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BANNER

4 October 2011

Zanjeer (1973)

Directed by: Prakash Mehra
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Pran, Ajit, 
Jaya Bhaduri, Om Prakash, Bindu, Iftekhar
1973 saw the release of another Bachchan movie - one that was completely different from Saudagar as chalk from cheese. It was a film that would turn his fortunes, and set the industry on its head. It was a film that would usher in a new type of hero, one who, deeply troubled himself, did not think twice before dealing with issues on his own - with, or without the help of the law.

On a Diwali night when the city of Bombay is celebrating, a small boy, playing hide-and-seek with his father watches from his hiding place in horror as his parents are murdered. Stunned with shock, all he can see from the gap between the cupboard doors is a man in a tan suit, a white horse dangling from a gold charm bracelet on the killer’s wrist, as he shoots. His world explodes much as the fireworks outside.
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Twenty years later, having been adopted by the inspector (Satyen Kapoo) who investigated the double murder, the boy grows up to be  Inspector Vijay Khanna (Amitabh Bachchan) with as many transfers, as there are black marks on his record. His inability to see any crime other than through a red haze of anger makes him take action in ways that are not very acceptable to his superiors.
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It doesn’t help that he is traumatised by continuing nightmares of an uncontrollable white horse that brings back to mind the brutal murder of his parents. His methods fall just inside the rule of the law, but his barely sheathed anger means that he is transferred at the end of every successful case. 

And so, unsurprisingly, he is transferred once more. This time, as he views the files of a neglected little police station, he learns that almost 90% of the unsolved crimes committed in the area could be laid at Sher Khan’s footsteps. 
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A large, jovial Pathan, Sher Singh (Pran) who is sent for, comes to welcome the new inspector.Vijay gives Sher Khan short shrift. Sher Khan is angry, but still calm. “Let’s see how you do in my area, and without a police uniform,” he says.
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Vijay is not one to refuse a challenge.  
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A well-fought battle ensues between two worthy opponents. At the end of it, Sher Khan is happy to have found a ‘real man’, and proffers his friendship. Vijay refuses. He will be no friend to a criminal. “Is that so?” retorts the Pathan. “As of today, as of now, I’ll stop all my illegal activities.” And so he does.
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Vijay doesn't know it yet, but he has made a strong ally.


Meanwhile, Vijay gets a tip from a man who refuses to identify himself, and hangs up as soon as the information is given. Unlike the officers preceding him, Vijay acts on the information given and confiscates the suspect truck. The news is brought to Teja but he is unfazed. He decides to take the war to the enemy and invites Vijay home.
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Teja’s girlfriend Mona is entrusted with the task of sweetening the recalcitrant inspector. Which, she tries valiantly, to do. (The colours in this scene are eye-popping! While Vijay is sartorially elegant in a crimson suit, Mona darling is wearing what looks like a yellow feather duster or a brood of new-born chickens in her hair. Check this out.)
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The anonymous tips continue. This time, however, the truck breaks the police barricades. In the chase that follows, the truck runs over several school children. The itinerant knife sharpener Mala (Jaya Bhaduri) is in a position to have seen the driver. As she makes her way home, she is visited by a couple of goons who pay her to feign ignorance.
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For the money they offer her, she is ready to stay mute for the rest of her life. When the police constable takes her to Inspector Vijay, she pretends not to have seen anything, much to Inspector Vijay’s disgust. 
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Furious at her seeming callousness, he drags her off to the police morgue and shows her the children’s corpses. Shaken to the core, Mala caves and identifies the truck driver from the police line-up. 
But her actions have consequences - as she is returning home, some goons chase her. Fleeing for her life, she comes back to Vijay’s house. It is the start of a quiet understated relationship between two people who are otherwise alone.
Mala’s evidence is just one more link in the chain that leads to a very respectable industrialist, Dharmadas Teja (Ajit) who is leading a double life as a very successful criminal. Vijay pays him a short visit and leaves with his suspicions grounded, but with no real evidence. Vijay’s activities with regard to crime causes Teja to lose business. Knowing that bribery is not an option, Teja tries another tack – when murder fails, he uses a local drunkard to frame Vijay on charges of bribery.
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Found guilty, Vijay is suspended from the force and the only man who can give evidence for him is killed. Vijay is jailed for six months. 
When Vijay is released, he goes to meet the man whom he knows is responsible. 
 
