I first met him on the outdoors of Sholay. He had an endearing presence, one that was immediately likeable. I was keen on knowing who he was from day one because he was going to play the role that I had liked: Gabbar Singh.
His credentials preceded him. Salim-Javed, the writers of the film, had recommended him after seeing his work on stage. They spoke of him in glorious terms. In hindsight, it was prophetic.
We loved every thing about him - his persona, his style and his performing capabilities. But we were skeptical of his voice. We felt it was too feeble for a frame so large, and for Gabbar. But he disproved us. That very voice became the most attractive part of the character and, indeed, the film. For Sholay, the selected dialogues of the film came out before the music on a 33 - 1/3 rpm record, and most of the dialogues were Amjad's. Till date, it is only his dialogues that remain in our memory.
Amjad made friends easily and trusted them without question. It came naturally to him. He would be hurt when they betrayed him, but was never vengeful. The tea industry in India needed to acknowledge him for their sales. He drank gallons of it during the course of a day. Tea and his bank of light-hearted banter were two constants in his life.
He possessed great intellect. His study curriculum and his interest in the written word, not necessarily in English, were other attributes. Urdu poetry and semi-classical music found a prominent space in his daily routine. Ghazal evenings were often organized on the terrace of his Bandra house; he was in his element then.
He voluntarily helped people. Not just friends, people. I know for sure that there were several occasions when he would work in a project purely because it would bring someone out of financial trouble, knowing too well that the project would perhaps be harmful for his own commercial standing. In the very selfish and materialistic environment of today's world, it was hard to believe that someone would actually risk his reputation for an unknown.
In times of trouble, you could trust him to be standing beside you. It was ironic and sad therefore to note that when he had his car accident driving to Goa for the shoot of our film, there was no one beside him. He was in bad shape. The accident had occurred some miles away from the city. His wife and Shadaab, his son, were with him. Stranded in the highway, it was a Herculean task for him to find help. By the time we got to the Goa Hospital in Panjim, he was slipping into a coma.
One of the most difficult decisions of my life at that moment was to take the responsibility of signing the document on behalf of him and his family, for surgical procedures to be initiated. There was no one around. His family was in Mumbai and could only come in the next day, and those for whom he had come to work, did not want to take the risk.
The hours that went by during the surgery, as they repaired his broken ribs and pierced lung, were a nightmare. When he made it out of the OT, I drank myself silly that night and wept, and prayed that he would survive. He was a tough cookie: he made it.
He was shifted to Mumbai soon after and recuperated at Nanavati Hospital. I just did not have the courage to go and meet him; reverse withdrawal symptoms. It was difficult to see this strong specimen of masculinity, lying limp weak and defeated. Until, he wrote me a note from his bed, the contents of which I cannot disclose, and I went across to see him. He was fine. The banter was back, as was that ever-present mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
During the making of one of the several films we did together, I think it was Parvarish by Manmohan Desai, we were on a set of the climax where a mock-submarine had been constructed. As was the temperament on most Manji's films, other than him, we all would find the situations he created greatly illogical. (It's another matter that Manji would always have the last laugh; because all his illogic eventually rattled the cash registers at the box-office.) This one was no different.
We suddenly discovered that all the artistes on the set were Librans - Shammiji (Shammi Kapoor), Vinod Khanna, Amjad, Kader Khan and myself. So we quickly and very wittily invented a little ditty 'We are crazy Librans (beeping) up this film!' sung to the tune of a famous World War II British battle-song. This became our signature greeting every time we found ourselves in similar extenuating circumstances and we would have a good laugh over it.
In 1982, I had my accident on the sets of Coolie. Coming out of the ICU after two months, one of the first to meet me in hospital was Amjad. As he walked into the room at Breach Candy Hospital, he burst into 'We are crazy Librans'. It was perhaps the first time the nurses saw a smile on my face.
He left us suddenly. Unexpectedly, without warning. In his sleep. On hearing the news, I rushed to his house and up to his bedroom. It was difficult to imagine he had gone. This wonderful friend, this great companion and colleague just lay there a though in deep sleep.
And as I looked on, I almost felt that any moment he would open his eyes and with his mischievous grin greet me with a “Hi Shorty”