Amjad Khan: The Man Beyond Sholay’s Gabbar
Amjad Khan, my father and best friend, passed away on 27 July, 1992, as suddenly as he had shot to the status of a legend as Gabbar Singh, after the release of Sholay. As a son and a fan, I do not want to mourn his death with heartfelt words, or tell you anecdotes of my childhood spent in his company. Instead, I’d prefer to give you an insight into the wonderful human being he was, through an incident which took place on the sets of one of his films, way back in the early 80’s, when as a villain, he was right on top.
A very big producer of the time had entrusted the task of directing a mega budget multi starrer filled with superstars, to a first time rookie director. So, needless to say, all the stars of the film were doing exactly as they pleased - arriving 5-6 hours late for the shoot, changing dialogues at will and even writing their own scenes, with absolutely no regard for the director’s authority, who being too small a fry as compared to the stalwarts in his film, simply looked on helplessly.
Finally, after more than a couple of weeks of this madness, the director, having had all that he could take, sneaked into a dark corner and broke down sobbing in its solitude. My dad, who was also a part of that film, and the only one not troubling the poor man in any way, happened to pass by at exactly that moment and asked the director what the problem was. The man cried some more and complained to dad about the behaviour of the film’s superstars and how he was clueless about how to handle them.
“I am going to quit, Amjad bhai. I can’t take it anymore. I am leaving the film”, he howled.
My dad pondered for a moment, then turned to the director and said,
“Tomorrow, I will report to the set 7 hours late. The moment I enter, I want you to give me the firing of my life in front of everyone. Do not hold back. Scream at the top of your voice and say whatever comes to mind. I will not say a word. After you finish firing me, I will apologize for coming late and say that it will never happen again.”Amjad Khan
The director, although very scared and reluctant, agreed to go along with this scheme. The following day, dad arrived 7 hours late, well after all the other superstars had reached and the moment he came onto the set, just as planned, the director went ballistic and dad reacted the way he had said he would.
The following day and for the rest of the film, each and every superstar was on the set bang on time and not once did they tinker with any of the dialogues or the scenes. The film went on to become a super hit, and its director got the reputation of being as tough as nails, a no-nonsense cinematic genius, an act he kept up all his life. He never forgot even for a moment that a certain legend by the name of Amjad Khan was big enough to deliberately abase himself, so that a newcomer would be respected and taken seriously. Now, that’s class.
Another incident that I can never forget, took place just a few months before his passing.
Dad and I were at an auditorium one evening for an awards function organised by a charitable foundation. There were just a handful of film stars, along with well-known personalities from various other professions, and the odd politician. One of the actors in attendance, sitting at a considerable distance from us, was an upcoming young hero whose debut film hadn’t released until then. So needless to say he was going unrecognised, which obviously made him feel uncomfortable and out of place.
The only person who caught on to the young actor’s low self esteem was dad, who decided to help him out. So, whenever someone from the audience approached dad for an autograph, he would oblige, then subtly point in the direction of the newbie and tell the autograph seeker,
By the time the evening came to an end, the young actor had signed more than a hundred autographs, and was beaming from ear to ear, looking decidedly better.
That actor today is one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars and till date he doesn’t know that he signed his first one hundred autographs with a little help from a dacoit by the name of Gabbar Singh.
(Shadaab Amjad Khan is an actor and Amjad Khan’s son.)
(This piece is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 27 July, 2015, and is being republished to mark Amjad Khan’s birth anniversary.)