'My father became a very popular villain and in some films, was paid more than the hero.'
'He was a very simple person. All he needed was six pairs of white shirts and trousers for the whole year, one or two packets of Dunhill cigarettes a day and books.'
Shehzaad Khan on his famous father Ajit.
One of the most distinctive screen villains in Hindi cinema Ajit passed away on October 22, 1998.
The legendary actor, who was born Hamid Ali Khan, is mostly remembered for playing evil roles with suave and sophistication.
His son Shehzaad Khan, who has acted in films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Andaz Apna Apna, is quite the opposite. He is full-on comic guy and can crack jokes at the drop of a hat.
On his father Ajit Khan's death anniversary, Shehzaad talks to Patcy N/Rediff.com about his famous father’s journey into Bollywood.
My father’s screen name Ajit was given to him by Nanabhai Bhatt (director Mahesh Bhatt’s father) because his real name Hamid Ali Khan was too long.
The new name proved to be lucky.
My father was from Hyderabad. When he was 22, he sold his college books and ran away from home to pursue his dreams.
My grandfather was in the Nizam’s military. He was very strict. He was against my father becoming an actor; he wanted him to have a more dignified profession like doctor or lawyer.
Acting was considered taboo. If you entered the Indian film industry, you were outcast from your community. In those days, there were no acting schools. My father, Dilip Kumar and other legends never went to acting school. At the most, they did theatre.
I was so scared of my father that I was unable to tell him that I wanted to act. So how could my father tell his father that he was interested in acting?
We come from a staunchly patriarchal family where you have to listen to your father. We did not have the guts to ask. We couldn't even make eye contact with our father. Even though I knew my father had run away from home, I never had the courage to ask him about his life. It was only when he grew older that he himself started telling us about his life.
When he came to Bombay, he stayed with a friend in Mohammed Ali Road (in south Mumbai).
When I was a kid, my father once showed me these huge cement pipes which are put into nullahs, and told me that he stayed in one of them for a few days. A local goon would collect money every week from people to allow them to live in those pipes. This was in the 1950s or may be earlier.
One day the goon asked my father for the hafta, which my father refused, and bashed him up instead. From the next day, my father became the local goon and no one would take money from him! He would get free tea, snacks and food.
My father started his career as a junior artiste, standing in the crowd in the third row. But because of his deep baritone, he was moved to the first row.
Mahesh Bhatt’s father, Nanabhai Bhatt, gave him a break as a hero in a film.
Then Filmalaya Studios signed him for a couple of years. He did a lot of films with Dara Singh.
He played the hero (Nastik, Bada Bhai, Milan, Baradari, Dholak) and second hero in films like Mughal-E-Azam and Naya Daur.
Later in his life, he became a very popular villain and, in some films, was paid more than the hero.
My father had a very simple policy: whatever work he was offered, he would take. He never said no.
Another thing my father followed religiously was if a producer couldn’t pay him his money, he would take whatever he could get from the producer and finish the matter. He never followed up for the pending money.
There’s an interesting story about how my father became a villain. He did not have to work for four years. He would play cards with his friends, like Rajendra Kumar, at a club at Sea Rock Hotel.
South Indian director T Prakash Rao wanted to make a film called Suraj with Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayanthimala. Premnath was to play the villain but actresses were not comfortable working with him. So Rajendra Kumar suggested my dad’s name.
Rajendra Kumar told my father to try villain roles. My father agreed and started doing villain roles. He tasted success with Zanjeer, Yadon Ki Baraat, Kalicharan... the rest is history.
His acting style as a villain became a rage; people started mimicking him and writing jokes.
Salim uncle (Salim Khan) wrote roles tailor-made for my father as they were good friends.
My father had brought Salim uncle from Bhopal to Bombay. Salim uncle wanted to be a hero. My father told him to come to Bombay and he looked after him like his younger brother. We had a separate house and Salim uncle lived there. My father got him breaks in movies too.
When Salim uncle started writing, he wrote good roles for my father and, in his own way, repaid my father.
We never saw our father’s struggle. He had made sure that we had all the comforts. I was lucky for him because, the year I was born, he got the break as a villain in Suraj.
Those days, actors would work in five-six shifts. We had weekends off from school so, on Friday evenings, we would fly to wherever he was shooting. My mother was never allowed to come on the sets. She came with us for the outdoor shooting of Charas and Barood, but she wasn’t allowed on the sets. My father was very strict in certain matters.
