Obituary: Amjad Khan

Amjad Khan, actor, born Lahore 1943, died Bombay 27 July 1992. AMJAD KHAN, one of India's best-known actors, appeared in over 200 films, and through just one performance changed the concept of villainy for all Bollywood, or Bombay, film productions. Khan's portrayal of Gabbar Singh, the psychopath dacoit, or highwayman, in Sholay ('Glowing Embers', 1975), India's most successful spaghetti western, was a rare performance which made Khan the country's most dreaded bogeyman.

His perfect sense of dialogue and rustic intonation in Sholay ensured not only good box-office returns for the movie but a record sale of discs with Gabbar's inimitable dialogues. These are still played, with the same enthusiasm, over loudspeakers across the country on festive occasions.

Soon after Sholay, Khan earned laurels for portraying Wajid Ali Shah, the profligate and hedonistic Nawab or ruler of Oudh (modern-day Uttar Pradesh state), in Satyajit Ray's classic Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players). Impressed by Khan's performance in Sholay and determined to cast him as the nawab, Ray delayed shooting to allow Khan to recover from a road accident. He was not to regret the postponement.

Pitted against accomplished actors like Sir Richard Attenborough (playing the British agent responsible for dismissing the Nawab, obsessed more with dancing and kite-flying than affairs of state) and Sayeed Jaffrey, playing an indolent chess player, Khan singlehandedly carried the film to international acclaim. His abdication speech, before perpetual banishment, is one of the high-points of Indian cinema.

When Khan's enormous girth - due partly to a road accident in the late Seventies but mainly to a daily intake of innumerable and oversweetened cups of tea and tandoori or grilled Indian food - prevented him from playing active roles, he became the suave, yet ruthless gangland boss, as in Dada ('Big Daddy').

But once Khan began to feel typecast as a villain he abandoned his 'criminal past' and turned with equal ease and success to comedy. His most memorable role in this genre was as a Maigret-type police inspector in Qurbani ('Sacrifice'), who uncovers a demonic international plot involving drugs and murder, and, more recently, as Vatsyana, the irreverent sex guru of ancient India in the hilarious comedy Utsav ('Festival').

The son of Zakira Khan, a Pathan from the North-West Frontier Province and popular Bollywood character actor of the Fifties and Sixties (screen name Jayant), Khan was born in Bombay in 1943. He got an MA in psychology at Bombay University in the Sixties but, having inherited early a love for acting from his father and older brother, he took successfully to Bombay's active theatre, which remained a lasting passion and one he always found time to indulge even at the height of stardom. Only recently he acted, to much critical acclaim, in the Hindi adaptation of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Khan's entree to cinema, however, was accidental. In 1975, a well-established actor cast as the tobacco-chewing dacoit in Sholay was held up in Afghanistan. The film's script-writers, Khan's friends from Bombay's theatre world, persuaded the director to give their burly buddy a screen- test. Imitating his old dhobi, or washerman, who belonged to the same part of India as Gabbar the legendary dacoit, Khan easily crossed the hurdle and was cast opposite two of India's best- known actors of the day.

Gabbar ruthlessly loots villages before massacring their inhabitants, including women and children. The character hijacked the movie and spawned a 'Gabbar culture' with millions spouting his racy dialogue, duplicating the same crude and laconic tone and menacing manner. Through the Seventies, 'Gabbar fever' was used to sell virtually everything from betel nuts to scooters and from billboards across the country Khan threateningly 'urged' consumers to spend their money or face Gabbar.

Khan often acted for free in avant-garde and children's films like Asman Se Gira ('Fell from the Sky') and Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho ('Let Mohan Joshi be Summoned'). He even tried producing films but gave up after losing large sums of money on two of them.

Khan was a humane person, universally liked, who always did his best to help any struggling actor in Bollywood's ruthless jungle. He was recently elected president of the Cine Artistes Association and was responsible for agitating for better wages and working conditions for studio hands. He was irreverent and mischievous and once sent a cow to a cinema cafe after it refused to serve him tea, claiming that the milk was finished.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea