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Stories Never Told Before: Who Discovered Amjad Khan Before Sholay?

Actor Amjad Khan aka Gabbar Singh rose to fame with Ramesh Sippy's Sholay. But do you know who actually discovered him?

We all remember Gabbar Singh with great affection.

But do we know who discovered Amjad Khan?

Rewind to the 60s and 70s when director Ramanand Sagar had scored an unbelievable double hat trick. Meaning, Sagar had delivered an unbroken series of six blockbuster movies one after the other. Ghunghat (1960), inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Nouka Dubi, had a cast of fading stars like Bina Rai, Pradeep Kumar and Bharat Bhooshan. Said to have been sabotaged by internal politics with not even one poster, Ghunghat turned out to be an unexpected goldmine for producer SS Vasan. And it fetched Bina Rai the Filmfare Best Actress trophy.

When Sagar was casting for his next film Zindagi (1964), he had to do it with great secrecy because now everybody wanted to work with him. At a hush-hush meeting at Tajmahal Hotel, Ramanand Sagar met and finalised Rajendra Kumar for Zindagi. It was considered a casting coup when Zindagi was top-lined by Prithviraj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Vijayanthimala and Raaj Kumar.      

Ramanand Sagar cast Rajendra Kumar again in the smash hit Arzoo (1965).

Then came Ankhen (1968) with Dharmendra and Mala Sinha, Geet (1970) with Rajendra Kumar again, and Lalkar (1972) with Rajendra Kumar and Dharmendra. 

Thus did Ramanand Sagar notch up six hits in a row – Ghunghat, Zindagi, Arzoo, Ankhen, Geet and Lalkar.  

He was on top of his game when his son Subhash Sagar who was a part of the Wadala chapter of the Junior Chamber of Commerce wanted to raise funds for his organisation. So he and his colleague Nanik Rupani organised an acting contest. And that was where blockbuster maker Ramanand Sagar spotted a young Amjad Khan.

Amjad and his older brother Imtiaz Khan were boisterous and well-known for their inter-collegiate plays.

Their father, actor Jayant had worked with Sagar in Zindagi but there was no nepotism at work here. Whatever breaks Amjad got were completely on his own talent and personality. 

When Ramanand Sagar saw a spark in Amjad and thought he’d make a fine villain, he asked his FTII-trained son Prem Sagar to click his photographs. Prem took Amjad to a makeshift studio room above the Sagar office. He stuck potato peels, jee haan alu ke chhilke, on one of Amjad’s cheeks to make it look like a knife wound and gave him a gun to hold. The results were so impressive that Ramanand Sagar cast Amjad Khan as Ajit’s henchman in Charas and 50 per cent of the film was shot.  

Meanwhile, Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay was made and released in 1975. In the first week, Sholay was written off as a disaster and the unknown Amjad Khan was also dismissed. But once Sholay picked up and went on to become one of the biggest commercial classics of Hindi cinema, Gabbar Singh became a household name.

Distributors clamoured for him and he could no longer be cast as Ajit’s henchman. Amjad’s role in Charas was therefore re-written and he was made boss of the crime scene in Europe. Charas (1976), starring Dharmendra, Hema Malini and Amjad Khan, was also a box-office hit.

Amjad Khan was known as a doston ka dost. He acted in many more films made by the Sagar family whose fortunes had begun to fluctuate. But right until his untimely end, Amjad was consistent about one thing: he accepted whatever price the Sagars offered him and never ever bargained with them over his fee.

This is Bharathi S Pradhan bringing you Stories Never Told Before. Will soon be back with another one.          

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