By Aashima Talwar Last Updated:
He has been ‘the iconic villain’ of Bollywood. Even after forty-three years of Sholay, Gabbar Singh is the most loved villain of Bollywood. We can rightly say that Amjad Khan’s role of Gabbar Singh in Sholay outlived him, it has immortalised him. His iconic dialogue from the movie, “Kitne aadmi the?” has been our all-time favourite, till date.
After playing a villain in Sholay, Amjad went on to star in blockbusters like Satte Pe Satta, Shatraj Ke Khiladi, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar etc. and played varied characters. It has been almost sixteen years that the phenomenal actor has died, who is survived by his wife, Shehla Khan and their three children. Let’s take a look at Amjad Khan and Shehla Khan’s love story and how life was for the Khan family when Amjad was alive.
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Amjad Khan and Shehla Khan were happily married for 20 years before she lost him to Myocardial infarction, a type of heart attack, in 1992. For Shehla, it was Amjad’s self-confidence that swept her off her feet. Their love story has the perfect ingredients for a romantic Bollywood blockbuster. In their younger days, Shehla and Amjad were neighbours in Bandra. He was in college doing his B.A. and Shehla was a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl when Amjad fell for her. Talking about the same to Filmfare, Shehla said:
“We lived in the same neighbourhood in Bandra. I was 14 and in school. He was doing his BA. I knew him as Jayant uncle’s (actor) son. We’d play badminton sometimes and he once told me, ‘Don’t call me bhai!’.”
He fell for her and proposed her for marriage when she was in school. Sharing how Amjad proposed for marriage back then, she said:
“One day I was returning from school when he came to me and said, ‘Do you know the meaning of Shehla? It means the one with dark eyes’. Then he said, ‘Hurry up and grow up because I’m going to marry you’.”
In a few days, Amjad sent a marriage proposal at Shehla’s home which her father refused, stating she was too young for marriage and it was reasonable enough. The rejection made Amjad furious and he told Shehla that:
“You’ve rejected my proposal? If this was my village we’d have wiped out three generations of your family’.”
Soon after rejecting Amjad’s proposal, Shehla’s father, late writer and lyricist Akhtar-ul-Iman, sent his darling daughter to Aligarh to complete her further studies and stay away from her lover. After the two lovebirds were forced to stay away from each other, letters were their only means of communication. Shehla revealed:
“Every day, I had get a letter from Amjad. I’d also write to him.”
After a few weeks, Shehla fell ill and was called back to Mumbai, where she continued her studies. Amjad was a great support throughout her teenage years as he used to help her out in studies. Talking about the same, Shehla said:
“Amjad had done his Masters in Persian, which was my second language too. So he’d teach me Persian.”
She further talked about how their tuition lessons turned to romance when Amjad started wooing her with her favourite things, Shehla said:
“I was crazy about wafers. So, he had woo me with chips. I grew up only after I met him. I saw my first adult film, Moment To Moment, with him.”
After being in love for many years, they decided to take their relationship to the next level. This time, Amjad’s parents went with a marriage proposal to Shehla’s house, which was gladly accepted by her parents. Soon, in 1972, the couple got married and welcomed their first child, son Shadaab in 1973. Their eldest son was very lucky for the couple as Amjad was offered Sholay on the same day only.
The role of Gabbar was destined to be played by Amjad Khan only. Amjad accepted the offer, but there were a few bumps in the road to success. Amjad was on his way to start shooting for Sholay in Bangalore when the flight in which he was supposed to travel, had a hydraulic failure. He waited for almost four hours due to the technical glitch. Back in those days, there weren’t many flights available. After waiting for so many hours, Amjad took that flight and on his way to Bangalore, he got cold feet, thinking what would have happened if the plane had failed again. He had a two-month-old baby at home and he developed fever thinking about the consequences.
He had reached Bangalore risking his life, to grab the opportunity, else the makers would have roped in Danny Denzongpa. Initially, Danny was offered the role of Gabbar but due to date issues, it was later offered to Amjad who accepted it with open arms and history was written.
