Gabbar Singh — the villain and hero of Amjad Khan's life
A role that put him on the map, but a role that he could never outlive
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Shabby army-greens, a pistol and whip in tow, un-kept ringlets and a beard framing a grubby face, and a pair of boots whose power-click made us skip a heartbeat every time it clank. Circa 1975 evil had a new face — and that was of Gabbar Singh aka Amjad Khan.
The book of Bollywood’s iconic villains would be incomplete without a chapter on Gabbar Singh, perhaps even two, for the sheer impact it had on the audience. So powerful was the character written by writer-duo Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, that apparently it had two of the most popular actors of the time — Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar — vying for it, willing to give up their ‘hero’ image.
But Khan was the chosen one.
Of course, it worked exceedingly well, both for the film and Khan. Khan was flooded with film offers and endorsements — a particularly memorable one was that of Britannia Glucose D biscuits, that went with the tagline, Gabbar Ki Asli Pasand. Picture the sinister Gabbar firing bullets at his henchmen for bringing him the wrong biscuit, and then stuffing his face with half a pack because he loves them so.
Albeit a bit spoofy, but then that was the appeal of Gabbar Singh.
In films, too, the story went similarly. Khan played numerous negative roles through the 70s, 80s and early 90s because it worked at the box office. If Vijay was the hero, Gabbar had to be his foil, for Bollywood knows not to mess up a winning formula.
This, until the very role that put Khan on the map, consumed his persona entirely.
If one were to make a list of other roles, Gabbar-level iconic, played by Khan, we’d be staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor. Of course, we loved him in Inkaar, Des Pardes, Nastik, the laugh-riot Satte Pe Satta, but none match up to the menacing heights Gabbar reached.
Gabbar was Gabbar, to attempt to replicate the popularity or to think that that is possible is but foolish, one might argue. After all, do we complain about Amitabh Bachchan getting typecast as the ‘angry young man’ Vijay?
Kitne characters the? (Source: YouTube screen grab)
Certainly not. But then, Bachchan played to the audience, while Khan clearly tried to claw his way out of the box.
His attempt to not get typecast into the bad-guy image had him experiment with positive roles, comedy and alternate cinema as well. For every Inkaar, there is a Chameli Ki Shaadi. For every Des Pardes, there is a Shatranj Ke Khiladi. For every Naseeb, there is a Utsav.
Yet, when Khan visited the Bachchan home, a young Abhishek Bachchan ran up to his father and informed that Gabbar Singh had come.
When we think of Amjad Khan, Gabbar Singh is what comes to mind.
Such was the impact of Gabbar Singh.