Gabbar Singh: Whose Death was Nehru’s B’Day Gift

By Manas Paul

For the last four decades “Gabbar Singh” of Sholay personifies the essence of Evil-the-Absolute with his undiluted violence, blood thirst and, most importantly his brand of dialogues – sadist, coarse and earthy and, well, a bit eccentric too. Unparallel in content and style. Since the day Sholay hit the screen, Gabbar Singh till date reigns supreme as the most iconic villain of our films. Gabbar was so powerful a character that almost all the male actors of the films were keen to have the role. And we all know Danny had made his worst film career decision by turning it down. All will, however, agree that Amjad Khan did justice to the role. Amjad Khan will forever be remembered for his fantastic portrayal of the ‘best’ of villains of our filmy dunia.

While Sholay was largely influenced -not exactly copied the way nowadays they are being made, by many other Hindi and Hollywood movies- Gabbar Singh also came from a real life dacoit of Bhind, Madhya Pradesh of 1950s. The original Gabbar Singh was as cruel, as sadistic and as eccentric as the Sholay Gabbar.

How was the Original Gabbar:

The original Gabbar , often called Gabbra, was son of a poor Gujjar villager Raghuvir Singh of Bhind ( MP) and he was born in 1926. From his childhood Gabbar was violent, eccentric and obdurate in nature . Crime and violence came easy for him and dacoity was the right choice. In 1955 he joined dacoit Kalyan Singh’s gang. But within months he formed his own gang. As his life in Chambal began, he soon became most dreaded of all the dacoits- especially for his cruelty. His special trait was he used to ‘cut nose of children’ and men in uniform whenever he could catch any of them. In fact, he chopped off the nose of 26 people ( another report put the figure at 19) , mostly children by 1959. He would later also send the nose to the victims. It is said that one Sadhu had told him that if he could cut nose of 116 persons he would be ‘immortal’. Gabbar believed it. ( In Sholay the script writers, it seems, took note of his specialty and got Thakur saab’s hands chopped off instead of his nose. Perhaps, because it was more easy to play a ‘handless’ than a nose less). For years Gabbar Singh created a reign of terror in Bhind and adjoining areas. Though in Sholay Gabbar was shown wearing a tattered uniform, but the real Gabbar would have killed anyone with a khaki falling in front of him. Such was his contempt for uniform that once he is reported to have almost killed a postman.

If you notice it carefully, there were two definite and clear departures from the previous dacoits—one, this is for the first time instead of pure Hindi Gabbar was speaking Khatri rural language and second, this time Gabbar was dressed differently sans paagri , tilak on forehead etc . The dialogues were fully down to earth , crude and crisp befitting for a ruthless killer in place of those chaste Hindi mixed with elements of pride and sense of victimhood  which were heard from dacoits played by Sunil Dutt or Vinod Khanna  et al.

According to a report : “In between October and December of 1956, he committed a series of murders and dacoities. Thereafter, by December 1957, he went to on to disfigure several persons in Machhuari, Bhakre, Chammodi and Chirenasta villages besides killing a policemen and, yes, chopping off his noses”.

He was codenamed G4 by the MP Police by then.

Sometime in 1957 Gabbar selectively killed 20 children ( another report said 21) of a village because he suspected someone from the village tipped off the police about his movement. Remember the dialogue in Sholay – “pachas pachas kosh dur jab bachcha rota hai to ma kehti hai so ja nahin to Gabbar aajyega’’ . Besides hacking off the nose of his victims, he had also killed more than 50 people in cold blood.

You also remember Thakur saab’s dialogue : “Mujhe Gabbar Chahiye , jinda, sirf jinda”. Actually this was uttered by then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Kailash Nath Katju- ( not only Jinda, it was actually Jinda ya Murda) to his police officials sometime in 1959. Already Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru had asked the concerned governments to put a stop on the dacoit menace and Katju was facing tough time for the dacoits, especially Gabbar. It was during that time opposition arranged a show with the people whose nose was cut by Gabbar to press the point of lawlessness in MP.