Life took an unpredictable turn for the Khan family after the release of Sholay. Amjad and his wife have never thought that Sholay would become a cult classic and Gabbar’s character would be loved by millions. Talking about how things changed for the family after Sholay became a mega-hit, Shehla shared an incident, saying:
“It was the Sunday just after it released. We had taken Shadaab to Juhu beach, when I saw a crowd of people coming towards us. Amjad picked up Shadaab, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Run! Just run!’ We barely managed to get into the car before people started banging on it.”
It became a common thing for the couple, but they didn’t want their son to face all this. Sharing another incident, Shahdab said:
“Another time we were in Hyderabad. A police jeep took us from the airport to the hotel. There were people standing on both sides of the road. I asked Amjad, ‘Are these people waiting for you?’ He replied with a straight face, ‘Ya! Even Kalidas’ wife thought he was a fool’.”
Even though he played a villain on-screen, he was a hero for his children and their friends. Where everyone thought that children would have feared Amjad, it was an almost opposite case. Neither his children nor his children’s friends were scared of him, in fact, Amjad went on to endorse a popular biscuit brand for children and become little ones’ favourite. Talking further about Amjad’s equation with their children at home, Shehla shared:
“At home, nothing was out of bounds for the children. They played cricket with a season ball in the drawing room. He’d say, ‘Don’t shout, nazar ka dar rakho (express disapproval through your eyes). Just his tone was enough for the children to stop misbehaving.”
She further added:
“He was an extremely loving father. Once the younger one Seemab hurt himself and had to have stitches on his face. He sat waiting on the porch for his father to return. The minute Amjad saw him, he too started crying. He used to address Ahlam as ‘princess’. Once she was supposed to be operated for appendicitis. He coaxed his doctor friend to let him remain in the operation theatre while the surgery was being done.”
He was indeed a very loving father to his three children, two sons, Shadaab and Seemab and their daughter, Ahlam.
Being a star wife had its fair share of cons as well. Being the wife of one of the most successful villains of Bollywood, Shehla had to make peace with a lot of things, which also included the link-up rumours of her husband with the actress, Kalpana. She considered herself a fighter and said that whenever she got upset because of those rumours, they would talk it out. Talking about how good Amjad was as a husband, she said:
“He was a good husband. Though he never went out of his way to show affection, ours was an easy relationship. Whenever I’d be upset he’d say, ‘Arrey biwi bol do, bata do’. And after I had shared what was bothering me, he’d say, ‘Now it’s not your problem. It’s mine’.”
She further added:
“I am not the possessive kind; I am not a clinger. I can’t hang around anyone even if he’s my husband. It’s my pride. It’s not that we never fought. If I got disturbed by the rumours, I’d demand an answer. But he never raised his voice. He’d say, ‘You want to fight? Shut the door, turn on the TV, now you can throw things and shout. The children shouldn’t hear’. That was the unwritten rule, no dramatics, no tamasha.’’
She never kept a check on his moves. Talking about the same, she said:
“I had never check on him by speaking to drivers or spot boys. That would’ve been below my dignity. I was confident my marriage would never break.’’
There were strong rumours about Amjad being romantically involved with the starlet, Kalpana Iyer. Talking about the alleged linkup, she said:
“I’ve never spoken about it when he was alive so why should I do so now? I used to definitely question him about the rumours. But I wasn’t looking for chinks in his armour. There was no change in his behavior at home nor did he have mood swings. At home he was Amjad, my husband and the father of my children.”
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Amjad and his wife, Shehla were on their way to Goa for the outdoor shoot of The Great Gambler in 1976, when they met with an accident and had long-term-side-effects on Amjad’s health. On that morning, their driver was driving the car and as he was driving all night, Amjad decided to give him some rest and drive on his own. The moment he went on to flip a cassette, the accident happened and the next thing they knew, they were in a pool of blood.