The result? Teja’s goons arrive to beat him up. He thrashes them soundly but Mala is grieved, and fearful for Vijay’s life; she prevails upon him to give up his quest for revenge. Why can’t they just lead a normal life? Seeing her distress, he agrees, and forges an uneasy peace with Teja.
As he battles depression and frustrated anger at his own helplessness, D’Silva (Om Prakash) comes to meet him. D’Silva is the informer who comes out of the shadows of anonymity when he learns that the only man on the force who helped him can no longer do so. He excoriates Vijay for stopping short of his goal, and narrates the reason why he is taking part in a very dangerous game.
 
Vijay feels trapped between his promise to Mala and his obligation to help D’Silva in achieving their common goal. He falls into a deep depression that even Mala cannot dissipate. His quest for that long-ago murderer, and his passion to fight crime was what kept him going. With that taken away, he is a lost man. 
Mala begins to be afraid that Vijay’s anger will feed on him from the inside until it destroys him. 
 
Will Vijay ever be free of his past? And what about D'Silva who is still searching for justice? Will Vijay ever be able to settle scores with Teja?
The sweetly romantic era of Rajesh Khanna was coming to an end, though the last nail in its coffin was yet to be hammered in. No one had any idea that a juggernaut by name of Amitabh Bachchan was set to take over, not even Rajesh Khanna who had worked with the much junior actor three years earlier.

Ironically, Amitabh Bachchan wasn't even the first choice for the role of Inspector Vijay Khanna. This film had been signed by Dharmendra, and when he opted out, had been offered to Dev Anand, Raaj Kumar, and even Rajesh Khanna. Every single one of them turned it down. Writers Salim-Javed, who were also to become famous after this film released, had seen Amitabh Bachchan in Bombay to Goa and had been impressed by him. They recommended him to Prakash Mehra, who, with nothing to lose, agreed to sign him on.

Then began the hunt for a heroine. None of the established actresses agreed to sign on opposite the promising-but-still-unknown hero. "Sign a film with that camel?" is what the  top actress already signed on to act opposite Dharmendra is supposed to have said, when Amitabh was signed on in his stead. That must have hurt. It was Jaya Bhaduri, then Amitabh's steady girlfriend and already a well-known star, who saved the day by agreeing to sign on the dotted line. 

After Upkar, where producer-director Manoj Kumar had given Pran a new role as a do-gooder, Zanjeer was to cleave a new path for the versatile actor. Amitabh himself credits actor Om Prakash for recommending him to producers after Parwana, and Pran for being his strongest supporter during the Zanjeer days. As Sher Khan, the hennaed Pathan who is willing to give up his illegal activities for a friendship, Pran brought a certain je ne sais quoi to an otherwise-typical character. He is the man who is brought to a friendship with a man who is, or should be, his arch enemy; and later, is responsible in helping that friend in  his quest for justice. 

Both Jaya and Om Prakash had small but crucial roles in the film. Jaya is Mala, a knife-sharpener, who is also very quick to wield the tools of her trade. 
 
She is quiet, supportive and definitely not a doormat. Even though the wildcat is tamed by love, she is nevertheless outspoken when it comes to Vijay's trauma and its effect on their lives. Om Prakash is a police informer who uses information gleaned from bars to get revenge for the death of his sons. His is the sole emotional character in the movie. 

Ajit, long-time secondary hero, stepped into the villain Teja's white shoes with √©lan. Attired in stylish suits (his own) Ajit's Teja was to bring back a dashing, dapper, suave villain onscreen.  He had class, did Teja, and that was to reflect in his low-pitched performance. After Zanjeer, Ajit moved on to being a major player on the villainous front.

Vijay was a total anti-hero, the first on screen. While heroes had played totally negative characters onscreen before, or ones with grey shades, never had there been a hero like Amitabh's Vijay. He did not laugh, he did not cry, he did not sing songs, he did not romance his heroine. He seethed, with an anger that was turned inward. He worked within the parameters of the law, but used its long arm as a catharsis for his own inner demons. He was a simmering ball of anger that was just waiting to explode, and explode it does in the last reel of the film.

Any review of this film would be incomplete without mention of its script-writers Salim-Javed. This was their fifth film as a team, and the one that would catapult them into fame in their own right. Loosely based on Death Rides A Horse’, and on the life of Teja, an underworld Don, they adapted Zanjeer to an Indian milieu with a tight script and to-the-point dialogues. They wrote a hero who reflected the times, with the same pent-up anger of the common man who did not want to wait for a messiah.

