Singh both made and unmade Khan, journalist Shaikh Ayaz wrote last year.
Two years after the blockbuster came Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977). Penned by Premchand and put to screen by legendary director Satyajit Ray, Khan was cast as the Nawab whose kingdom was under siege from the British colonial rulers.
Khan played the melancholic Nawab, one who favoured the pen over the sword, as convincingly as Gabbar, if not more. His poetic disposition gave Khan the chance to play out the philosopher king on screen.
This followed a string of movies, a number of them with Bachchan, including Parvarish (1977), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Yaarana (1981) and Laawaris (1981), to name a few.
Khan’s incomparable diction, which he meticulously practiced, and physique got him typecast as the villain. However, according to Ayaz, the actor was rather “cocky” about his versatility.
“My directors took risk, giving me comic and emotional roles. That saved me from getting typecast. When audiences come to see my film, they can never guess what I will do. It’s like Chandrashekhar’s (leg spinner) googly,” Ayaz quoted Khan as having remarked once.
He briefly ventured into direction too and made a couple of movies — Chor Police (1983) and Ameer Aadmi Gareeb Aadmi (1985).
Khan also served as the president of the Actors Guild Association.
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Khan married his college sweetheart Shehla Khan in 1972 and had three children with her. His first son Shadaab Khan was born on the same day he was offered Sholay.
Khan suffered a serious accident in 1976. The drugs administered to him caused a lifelong weight issue for the actor.
Due to his increasing weight, he died of a myocardial infraction in 1992 at the age of 51.
Amjad Khan’s portrayal of Gabbar Singh in Sholay is unforgettable. The film itself – the greatest star cast ever assembled, it had proudly announced – remains a classic.
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