Then IGP of MP was one of the legendary police officers of the country K F Rustamji. It was reported that Pt.Nehru personally asked Rustamji ( who was before being posted as MP IGP Nehru’s Chief Security Officer and Rustamji was the officer who formed the BSF, was also its first DG ) to look into the matter. He went all out and entrusted the task with a young and daredevil DSP Rajendra Prasad Modi. Modi had by this time become a terror for the Chambal dacoits. It was by then he had already killed another notorious dacoit Putli Bai.

By then Gabbar was carrying exactly Rs 50,000 cash reward on his head as boasted by Sholay Gabbar – ‘Arrey o Samba kitna inam rakhhe hain re Sarkar hum par ?’ …’Pure pachhash hazaar , Sardar ‘. Of the amount MP police had declared a reward of Rs 20,000, UP police Rs 20,000 and Rajasthan Police Rs 10, 000.

Modi kept on chasing Gabbar but every time he gave a slip. It was on November 10, 1959 in Gabbar’s own village Dang during a combing operation Modi personally saved a small boy named ‘Shikaara” from a burning hut risking his own life. Gabbar could escape on that day but by this very the act of bravery Modi won the heart of the villagers. Two days later, Gabbar came to the village called Ghumkapura ( Jagannathkapura) to extort money. But Modi was informed by an informant from Dang village beforehand about the visit and he at once led a massive contingent of about 500 armed police to wipe out Gabbar.

On November 13, 1959 the police ambushed and cordoned off Gabbar and his gang in a place in between national Highway and a rail track. Eleven dacoits including Gabbar’s close Jagat Singh and Ram Dulhare were shot dead. At last Gabbar appeared with his gun blazing. It was then Modi himself lobbed a grenade at him. The grenade exploded on Gabbar’s face killing him on the spot. Hundreds of villagers were witness to the killing. The killings took place in between 3 pm to 4 pm.

Next day on 14 November 1959 morning K F Rustamji talked to Prime Minister Pt Nehru to ‘present him the birthday gift in the form of Gabbar Singh’s killing in bold encounter previous evening’. “He appeared happy”.

Khusro Faramurz Rustamji,, who played a key role in Bangladesh Liberation war 1971 as first BSF DG had noted about Gabbar Singh of Bhind in his autobiographic narrative “The British , The Bandit and the Border men” (by PV Rajgopal , another IPS officer and former DG MP) ..

Interesting may sound that both Javed Akhtar and Saleem Khan used many of the real life incidents in the film, including their own. Let me just refer one.

We all remember the famous meeting of Amitabha Bachhan with ‘Mosi’ with Dharmendra’s marriage proposal. Recollect the dialogues. Those were also taken from real life –and that too from Javed Akhtar and Saleem Khan themselves.

Actually,  Javed Akhtar was in love with Honey Irani ..but Honey’s mother Perin Irani was not ready to accept Javed..so Javed sent Salim—who is elder to Javed- to pursue the matter with Perin Irani…Saleem Khan was also perhaps not very keen about the relation. In fact, he was according to some was opposed to that relations.  But Saleem Khan was  also a man of wits in his own ways. So the dialogue began this way…Perin : Ledka kaisa hain ? Saleem : We are partners and I would not work anyone unless I approve of him ..but lekin woh daru bahut peeeta hain… Perin : keya daru peeta hain ? Salim : Ajakal daru bahut nehi peeta hain, bas ek do peg.. aur ismei aise koi kharabi nehi hain..lekin daru peeney ka bad red light area me bhi jata hain…… The story is is same … only the last part of the dialogue ” Khandan ke patah chalte hi apko khabar kar denge’ was not there in the original dialogue… but was incorporated by Salim-Javed…( The Hero of Milkha Singh film was son of Javed Khan and Honey Irani) ..By the way somewhere I read that Thakur Baldev Singh –that is Sanjeev Kumar in Sholay- was taken from Salim ‘s ( father of Salman ..Arbaz et al) father in law …in fact the idea of Gabbar came to Salim only as he recollected stories of original Gabbar from the stories he heard from his father who had been a police officer in Indore.

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