Amjad Khan – Memories
Dad was born in Peshawar, in the year 1943. Grandfather was Jayant, the actor. Dad’s family shifted to Bombay during Partition. In those times, there was nothing like a hero or a villain in films. You could be a hero in one film and an extra in another. It all depended on finding work. For seven years, grandfather had no work. They even pawned the furniture, but not once did he let the children feel the pinch.
As a child, dad had a violent temper. When he was in the ninth standard, he was suspended from St. Andrews School because he had hit the priest. Apparently, this priest had hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims. Dad was a predominant child while Imtiaz chacha was the timid type. He would tell dad not to speak to girls, because he believed that you grew horns if you spoke to a girl! Dad was always a toughie. Once he made chacha run across the wall and told him, ‘I will teach you how to shoot a moving target’. Then he added, ‘You are the target’!
Then dad joined National College, only for the dramatics. He was very bold. You see, grandmother was very protective of dad so when he went to college, she would make him wear sweaters. In his college there were some Shiv Sena guys who used to sit on the wall and thought of themselves as the custodians of the college. A couple of times they passed snide remarks. The next time dad caught hold of one and said, ‘What is your problem’? They were so taken aback. But that is dad. He always did things on the spur of the moment and never once thought of the consequences. He was the best of friends with the bullies and toughies.
He was very witty. Once, there was a party for the cricketers where Sunil Gavaskar made fun of Asrani’s hair style, saying it was high time he had a haircut. When dad took the mike he said, ‘He can’t get a haircut because all the barbers have joined cricket’! Dad was one person who would never leave his friends in the lurch. If he had been alive, the ban wouldn’t have gone on for so long. He always looked for solutions. He would have supported Sanjay Dutt whole-heartedly.
Very talented, on stage, he didn’t give up theatre even after joining films. My dad was doing this open air play in Delhi. There was this guy who was very nervous. He kept muffing up his lines. There was a scene where dad had to slap him. So dad slapped him so hard, that even in the cold he could see the guy’s cheek swelling up. And this made the guy so angry, that he gave a star performance. But when dad was directing, all of them were very afraid of him.
For this Interstate Youth Festival, dad’s team needed some 14-odd points to win the championship. No one got more than three or four points out of 20. The rules were, after two scenes a light would go on, indicating that halftime is over. After that, the stipulated time of a half-hour or 45 minutes, another light would go on, indicating that their time was up. If they continued after that, then for every two minutes they deleted one mark.
My dad’s group was doing a play on the war called, ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon’. The guy forgot to put on the lights and the play took 20 minutes longer than the stipulated time. Yet they got 17-and-a-half points! They were then called to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Dad said that while other university guys came wearing blazers, there they were, phatichars, in jeans and shirts. Everybody looked down upon them and they were the winners. When they were offered cigarettes, they just picked up handfuls and put them into their pockets!
My dad was the best actor. There is nobody to compare with him. Like in Sholay, Gabbar Singh is a very weak character. He gets pasted by the heroes and everybody. But it was his portrayal of the character that made all the difference. Initially, they wanted him to play the stereotyped dacoit with dhoti, tilak and pagadi. But dad had done a lot of research on the character. There really was a dacoit by that name. He had a fetish for collecting noses and ears. He dressed in green, so that whenever a villager saw him from a distance, he thought he was a policeman or jawan and never raised the alarm. Dad convinced them about all this and he got his way.
I believe that during the making of Sholay, Salim-Javed had said, since the film had three heroes it was like puffing a goat in front of three lions. But after the film, we know who was the lion and who were the goats.
Never once did dad yell at me or hit me. He would never hit a child. One look was enough. If I had made a mistake and somebody complained to my dad in front of 10 people, he would wait till they left, then take me aside, tell me that I had made a mistake and explain. He was very tolerant. I failed in the eighth and ninth standards. In the eighth I was very unwell, so it was understandable. The next year I passed, yet I had to sit for a re-exam in Maths. Everybody was sure I would fail because dad used to fail in Maths every year. He would copy the questions neatly on the answer paper in different colored ink! He had beautiful handwriting so they would give him two marks for that! Well, because dad had so much faith in me, I did not have the heart not to study and I passed. When I failed the next year I was scared. But dad behaved normally with me. When you are expecting a yelling or a scolding and the person behaves normally, it hurts more. He just said, better luck next time. But I knew that he was not happy. He didn’t believe in hitting or spanking a child. He said it only ruined a child.
Dad’s motto was, ‘Live dangerously, die young and have a beautiful corpse’. I want to follow it, except for the die young part. You start living dangerously once you join the industry. I would love to be a villain in films. Anybody can be a hero. Without a good villain, there would be no story. But I am more interested in direction. That will come later on, I first have to complete my studies. (Son Shadaab Khan on his father Amjad Khan – 1993)