For both Mehra and Amitabh, this was a do-or-die endeavour. And it must have been a nail-biting wait to see if the film would become a hit or go bust. Calcutta embraced the new hero with open arms; Bombay took its time, but when it did, it did so in a way that set a phenomenon called Amitabh Bachchan on his way to stardom. Almost overnight, a man who had been rejected both for his voice and his unconventional looks, became a star. The king had arrived to stake his rightful claim to the throne, and he would rule unchallenged over his fiefdom for the next decade and half.

26 comments:

  1. Oh, goody! Finally a movie I have seen. And loved. Amitabh Bachchan looked so boyish in this film.

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  2. Yes, he did, didn't he? This is one of my favourite Amitabh movies. And I saw this much later - in the eighties, I think.

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  3. Oh, yes - I know all about Saat Hindustani! I watched it and reviewed it on my blog (as part of a series review of three related films - Shichinin no Samurai, The Magnificent Seven and Saat Hindustani). Perhaps the fact that I'd seen the original, and its Hollywood remake (which, while nowhere as good as Kurosawa's film, was still a pretty good Western)... that made Saat Hindustani even more difficult to bear.

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  4. D'you know? I didn't even associate Saat Hindustani with either the Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven! But then, I saw SH long before I saw either of the others, and I was a kid then - and the story didn't appeal to me at all. When I picked it up to watch later (again, before I watched either of the others), I still didn't like it - I filed it away in my mind as my fault in not being able to appreciate what many people told me was a classic. Good to know that my instincts were not wrong!

    I saw The Magnificent Seven first. And thought it was a darn good entertainer. (I can still watch it, which to my mind, is the mark of a good film.) Then I saw the Seven Samurai and was totally blown away. They were two *completely different* films.

    *toddling off to read your review of Saat Hindustani and the others*

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  5. I always think that if ever there was a prize for the father-son duo who worshipped the cinema screen the Mighty AB shot, pummeled and baritoned, that trophy would have been in our living room :). I still keep all the VHS tapes, [lovingly cleaned and rewound regularly, thank you very much :) ]. I remember also driving my Father nuts for that 'horse bracelet', across most of the souks in UAE. There was also a remake of Zanjeer in Malayalam, named Nayattu (1980), and I think it was remade in Telugu recently. Thank you for opening up that cookie jar from childhood.. :)

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  6. Closely fought for by me, let me remind you. :) Glad to welcome another Amitabh-fan to my blog. I don't have any VHS tapes; Illustrated Weekly had once offered twenty of his films for Rs2000. This was in the eighties (when 2000 was still a big sum) and I remember begging my father to buy them for me. He refused. :( So, now I have all of them on DVD. Ya-a-ay!

    I'd rather not think of his movies being remade! I still shudder when I think of 'Chitrashalabham' (was that the movie?) with Biju Menon as Dr Bhaskar, or even that horrible remake of Dostana with Kamal Hassan, Madhavi and Sarath Babu reprising the roles of Amitabh, Zeenat and Shatrughan Sinha! Though I think that last one was dubbed from Tamil, which doesn't make it any better!

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  7. Chitrashalabham ..Si.. (gulp). That must be one of the movies in his career that must have always come back to haunt Jayaram, specially on his bad hair days :) Nayattu had Jayan - Prem Nazir reprising AB- Praan and PN looked real colorful with that size 8, hennaed toupee, mind you ! :-)

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  8. Oh god! Now you have beenandgoneanddunnit! I am sure to have nightmares of Prem Nazir in a toupee and I actually like the man!

    But Jayan? Oh god! Again, probably the *only* hero in Malayalam who had any body to boast of, but actor he wasn't. A block of wood could emote better. Again, I remember liking him a helluva lot when I was a kid. But replacing Amitabh? In one of his most career-defining roles? *Moans of pain ensue!*

    Should I even dig that out and watch it??? No, don't think I can stand the torture!

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  9. Another AB film, which I haven't seen!
    But if you go on writing these splendid reviews, I will never see the need tto watch them! :-)

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  10. What a lovely compliment, Harvey! Thank you. But do watch Zanjeer too if you can - these are some of the best 'commercial' films there were.

