Ajit: The Bollywood hero who turned villain

Hyderabad remembers the Lion on his birth centenary

Entertainment

January 27, 2022

/ By / New delhi

Ajit: The Bollywood hero who turned villain

Kalicharan (1976) and Zanjeer (1973) are one of Ajit's most famous movies

Hamid Ali Khan, more popularly known as Ajit, was a legendary actor and a rare one who crossed over from being a hero to villain in Bollywood and attained fame in both the avatars. His unique style of delivering lines made him extremely popular among the audiences. Today, on his birth centenary Deccan Heritage Fund, an NGO, organised a ceremony for the legendary actor where his family and fans paid respect to the man and put flowers on his grave. A coffee table book based on his life is also about to be released in the next few days.

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January 27, 2022 marks the centenary birth anniversary of Ajit Khan, a Bollywood actor who was noted for portraying mostly villainous and supporting roles and his unique dialogue delivery that still reverberates in the hearts of the audiences.

The actor was born near Golconda in Hyderabad as Hamid Ali Khan. His father, Bashir Ali Khan was in the Nizam’s army. Khan’s father was strictly against his son’s choice to take acting as a career. However, a young Hamid Ali Khan had a very strong will power and despite his father’s objections, sold his college books and paid for the train fare to Mumbai. Without any contact, Khan spent the first few years of his life in the City of Dreams with utmost difficulty.

He got his first breakthrough in, Shah-E-Misar in 1946 where he played a supporting actor opposite Geeta Bose. After his debut film, he kept doing small roles in films like Sikander, Hatimtai, Aap Beeti and Sone ki Chidiya. However, these films failed to provide the breakthrough needed by the actor.

“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,” Shehzaad, Hamid Ali Khan’s son, who is also an actor, said in an interview with The Print, an online media.

But after he got his break, he went on to play leading supporting actor, graduating soon to the leading roles. He did dozens of films as leading man to noted actresses of the epoch, including legendary actresses Meena Kumari and Madhubala, as well as Nalini Jaywant and Leela Mishra.

Ajit Khan did a string of films with both Meena Kumar and Madhubala. His first film with Madhubala was Janampatri in 1949. After that he acted opposite her in Beqasoor (1950) and Saiyan (1951) and several others, both as the lead role and in the support cast.

He also shared the silver screen with Meena Kumari as lead actor in Dholak (1951), Halaku (1956), Guru Ghantal (1956) and many more. He also did many films with Nalini Jaywant such as Nastik (1954), Aan Baan (1956), 26th January (1956), Bharati (1956) and many more.

After appearing in leading and supporting roles for over 20 years in the film industry, Ajit decided to go through a makeover and switch to portraying villainous roles in mid 1960s. His first film as a villain was Suraj (1966) directed by T Prakash Rao and was a big hit and that began and completed his rapid transition from a hero to a villain. He went on to do some of his most memorable roles as a villain in mega-hits like Zanjeer (1973), Yaadon ki Barat (1973) and Kalicharan (1976).

“Although Ajit played the leading man in several films in the 1950s and 1960s, he never had much success. He made the shift to screen villainy in the 1960s and achieved great heights with 1970s films like Zanjeer, Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Kalicharan. It was in Kalicharan that he spoke the line that turned him into the cult figure that he became, Saaraa sheher mujhe Lion ke naam se jaanta hai (he pronounced lion as loin). Besides Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Ajit played the villain in a number of other superhit Dharmendra starrers like Kahani Kismat Ki, Jugnu, Patthar Aur Paayal and Pratiggya and his career peaked by the late 1970s.   Although the hits became rarer in the 1980s, his popularity did not wane until the 1990s,” Saibal Chatterjee, noted independent film critique tells Media India Group.

His famous dialogue ‘‘Mona Darling’’ from Yaadon ki Baarat is a commonly used expression among the masses even today. “Lily don’t be silly’’ from Zanzeer is another famous line that has been memorised by cinegoers. In an era when Bollywood villains were loud-spoken and often carried the appearance of a street thug, Khan introduced a new form of well-dressed, soft spoken-villain. He delivered his lines in a Hinglish accent (Hindi+English), something that was never heard before in the industry.

“In the 70s and 80s when he was riding high, he had his own mannerisms,” says Chatterjee. “Most villains back then, every villain then had their own style. Ajit had his own stye of dialogue delivery, no villain has had that kind of style. If he was born now everything that he spoke on the screen would go viral in form of memes. Before the advent of social media, he was almost like a social media star. Everyone who watched Bollywood and knew his dialogues tried to imitate it. Apart from his dialogue delivery, the way he dressed was also quite unique. In most films, he was nattily attired and would speak lines that if you would think now so many years later it might not make sense but back then they were both menacing and comic at the same time which is what made him unique,” he adds.

“Even when Ajit was saying things that were threatening were quite funny. People when they saw it, saw the funnier side of it. There was something about him that was completely troll. Nobody ever has been able to imitate him, although mimicry artists were quite fond of him because they would copy him, but nobody on the screen was able to replicate what Ajit did. In those decades, as a villain there was nobody who could rival him,” believes Chatterjee.

People paying tribute to the legendary actor (Photo: Deccan Heritage Trust)

To mark his birth centenary, a memorial function was held in Hyderabad to pay homage to the legendary actor. The event was attended by nearly 200 fans and several luminaries of Hyderabad, including his son Shahid Ali Khan, Veda Kumar, president of Deccan Heritage Trust, a non-profit organisation and Zakir Hussain, a former board member of the Salar Jung Museum.

“As today is the 100th birthday of the legendary film actor Ajit, we organised an event to mark the beginning of his birth centenary celebrations. As the legendary actor is not alive and to pay our respect to him, we assembled near his grave, had a small prayer and offered flowers. A lot of people came with flowers including friends, family, fans and media to pay their respect to the man,” Mohd Safiullah, Managing Trustee of Deccan Heritage Trust, the organisation which organised the event, tells Media India Group.

Later in the week, his fans will launch a coffee table book portraying his journey on the silver screen. Titled Ajit: The Lion has been written by Iqbal Rizvi, who has been working on it for the past 11 years. “The book is a collection of some interesting untold stories which will be a delight for fans to read. It is packed with stories. It reveals how my father ran away from home and went on to become a tall figure in the Hindi film industry. The story of a middle-class guy leaving Hyderabad to pursue his dreams in Mumbai is sure to win hearts,” Shahid Ali Khan said in a media interview.

“The coffee table book is currently in printing and will be released within a few days,’’ adds Safiullah.

Final resting place of Hamid Ali Khan in Hyderabad (Photo: Deccan Heritage Trust)

Ajit died of a heart attack on October 22, 1998 in Hyderabad at the age of 76. But even though, the Lion is no more, his roar, in form of his most famous dialogues, has kept reverberating in the hearts of his fans and fans of good cinema.

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