During the time of the accident, Shehla was six months pregnant with their daughter Ahlam. After the accident, her multiple bones were broken, and her face was smashed. She even suffered temporary amnesia and kept asking who she was and where was she going. Thankfully, their daughter, Ahlam was born healthy, weighing 10 pounds. Though Shehla’s injuries healed quickly, Amjad’s condition was bad. Talking about the unfortunate accident’s side effects on Amjad, Shehla said:
“Thirteen of his ribs were broken; the steering wheel had penetrated his chest and ruptured the lung. His femur bone was broken. He had to be operated and that’s when Amitji (Bachchan) gave his signature for the doctors to proceed.”
After the surgery, Amjad, who was a fitness freak and had a good metabolism, started gaining weight. Due to the accident, his broken bones had put a complete full-stop on his physical workout. Talking about the same, Shehla said:
“He was a fitness freak. He used to play badminton. He used to exercise with a bull-worker. But post the accident all this stopped. Because of all the inactivity and medications, he put on weight. He was a meetha monster. He loved chocolates, rosgollas, gulab jamuns and halwas.”
Nobody in the Khan family knew that what is in store for them on July 27, 1992. They had a very regular day and Amjad had to meet someone at seven in the evening. He went to his room to get ready and what happened next was shocking. Talking about the unfortunate day, Shehla said:
“He went up to change. At 7.20 pm, Shadab came down running saying, ‘Daddy’s gone cold, he’s sweating’. Amjad had fainted. Within minutes he was gone. Amjad always used to say, ‘I’ll go easily’. There was not a single crease on his forehead. He looked peaceful.”
Though Amjad had a peaceful death due to a heart attack, his family went into deep turmoil after he left. Till today, Shehla has not come in terms with his sudden demise. Talking about the same, Shehla said:
“I just can’t sleep at night. I keep tossing and turning. I can only sleep after fajr namaz (morning prayers. Three weeks after he passed away was our wedding anniversary. We were together for less than 20 years. He was only 48.”
She further added:
“I took down all of Amjad’s pictures. Even today you won’t see one in the house. He liked lavish, long drapes and wall to wall carpets. I got my décor changed to something he’d never liked. Once I entered Ahlam’s (who was 15 then) room. She had showcased all his photographs. I left the room immediately.’’
Their children reacted in a strange way when they lost their father at such a young age. The eldest one, Shadaab, never accepted that his father is gone, in fact, today also, he doesn’t accept that his daddy is not there with them. He was only eighteen when he lost Amjad. Talking about Shadaab’s reaction after Amjad’s death, Shehla said:
“He picked up every cut glass item at home and threw it out. Later, he made a premature debut in films which didn’t work. He lost a lot of weight but didn’t tone himself. Awaz bhi phat rahi thi (his voice hadn’t matured enough). It took a while for Shadaab to come to terms with his father’s death. Even today he doesn’t get ecstatic over anything. He doesn’t visit the kabrastan (graveyard). He says daddy’s not there.”
The youngest son, Seemab who was only 10 then, was very disturbed by his father’s sudden demise. Shehla shared:
‘‘He’d keep saying, why are so many people here, send them back. Why are you wearing white? Daddy liked red. Mrs Krishna Raj Kapoor who had come to pay her condolences heard this and said that just do what the children want. Don’t worry about what people say.”
People live, people die but life waits for none, it goes on! Amjad Khan’s family has learned to stay without him, remembering him in their own way. Even after years of his death, Shehla still can’t watch any of his films, as they remind her of Amjad. She said:
“I can’t watch his films even today, something I did to block him out of my mind then.”
Among all his films, Plot No 5, Sholay and Hum Se Badkar Kaun are Shehla’s favourites. Shehla always knew that Sholay will be a blockbuster and it will change their lives. A tarot reader had predicted that Sholay will change their lives forever and it surely did!
Today, Shehla lives with her two sons, Shadaab and Seemab and their wives. Their daughter, Ahlam is happily married to actor Zafar Karachiwala. All three kids are doing well in the industry as writers and directors. Though life has moved on, the spark from Shehla’s life has gone forever!