When he was shooting in Bombay, he would come home when we were asleep and went to work before we woke up because all the heroes with whom he worked, be it Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, or Vinod Khanna, had around 40 to 60 films on the floors.
My father loved his father very much and often sent him gifts. Before my grandfather passed away, he showed my father a cupboard where he had kept all his gifts. He told my father that he had not used any of them because he considered them haraam (inauspicious). My father was shattered.
There are some Pathan traditions that are very hard to break.
My father had a love marriage. I think my mother was 15 or 17 years younger than him. Her family had a bungalow opposite Mehboob Studios (in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai).
My maternal grandmother’s neighbour was Jayant uncle, Amjad Khan’s father. That's where that my father met my mother.
She was still in school then. Her name is Sarah -- she is half Canadian, half Muslim.
In those days, telephones were rare but my grandmother had one in her house. So whenever Mehboob Studio’s phone didn’t work, all the actors would go to her house to make calls (laughs).
My father would meet my mother on the pretext of using the telephone.
My father was married before, to an English lady named Gwen. They could not have kids. I have never met my step-mother. He left her when he met my mother and they started seeing each other.
My father was a very simple person. All he needed was six pairs of white shirts and trousers for the whole year (laughs), one or two packets of Dunhill cigarettes a day and books. Yes, books were his major weakness.
He invested in real estate and bought properties mostly in distress sales.
He always kept cash -- he was a hoarder (laughs) -- so people, who wanted money urgently, would come to him and sell off property for peanuts.
My father had a deep baritone.
I believe, during the making of Zanjeer, he asked the director if he had met Haji Mastan and others. He had observed that when they spoke, they didn’t speak loudly. Instead, they spoke in a very sophisticated manner and were always smiling. So he changed the way a villain speaks with this movie.
The truth is that Salim saab knew a don in Bhopal or Indore and wrote the character based on that guy. He took my dad to meet that person and dad stayed with that gentleman for a week, studied him and then portrayed him on screen.
The guy was very suave. Bad man ki ek nazar hi kaafi hoti hain (one glance of a bad man is enough) and my father had that scary personality. He didn’t have to scream.
My favourite movie is Kalicharan. I loved my father in it.
Producer Gulshan Rai made Kalicharan on the condition that director Subhash Ghai got Ajit saab and Premnath saab together.
It was Shatrughan Sinha’s first film as hero and Subhashji’s first movie as director. Rai felt the villain in this movie had to be bigger than Shatrughan, who used to play villain roles before this film, so that the hero becomes larger.
Premnathji was playing the positive part but my dad was playing the villain. If you see Kalicharan, he had a parallel role with the hero.
When I saw my father doing negative roles, it did not affect us. We knew it was for the celluloid.
When he would come home, we would sneak into our rooms and pretend to study. Actually, we would have comics hidden inside the book.
If he was in town during weekends, he would take us out for dinner at five-star restaurants. That was the gift we got for behaving well that week.
We got new clothes thrice a year -- on our birthdays and two Eids. He would take us to his favourite shop, Charag Din, at Colaba (in south Mumbai) because I think there was some scheme there that if you bought 12 shirts, you got one free (laughs). And he used to keep that free shirt!
My dad lived till the age of 76. He had given up working before that because of his bad health. He had a bypass surgery some 18 years before he passed away. He got it done in America and took a break from work.
Subhash Ghai persuaded him to work again. He wanted him in Saudagar. He had Dilipsaab and Rajkumar in the movie and he wanted dad to play the villain. But Amrish Puri did the role.
My dad settled down in Hyderabad where he was happy to be on his farm. Mom lived a couple of months in Mumbai and the rest in Hyderabad because we three brothers were here.
During the last 18 years of his life, he farmed and he read.
Then these guys (from the film industry) started wooing him again. The main guy who wooed him was Salim Akhtar, who made the film Police Officer, with Jackie Shroff. It was dad’s comeback movie and Ashok Gaikwad was the director. In those days, Salim Akhtar was the most sought after producer.
In Hyderabad, dad led a relaxed life and would go to sleep by 9 pm. But when he came back to Mumbai, it was back to the same old cycle of late nights, smoking and heavy food. All of a sudden, he got a heart attack when he was on the farm and we were in Mumbai. My mom was with him. It happened in the evening. He felt uneasy and passed away.
