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October 31, 1998


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The 'Loin' king

S B Mirza

Ajit. Click for bigger pic!
We didn't know we'd never see him after that. He seemed so full of life and cheer. His blue eyes twinkling as he talked of famous heroines of the yesteryear. Ajit was very much the brash Pathan, never given to wordplay offscreen, speaking his mind without bitterness or bias.

His famous lines, delivered with that easy throwaway style of his, made him one of the best-loved villains in Hindi cinema. And the lines were repeated and built upon long after their context has dimmed into the past.

From a young boy who first played the hero in 1946, he has had a long and eventful career. And when we asked him about his past, he held forth at length.

"My English professors, Sebastian and Professor Mahmood Hussain... used to tell me, Oye Pathan, yaha kya time waste kar raha hai (Why are you wasting time here?). Why don't you join army or the film industry. Their constant coaxing and cajoling eventually made me board a Bombay-bound train one day.

"For some inexplicable reason when I was studying in the Golconda middle school itself, I used to tell my classmates that Golconda would always be remembered for its two diamonds, the Kohinoor and myself. When I was going to Bombay, all through my journey I was under the misconception that the moment I reached Victoria Terminus, I'd given a warm welcome by such stalwarts as Shantaram, Mehboob Khan, K Asif, and Kardar. But when I actually reached Bombay I was shocked to see that dozen of young men who were far more handsome and talented than me were not even getting the chance to work as extras.

"I had a recommendation letter written by the famous Hyderabad poet Shahed Siddiqui addressed to the famous director of the yesteryear, Rafeeq Ghaznavi. When I went to Rafeeq Ghaznavi's residence, I saw a very handsome man wearing a dark blue T-shirt telling Ghaznavi that he was out of work and in great financial difficulties.

"Later, I learnt he was Al Nasir, the heartthrob of millions of girls of the time... He later married film star Veena, incidentally the first lady artist in India to charge 100,000 rupees for a film.

"For three years I worked as an extra and used to get Rs 3 every day. Up to 1946, I had a hard time, but in the middle of 1946 I got a job with Information Films of India, where I used to get Rs 100 per documentary. Out of this, I had to pay Rs 25 as commission to one Sharmaji.

"I used to live in a kholi in Mahim and one man named Ishaq used to arrange food for myself and my other two roommates for Rs 30 per month. During this period one-day I was summoned by Vishnu Cinetone and was signed as the hero of their film Shah -E-Miser at Rs 300 per month.

Click for bigger pic!
After that I worked in Aap Beeti (heroine Khursheed, Chilman (heroine Rehana) and Suraj, produced by Amarnath. After some time, I shifted to Linton Court, Colaba and was able to buy a second-hand motorcycle. This motorcycle proved very lucky for me. A few days later. producer Trilok Kapoor signed me for Durbar with Noorjahan, the top heroine of that time. Kapoor Saheb gave me a thousand-rupee cheque as advance payment. That night I could not sleep a wink lest somebody stole it from me.

"My next, film was Qusoor with Madhubala and then Chawla Saheb's Nastik, a great hit and which gave me name, fame and wealth.

After that, I worked in 87 films as a hero and in two films as a side hero with Dilip Kumar (Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur). Both these films created box-office history."

Ajit's second phase of career started in 1963 when he signed for Suraj as a villain. The hero was Rajendra Kumar. He went on to play villain in Prince .

Although both these films were great hits, he didn't get the recognition he so rightly deserved and then came Zanjeer. After which everything changed for Ajit.

"Actually, I brought Salim ( Salim-Javed fame) from Indore where I used to go hunting often.

"Salim wanted to become an actor and, after coming to Bombay, he acted in some film like Professor and Baaraat. Soon Salim realised that he was not suited to be a hero, so one day he came to me and told me he had given up acting and was writing a film script with his friend Javed Akhtar.

"After he completed the script of Zanjeer, it was first sent to Dilip Kumar. But he returned the script. The script was given to Raaj Kumar who told Prakash Mehra, 'I can't work in your film because I don't like your face.' Eventually, Amitabh Bachchan, then considered a jinx, was selected for the film.

Prakash Mehra was in such great financial difficulties that we had to wear our own clothes for the film; the producer could not even provide us our costumes."

Zanjeer went on to become a platinum jubilee and Prakash Mehra had it made. I too got many good assignments while Salim and Javed reached the top overnight."

After Zanjeer, Ajit became the villain to hate, and helped the fortunes of films like Yaadon Ke Baaraat, Kaalicharan, Ram Balram, Heeralal Pannalal and Warrant.

On May 25, 1995, while returning from the dubbing of Dev Anand's Gangster, Ajit suffered his first massive heart attract at the Hyderabad airport.

Then, on October 21, 1998, he suffered his second attack... And it was too strong -- even for the redoubtable Ajit.

A gem among villains

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