    And really, when you said you were going to come and read my posts, you really meant it, didn't you? You seem to have caught up on every single one! And posted comments - that's so sweet of you! Thank you.

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  11. Well, I meant what I said, sorry wrote! :-) And your reviews are a treat to read!
    Thank you for the interesting posts!

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  12. You are welcome! And you have really made my day(s). So, thank you!

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  13. Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan had appeared for an interview for a magazine (I think Cine Blitz) in 1990. In that, Rajesh had mentioned that he was offered "Deewar" (1975), but because he had differences with Salim-Javed, he didn't do it.

    That he was offered "Zanjeer" is news to me.

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  14. I feel very strange that Amitabh wanted to quit the industry if the movie flopped. He had "Namak Haraam" and "Abhimaan" too in the same year. Possibly they came later and shooting may not have begun when "Zanjeer" was released.

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  15. Did Mumtaz call him a camel? She had already worked with him in "Bandhe Haath" a year earlier. So, are these rumours.

    I remember another interview of hers in 1990, when she made a comeback with "Aandhiyaan". She was speaking poorly of Amitabh and saying he was ignoreing her at a public event a few days earlier. Was this Amitabh's reaction to her earlier statement? I may never know....

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  16. I think it was good Dharmendra didn't do this movie. He was one of the busiest stars at that time and did "Yaadon Ki Baaraat" in the same year. Imagine the same hero going after the same villain in two movies for killing his parents. The public may have discarded one of the movies.

    Prakash Mehra had worked with Dharmendra in "Samadhi" (1972) which was a silver jubilee hit. So I don't know if he didn't have a firm foot in the industry when "Zanjeer" was being started.

    Vijay was a total anti-hero, the first on screen. While heroes had played totally negative characters onscreen before, or ones with grey shades, never had there been a hero like Amitabh's Vijay. He did not laugh, he did not cry, he did not sing songs, he did not romance his heroine. He seethed, with an anger that was turned inward.

    The above description would have fitted exactly for Dharmendra's Shankar in YKB too (not sure about 'that first on screen' part).

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  17. Many of Amitabh's earlier roles were rejects by other heroes. I wonder whether the original choices ever felt dismayed that a rank newcomer succeeded in a role they rejected...

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  18. YKB was released after. :) Interestingly, the script for YKB was also by Salim Javed. So, now the question is, did they write YKB first or did they write Zanjeer? "The first anti-hero onscreen' was Javed's description (Talking Films), not mine.

    Maybe it was the failure of Bandhe Haath that caused Mumtaz to reject the film once Dharmendra opted out? Prakash Mehra had sunk his entire fortune into the making of Zanjeer. He's on record as saying that *everyone* in the industry dissuaded him from making this film; when he persisted, he found out that no top hero was willing to work with the script as it was; no top heroine was willing to work with the man they had eventually found to play the role of Inspector Vijay. For him, as well as his hero, this was a make-or-break film.

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  19. Namak Haram and Abhimaan were not even in the same league! Besides, neither had released when Zanjeer did. With all his flops behind him, this was, he considered, his last chance to show what he could do. He must have been throughly dispirited when he made that statement.

    See, both the other films were what was then known as the middle-of-the-road cinema. And commercial success was necessary if he wanted to be a hero - or he would also have petered out like Anil Dhawan, etc. While the other two were reasonably successful at the box-office, nothing succeeds like a box-office success that Zanjeer became.

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  20. Hmmm. makes sense to me. Amitabh would have thought "Namak Haraam" may do what "Anand" had done to his career earlier, which was pretty little. Abhimaan, yes. He may not have thought much of its success.

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  21. this is first super hit movie of amitabh bachchan 

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  22. shahi u r right 

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  23. You are my favorite reviewer! I can't believe no else ever pointed out that the story was lifted from the spaghetti western. Many of Salim Javid scripts were "inspired " by old,new, European ,American and many Japanese ,Kurrosaw in particular movies. But Zanjeer is still an outstanding movie with great dialogue. In many ways it is still Amitabah's best movie.

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  24. Thank you, kG. What a nice thing to say! And all because I mentioned where the script derived its inspiration from? :)

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  25. Wow Rajesh would have been great in the Shashi' part. I always thought Shashi,as any Kapoor looked too glamorous and well fed to play a struggling middle class person. And Rajesh was great but man, how self destructive was he?

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