Of course, we also spoke to him about Amjad Khan’s super stardom. Those were the days! Aaj kal toh villain film mein hai bhi ya nahin, woh pata bhi nahi chalta (You seldom understand in today’s films whether a villain exists or not). ‘Sholay’ (1975) flagged it off with an unforgettable performance for that man and a long list of films followed thereafter. What a wonderful actor Amjad Khan was! His premature demise (at the age of 48) was an irreparable loss to Bollywood. There are many revelations and anecdotes in this interview, wherein Shadaab also unveils his own plans of bouncing back in Bollywood. Watch the video below:
Excerpts from the conversation that transpired:
Do you feel the word ‘legendary’ hasn’t been used enough as a suffix and epithet for your father Amjad Khan…
Pata nahi (I don’t know). But I am of the opinion that God was kind to him. The people loved him and still love him. It doesn’t matter if the word ‘legendary’ hasn’t been written before his name. The new generation of WhatsApp may not know what he achieved, but I can’t blame them. Even my Dad wouldn’t have had any complaint.
You can be referred to as your dad’s lucky mascot. He signed ‘Sholay’ on the day you were born…
Yes (laughs), but he didn’t have money to pay so that my mother (Shehla Khan) could be discharged from the hospital I was born in. She started crying. My dad was not showing up at the hospital; he was ashamed to show his face. (Late) Chetan Anand whose film ‘Hindustan Ki Kasam’ he’d done then, happened to see my father holding his head in a corner. Chetan Anand saab gave him Rs 400 so that my mother and I could come home.
Amjad Khan ran to the shoot of ‘Sholay’ fearing that the role would otherwise go to Danny Denzongpa. Right?
Danny Denzongpa was the first choice for ‘Sholay’ but he was shooting for a film around that time, which was being made by Feroz Khan. I can’t recall the film’s name.
Yes, I think it was ‘Dharmatma’. When the ‘Sholay’ role of Gabbar Singh came to my father, Salim Khan saab (writer of ‘Sholay’ with Javed Akhtar) recommended his name to Ramesh Sippy (director of ‘Sholay’). The flight to Bangalore whose outskirts ‘Ramgarh’ (about 70 km from Bangalore airport) was the place where ‘Sholay’ was supposed to be shot at, took off but there was so much turbulence that day that it had to land back 7 times. After that when it came to a halt on the runway, most people dropped out from the flight in fright but my Dad did not. He was scared that if he didn’t do the film, they would go back to Danny saab. So, after a few minutes, he took off in that same plane.
‘Sholay’ was initially declared a flop and the sale of tickets picked up from the fourth day if I am not wrong…
Yes, and there was too much talk of changes being incorporated. One of them was that the voice of my father should be dubbed by someone else. They said his voice was bringing the film down. Thankfully, Ramesh Sippy stuck to his guns and he was seconded by Amitabh Bachchan. There’s a very interesting incident regarding ‘Sholay’ narrated to me by (late) Tom Alter.
Tom Alter was at Moti Mahal, a restaurant in Mumbai’s Bandra area. A waiter started conversing with him and told him: “Sir, have you seen ‘Sholay’? It’s such a dabba (bad) film. Sanjeev Kumar has no hands. Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan are all the time tossing a coin. Jaya Bhaduri is standing at a distance with a lantern in her hand all the time and Amitabh and she are looking at each other, but there is no romance shown between them. And who is this Amjad Khan? What kind of dialogues he rattles- ‘Kitne aadmi the?’ Please do not see ‘Sholay’.” Ironically, Tom Alter landed up at the same restaurant after four months. The same waiter came up to him but apparently didn’t remember that he had served him 4 months ago. Again he started conversing with him and said: “Sir, have you seen ‘Sholay’? Do you know (his voice rising in awe) it’s a film where Sanjeev Kumar does not have hands? Kya film banayi hai saab! (What a film has been made)! And, Jaya Bhaduri’s romance with Amitabh Bachchan is something special. Moreover, the dialogues especially ‘Kitne aadmi the?’ are fabulous. You must see this film.” Everything turned 180 degrees.
This is the problem with our audience. Remember how the people were upset that otherwise the talkative Nana Patekar is silent in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Khamoshi’ (1996)…
In fact, that was the beauty of the casting. But as a rule, people are not open to change. Today, however, ‘Khamoshi’ is considered a path-breaking film.
Which is your favourite dialogue from ‘Sholay’?
For me, I don’t know why but it is, ‘Yeh Ramgarh wale apne betiyon ko kaun chakki ka pisa aata khilate hain re?’. ‘Jo darr gaya samjho mar gaya’ comes second for me.
Did the role of Gabbar Singh in ‘Sholay’ get into your father’s body language? Did he started talking and walking like that? Often, actors take time to shed off a strong and popular role…
I was very young then. So I don’t recall. But if there had been a change in his personality, my mom would have told me by now. As much as I know, my father never brought his work home.
When we saw Amjad Khan in the films after ‘Sholay’, he had put on a lot of weight. The accident at Sawantwadi near Goa during the days of ‘The Great Gambler’ (1979) shoot was the reason…
That accident more or less sealed my father’s fate; it cut his life by at least 25-30 years. That accident was the beginning of the end. He was a sportsman in his younger days. He couldn’t play anything outdoors after his accident.
