Amjad Zakaria Khan (12 November 1940–27 July 1992) was an actor and director. He worked in over 130 films in a career spanning nearly twenty years. He enjoyed popularity for his villainous roles in Hindi films, the most famous being the iconic Gabbar Singh in the 1975 classic Sholay and of Dilawar in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978).
Before Amjad Khan came to films he was a theatre actor. His first role was in the film Nazneen (1951). His next role was at the age of 17 in the film Ab Dilli Dur Nahin (1957). He made appearances in minor roles with father Jayant in a few films. He assisted K. Asif in Love And God in the late 1960s and had a brief appearance in the film. The film was left incomplete after Asif’s death in 1971, and it ended up releasing in 1986. In 1973 he made his debut as an adult in Hindustan Ki Kasam.
In 1975 he was offered the role of dacoit Gabbar Singh for the film Sholay by Salim Khan who was one of its writers. In preparation for the role, Amjad read Abhishapth Chambal, a book on Chambal dacoits written by Taroon Kumar Bhaduri (actress Jaya Bhaduri’s father). Amjad shot to stardom with the movie. His portrayal of Gabbar Singh is considered by many to be the first depiction of pure evil in Indian Cinema. His mannerisms and dialogues have become an integral part of Bollywood lexicon and spawned numerous parodies and spoofs. Sholay went on to become a blockbuster. Although it boasted an ensemble cast of superstars including Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar, who was nominated that year for the Filmfare award for Best Actor category, Amjad stole the show with his unorthodox and eerie dialogue delivery. Even to this day people fondly remember his dialogues and mannerisms. He later appeared in advertisements as Gabbar Singh endorsing Britannia Glucose Biscuits (popularly known as Gabbar Ki Asli Pasand), the first incidence of a villain being used to sell a popular product.
After the success of Sholay, Khan continued to play negative roles in many subsequent Hindi films in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s — superseding, in terms of popularity and demand, the earlier Indian actor, Ajit. He often acted as villain opposite Amitabh Bachchan as the hero. His role in ‘Inkaar’ was also presented in terrifying manner. He made his presence felt in ‘Des Pardes’, ‘Nastik’, ‘Satte Pe Satta’, ‘Dada’, ‘Chambal Ki Kasam’, ‘Ganga Ki Saugandh’, ‘Hum Kisise Kam Nahin’, and ‘Naseeb’.
Khan was also acclaimed for playing many unconventional roles. In the critically acclaimed film Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977) (based on the novel of the same title) by Munshi Premchand and directed by Satyajit Ray, Khan played the helpless and deluded monarch Wajid Ali Shah, whose kingdom, Avadh, is being targeted by British colonialists from the British East India Company. It is the only movie in which he dubbed a song. He played many positive roles in films such as Yaarana (1981) and Laawaris (1981) as Amitabh’s friend and father respectively. In the art film Utsav (1984), he portrayed Vatsayana, the author of the Kama Sutra. In 1988 he appeared in the Merchant-Ivory English film The Perfect Murder as an underworld don. He excelled at playing comical characters in films such as Qurbani (1980), Love Story, and Chameli Ki Shaadi (1986). In 1991, he reprised his role as Gabbar Singh in Ramgarh Ke Sholay, a parody of the legendary film which included look-alikes of Dev Anand and Amitabh Bachchan.
He ventured into directing for a brief period in the 1980s directing and starring in Chor Police (1983), which was a success, and Ameer Aadmi Gareeb Aadmi (1985) which fblock buster to do well at the box office.
Amjad was the president of the Actors Guild Association. He was respected in the film industry. He would intervene and negotiate disputes between actors and directors/producers. One such dispute occurred when Dimple Kapadia agreed to play a mother role and later backed out. The entire film producers’ community tried to boycott her. Vikram intervened on behalf of the Actors Guild.