My mother passed away in 2010. She suffered for around 12-15 years, mostly because of cancer. Before that, she had a nervous breakdown when my father passed away.
I was very young, maybe 12, when my dad was shooting for Jaaneman with Dev saab (Dev Anand).
I visited him on the sets in Mehboob Studio and entered Dev saab’s make-up room, thinking it was my dad’s. I was standing in front of the mirror, mimicking my father, unaware that Dev saab was watching me.
He asked me, ‘Young boy, what are you doing in my make-up room and who are you?’
I told him, ‘Sir, I am Mr Ajit’s son.’
He took me to my dad’s make-up room and told him that I was mimicking him. I was very scared and never mimicked him again except in front of my friends.
In fact, my father saw my first mimicry of him in Andaz Apna Apna.
He did not want me to join the film industry. He had seen the debacle of Kumar Gaurav, the son of one of his close friends, Rajendra Kumar. He wanted me to go to Canada.
But I could not see myself in any profession other than acting. I would regularly bunk school whenever a new film released and go to a theatre near my school.
I carried a spare shirt in my school bag and changed into it, then came back to school after the film was over and changed back in time.
I had just finished college when I heard that Naseer (Hussain) uncle was starting a new film (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak).
I went to his office and told him that I wanted to work with him.
He asked me who I was.
I told him I was Ajit's son.
As soon as I took my father’s name, his tone changed and he hugged me.
He said, ‘Meet my hero’, and I saw Aamir Khan standing in the corner.
I knew Aamir; we played cricket together. But we were meeting after a long gap.
Mansoor (Khan) had just come back from the US. Juhi Chawla was selected for the heroine.
We were all fresh though Aamir was one film old and Juhi had done a few small roles.
My father came to know that I had met Naseer uncle. He told me, ‘You want to join films, go ahead, but never ask me to call anyone and request them to take you in a film. You will have to do it on your own merit.'
My father did not watch my first film.
In fact, he has seen only one film of mine -- Andaz Apan Apna -- where I played the comic villain and imitate him.
My father laughed a lot and told me, ‘Why don’t you create your own style?’
Director Raj Kumar Santoshi wanted me to mimic my dad. I did not want to do that because I thought if the film becomes big, it will tag me. But I also thought that Andaz Apna Apna will not work because it was a spoof on the industry.
But the film did well and I am stuck with my dad’s style of acting. I am still trying hard to get rid of it.
I have done movies like Dhartiputra, Tiranga, Bade Miyan Chotte Miyan and Barsaat but they did not work the way Andaz Apna Apna did.
I was lucky to have got a chance to work with Dev Anand in Chargesheet, which was his last movie. I was second villain in that. Naseer bhai (Naseeruddin Shah) was the main villain.
My father’s last film, Gangster, was also with Devsaab. It was a pleasure working with Devsaab. I got to learn so much from him.
I did a lot of television shows like Shakalaka Boom Boom.
I did the first show on MTV called Big Picture, directed by Kunal Kohli. Shenaaz Treasurywala played Mona Dahling.
I also did Bakeman’s Ooh La La that introduced Smriti Irani. We had 75 girls and she was one of the Mona Dahlings.
I have not done a daily soap in the last two years because it takes away a lot of your time.
I am doing a couple of films in the south, in Malayalam and Telugu, and Bhojpuri films too. So I am working and the money is coming in.
All our heroes are following Devsaab, who wanted to be in every second frame.
If the hero will be in every second frame, what will the rest of the cast do? Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan... want to be in every frame. Either they are sitting, singing, dancing, romancing, crying or doing some comedy. There is very little scope left for character actors.
I have two wives, Rukaiyaa and Jane. My first marriage was in 1991, when I was 25 years old.
I have three kids. My eldest son is 20 and is doing his BBA (Bachelor’s of Business Administration).
My daughter is in the ninth standard and my youngest son, from my second wife, Jane, is in nursery.
I know there is a huge age difference. I thought if Aamir and the others are getting a child, so will I! (laughs).
I have two younger brothers, Arbaaz and Abid.
Arbaaz tried his hand at acting in a film called Mrityudaata, where he played the hero with Karisma Kapoor. He’s done some other movies too.
Abid, unfortunately, has polio.