From the ‘70s, society increasingly began to need punching-bags to hit at for their frustrations with the system. So in a perversely reverse streak they began to put memorable reel villains on a pedestal, almost making them heroes in terms of their ‘adulation’ for them. And so were born icons like Gabbar, Mogambo, Dr. Dang and many more. The identification was instant!

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Of course, none touched the popular quotient of Gabbar (from Sholay), with actor Amjad Khan—as Gabbar—being hired to endorse everything from biscuits upwards for kids then, kids, who must be adults now!

While Sholay saw reworks of all sizes and grades (now that’s another story!), the ultimate tribute is now paid by producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali, South director Krish and leading man Akshay Kumar with the forthcoming film Gabbar Is Back, earlier titled just Gabbar. The latter title, interestingly, was discarded because it had already been registered and copyright issues came in!

Amjad Khan and Akshay Kumar as a 'Gabbar'
Amjad Khan and Akshay Kumar as a ‘Gabbar’

An anti-corruption film, Gabbar Is Back, based on the Tamil hit Ramanaa, now tributes Sholay in the most open fashion, hoping to cash in on the magic of Indian cinema’s biggest hit ever. This time, Gabbar is the reformist and vigilante hero, and the tag-line says “Kaam hero ka, naam villain ka”.

And this Gabbar spouts the original Gabbar’s immortal lines by Salim-Javed that are tweaked for the film’s needs yet retain the well-remembered core of the original, like “Pachaas pachaas kos door jab koi rishwat maangta hai to sab kehte hain mat le, mat le varna Gabbar aa jayega” and “Ab tera kya hoga, kaalia?”

Clearly, it was a stroke of inspiration on the part of the team to call the film by that iconic name with which even today’s children will connect if their families have been movie buffs (and how many Indians are not?). Says writer Rajat Aroraa: “Gabbar as a title had already been finalized when I was signed. So I had to capitalize on some iconic lines that live forever in our minds. At the same time, we could not have overdone this, so I have at the most used just four or five of Gabbar’s famous one-liners.”

Producer Shabina Khan admits that the idea for the title came from Sanjay Leela Bhansali. And why Gabbar? “That will be clear only after watching the film’s climax!” she declares.

Nevertheless, the universal appeal of the villain was also exploited in the film’s marketing, like a poster put up at a paan stall, in which one more ‘Gabbar-ism’ was modified—“Rishwat ka chuna khaaya, ab goli kha.”

Villains are often paid tributes or spoofed even in other films, with lines like “Tu kya apne aap ko Gabbar samajhta hai (Do you think you are another Gabbar)?” An ingenious case was when Prem Chopra, in his memorable cameo in Bobby, leered, “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra.” Chopra recalls director Raj Kapoor telling him that if the film became a hit, his character would always be remembered. “Till today, more than 40 years after its release, whenever I go to a public function I am asked to speak the line!” reveals the famous villain. “It has been used endlessly on television shows and stage performances by every mimic. And to think that even on the first day of shooting I was pretty disturbed that I had no other lines! It is amazing!”

Yes, reel villains can become heroes too. And let’s be honest, without Gabbar, Jai, Veeru and the Thakur would never be worth their salt!

– Rajiv Vijayakar, a Senior Journalist, Film & Music Critic and Historian for Hindi cinema and Film Music is also an Author and Twice Jury Member at 58th and 62nd National Film Awards.

Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar

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