You were very upset when your dad passed away and that was natural. But I think you also threw glass or cut glass…
It was a Sunday (July 2, 1992). I had come home from outside. It was evening time. My mom said that I should wake up dad as he’s been sleeping since some time. When I reached him, I found he was cold. We called the doctor who was nearby and he said that he’s probably got a heart attack. The doctor asked for water soluble adrenalin injection. I drove like a mad man and returned with the injection. I couldn’t get it very easily and finally found one at a chemist near Asha Parekh Hospital. I returned, handed over the injection to the doctor and looked at him very expectantly but he said, “We don’t need this injection anymore.” I asked him, “Is he going to be okay?”. He replied, “No, you are just a few seconds late.” I hit the doctor, slugged one of my dad’s closest friends and smashed crockery. I went on to bang my fist into the wall, which took a very long time to heal.
My dad’s demise affected my younger brother Seemab too in a bad way. After a few days, he got an asthma attack.
That was not all; a lot more happened.
How was it on the financial front after your father passed away?
My father had a habit of helping people and letting go of a lot of money. Producers came home and told him sob stories, promising him the keys of their homes. He saw through them but didn’t care about the money. He had even kept his money with friends and not banks. When he passed away, producers owed him Rs 1 crore 25 lakh. But nobody from that lot came forward to pay up. A few people had taken loans from him and a handful of those returned it. But imagine how much money we lost that was ours!
About four months after my Dad passed away, a gangster from the Middle East called and wanted to speak to my mother. He told her that he had heard from unconfirmed sources that the industry owed her (late) husband Rs 1 crore 25 lakh; he further said that he would give her that amount in 3 days because her husband was a good man. My mother flatly refused, saying that her husband never took favours from the underworld.
My mother put the lives of Seemab and my sister Ahlam back on track. If she hadn’t been strong at that time, we would have been on the streets. She got into the construction business.
What has happened to villainy today? All the thrill, background music, dialogues are gone? Pata bhi nahi chalta villain hai kaun…
Strong villainy is still prevalent in South cinema. Look at the recent movie ‘Pushpa’; a strong villain makes the hero more heroic. In Bollywood, there is no dearth of actors, filmmakers and storytellers. What I think has started to happen here is that the Bollywood culture is being followed. In Bollywood, the dividing line between the heroes and villains has blurred. What I am saying is that we don’t need to get too much into realism. If I want to see realism, I would watch a documentary. If I want to see movies, I need them to be larger than life. Don’t dilute the villain, don’t look down on the concept of villainy. A balance is required. Sensibilities of people watching films in Bollywood is different. We need to make films for our audience.
Coming to you. You made your first splash in ‘Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat’ (1997) and went on to do films like ‘Hey Ram’ (2000) and ‘Refugee’ (2000). Why didn’t things work out for you, thereafter?
Bear with me; it again goes to my father’s death. I remember I was keen on joining the police force. But after he passed away, I felt I needed to pay him a tribute. I remember my father and I were listening to the song ‘Don’t let the sun go down on me’ and he asked me, ‘Will you let the sun go down on me?’. I didn’t get him then. But later when I told my father one day that I was thinking of becoming an actor, he recalled one of his films before ‘Sholay’ wherein he was supposed to play a henchman but got sacked after two weeks. He continued to talk about that film and asked me what would I have done in such a situation. I had a temper in those days and he told me that I would have created a scene before walking away; he added that with my temperament I would destroy his goodwill.
But when he passed away, I felt that I can make him proud. So, I took up some films just because I wanted to be in movies. But the anger in me, especially because we hadn’t been paid a huge sum of Rs 1.25 crore, refused to leave me. So I left movies and went away from the scene for 17 years.
Two years back, I was seen in Hansal Mehta’s series ‘Scam 1992’ (2020). It was wonderful working in ‘Scam’. I started getting roles but similar to the one I’d played in ‘Scam’- the rich and snooty Ajay Kedia. I turned down at least 15 such roles. I didn’t want to be typecast. But this got me into the audition circle. A few projects I wanted did not come to me, not because I wasn’t up to the mark in the auditions but because actors who were more saleable than me were selected. Now, I am in advance talks on two projects and God willing, I shall get them.
But wouldn’t it be wise to pick up whatever work you get in the initial days at least of a comeback?
You are right. But now, I am not here for money. My point now is that I came back after 17/18 years in a small role in ‘Romeo Akbar Walter’ (‘RAW’), which released in 2019. I am not 18. I have come back older and I have mellowed down. I have become very focused.
I have 3 goals. Firstly, I want to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Raju Hirani. The former has great sense of canvas and the latter one tells complicated stories in a simple manner. My second goal is to win a National Award. My third goal is to be the first actor from Bollywood to win an Oscar. I don’t know if even one will be accomplished but the day all three are accomplished, I shall retire.
Has your mother started watching your dad’s movies? She had stopped watching them…
Just a few, but very reluctantly. She sees his photographs, though.
Earlier, she didn’t see his photographs as well….
Yes, she didn’t want to be reminded.
Take us through the bond that your father had with Amitabh Bachchan…
Bachchan saab was instrumental in all my father’s scenes being retained in ‘Sholay’ and also as I told you earlier, my father’s voice being not dubbed in it.
A few years ago, I wrote a novel ‘Murder in Bollywood’ for Penguin. I wanted Bachchan saab to launch the book. I was entering Taj Lands End Hotel (where Shadaab is currently having a staycation with his wife Rumana Achwa whom he married in 2006) and messaged him about my wish, not forgetting to introduce myself to him as I hadn’t kept in touch with him after my father’s death. I remember I didn’t even have his number and had to acquire it from someone. I had hardly entered the hotel’s coffee shop and I received a reply! He wrote: ‘Yes, I will come. Send me the address’. Very few people have such manners; he’s on top of the manners-list.