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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil