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23 October 2011

Don (1978)

Directed by: Chandra Barot
Music: Kalyanji-Anandji
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Iftekhar,
Om Shiv Puri, Pran, Satyen Kappoo, Helen, Kamal Kapoor
Let me tick off the reasons why I love this movie. For one, it was ‘different’. Not the trite platitude that is trotted out every time a movie is released, but honestly different. 

I was introduced to a man who, ostensibly the hero, is totally amoral. Not immoral, which is quite a different kettle of fish altogether. Amoral – totally lacking morals. Or a conscience. 

Secondly, Don is a man without a background. He has no ailing mother for whose sake he turned to crime; no hapless sister who was raped – Don does not seem to have a family at all. He is not fighting society for perceived wrongs. There are no extenuating circumstances for him to have turned to crime at all, except perhaps his own proclivities. Unusual? You bet!

He is Don. Suave, sophisticated, handsome, dapper, intelligent. Did I forget to mention, ruthless, street-smart, cruel? Wanted by the police of eleven countries; impossible to catch.

The film opens with a shot of a car speeding through a field; at one point it looks like the driver is going to hit the three men waiting for him. 
2 1
It’s a gold deal (Idle comment no.1: I am always dumb struck about how casually actors in Hindi films seem to carry large quantities of gold! Or they are all Super Men.), only this seems to be a double-cross. Don (Amitabh Bachchan), for it is he, is unfazed by the threat of two guns; he casually throws them the suitcase. BAM! It seems the Don has come prepared.

An officer from the Interpol, Mr Malik (Om Shiv Puri) has arrived in Bombay. With him is a file of names – men wanted in several countries for smuggling, racketeering; men who have been arrested before but acquitted for lack of evidence. The name topping the list?
Don, meanwhile, having no knowledge of Interpol’s interest in him, nor caring too hoots, is busy killing one of his own men. When his gang arrives in his room in consternation, Don is still unruffled. (So unruffled that he lights a cigarette and pours himself a drink before toasting them.) The senior members are vocal in their disapproval. Don has a very good reason for shooting the man. (I think it’s a very good reason too.)
Turns out he has an even better reason for doing so. The man was a police informer. The police are definitely ruffled by the news – DSP D’Silva (Iftekhar – who else?) knew the man was an informer; Mr Malik knew the man was an informer. The officers at their meeting knew he was an informer – how did Don find out?

Ramesh, a member of Don’s gang, was planning to quit but is scared of the repercussions. His fiancée, Kamini (Helen) and sister, Roma (Zeenat Aman) are confident they could make a new start before Don even suspects anything.
Narang (Kamal Kapoor) warns Don that Ramesh is trying to run away and that could prove dangerous for them. What Ramesh fears comes to pass; end Ramesh.

Kamini is devastated but determined to take revenge. However, Don is not impressed.
While he is changing, Kamini removes the bullets from Don’s gun. She also calls DSP D’Silva. Don has no great wish to stay, but Kamini perseveres. He is totally disinterested, and more than a little contemptuous.
The police have surrounded the building and Kamini has revealed herself to Don. But nothing goes as expected.
Meanwhile, Roma has come to claim her brother’s body at the police morgue. She is determined to make Don pay for the deaths of her brother and his fiancée. 
Learning Judo and Karate is the first step. (Bear with me, here. Don’t look for logic.) Soon, very soon, (ostensibly having mastered both Judo and Karate) with a smashing new hair cut, Roma makes her acquaintance with Mac (MacMohan) and Narang. She impresses them as being the right person to induct into their gang (no references needed, except that the police want her even more).
When another gang member questions her, she soon shuts him (and any others who may be tempted to question her) up with her new found knowledge of the martial arts, impressing even Don in the process.
Soon word comes of a deal to be finalised and the police, tapping the phones, overhear – the meeting is set at Silver Beach at 11.30 and the Don is to be there.

When Don arrives at the meeting place, he finds D’silva waiting for him. (Idle comment no.2 – I really liked this scene – it sort of exemplifies Don’s ‘cool’ for me. When he finds the police there, Don actually walks toward them. ‘Hello, everybody”, he waves. Awesome!) 
Even as he is making them an offer they can’t refuse, he throws the brief case toward them and BAM! (Idle comment no.3: Does Don always have explosives in every briefcase he carries? Wow!) Under cover of the ensuing confusion, Don makes good his escape. A nail-biting chase by car and on foot later, Don is shot just as he jumps into the river. The police are in no mood to give up. They cordon off the whole area. Don’s luck is turning. Or is it?
However, Don has cashed his cheques in, after all, and D’Silva gets him buried quietly, and gives out to the eager press that the Don had escaped. Why? The answer lies in a missing person case filed at the police station.
At first sight, the street entertainer is Don. But Don is dead. And if he is not, what does he have to do with an international criminal? Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan), for that is his name, is a young man, who is playing guardian to two little orphans,and striving to earn enough to feed them. Vijay may be a county bumpkin, but he has a native shrewdness, and is very wary when D’Silva meets him.
The DSP tries many ways in which to convince him, even resorting to a bit of emotional blackmail. He also promises to find the children’s father.
Jasjit (Pran) is in jail and is recalling his past life. One day, as he was leaving his job at the circus (he’s a tightrope walker), he is accosted by his old colleague, who offers him an assignment.

Jasjit refuses. But when his wife falls ill and needs an operation, he finds that even his old job is not his anymore. This time when Narang accosts him, he agrees. The job goes off well, but when he reaches the hospital with the money for the operation, he is arrested by D’Silva, and shot when trying to escape.

Meanwhile, D’Silva is holding up his part of the bargain. He has the children enrolled in a boarding school, and Vijay is soon ready to play his part. However, the police do not much about Don, and Vijay is worried. But the DSP has a solution to substitute for his lack of knowledge. And also a way of getting Vijay into the bosom of the Don’s gang.
Now that involves some complicated plotting on the part of Roma and the others. And ‘Don’ escapes again, much to the chagrin of the Bombay Police. The Don is back but he has lost his memory; his colleagues are waiting for him to regain his memory. So is Roma, though her motives are different.

Vijay is now truly ready to take the Don’s place; and the D’Silva has a plan for Vijay to ‘regain’ his memory. His colleagues accept the news happily. However, little things give him away. And it’s Don's mistress Anita who notices them first.
But Vijay not only completes an assignment, he also gets his hands on the diary containing the names and addresses of Don’s national and international contacts. And he has his own ways of dousing the gang’s suspicions.
When he goes to meet the DSP to hand over the diary, Vijay is aghast to find Roma there; and even more when he finds out she intends to kill him. Vijay, who has begun to fall in love with her, is forced to tell her the truth. And of course, as soon as she knows he is not Don, but Vijay, she falls in love with him. (Hey, don’t ask me! I’m as puzzled as you are!)
Soon, Vijay has some important news for the DSP.
This is just what the D’Silva has been waiting for. They plan to raid the place at 9 sharp. However, their conversation has been overheard. 
And D’Silva also has a visitor. Jasjit, who is seeking revenge. But D’Silva has a card up his sleeve. Jasjit lets him go.
National and international smugglers have all converged at the meeting place, and a huge party is going on. Just as Anita escapes and Vijay’s fate is in jeopardy, the police surround the place. As the police round everyone up, two shots are heard.

DSP D’Silva has been grievously wounded, and is not expected to live. And Vijay has been arrested along with everyone else. As he tries to make Inspector Verma (Satyen Kappoo) accept that, his gang members are taken aback – what are they to think but that their leader is selling them down the river?

What is Vijay to do? Who will believe now that he is not the real Don? The police surely do not. And his erstwhile colleagues? Whatever they believe, he is a dead man. 

As he manages to escape, he is on the run – both from the police and from Vardan’s men. And they both want the diary. Which Vijay does not have.

And what about Jasjit? How will he find his children? And Roma?

Amitabh was brilliant in his double roles as the understated Don and the unsophisticated Vijay who is forced to take the other man’s place in a dangerous game of life and death. And for a man who is uncomfortable dancing, he grooved gracefully to the UP-beats of Khaike paan Benareswaala. He looked like he was having so much fun up there on screen with Yeh hai Bambai nagariya that it was contagious.

Pran provided able support as the trapeze artist who is crippled; and who changes from a gang member to one who is out to seek revenge. And Zeenat was… I’m lost for words. With a kick-ass attitude, a fabulous haircut, and out for revenge, she was hardly the stereotypical heroine. Like Vijay, she also infiltrates the Don’s gang, only she does so, voluntarily. Both Jasjit and Roma have their own motives; Vijay, on the other hand, is a reluctant participant,and toward the end, a frightened one. 

And I loved the absolutely zany script with enough twists and turns for a dozen thrillers. Again, it was one that had been rejected by Dev Anand, Jeetendra, even Prakash Mehra to whom Salim-Javed took it first. What’s that they say about fate? Well, after having played ducks and drakes with Amitabh in the beginning of his career, the fickle lady had decided to unbend.

Bloopers which I found unforgiveable:  Roma has ostensibly come to the morgue to identify her brother. She is also told where Kamini’s body has been found. At which point, she says “In sab cheezon ko dekhne ke baad, mujhe poora yakeen ho gaya hai ke mera bhai aur uska mangetar mar chuka hai”. Huh? Whaat? Unforgiveable because this is a Salim-Javed script. I expect a bit more intelligence from them. Why make Roma sound moronic? 
When Don comes to the beach to finalise a deal, he arrives in a red car; when he leaves, he is driving a completely different one altogether. Make, model, colour. Or maybe he chose someone else’s in which case, it was mighty careless of them to leave the car parked with the keys inside. This is more forgivable (just degrees) because, hey, masala movie, remember? Continuity be damned! Still, it is something that should positively have been caught on the editing table if not on the sets.
Apart from the reasons I state in the beginning, what else was different about this movie?
  • Policemen who were unusually intelligent. And innovative. Who actually have more than two ideas to rub together in their head. And who actually appear on the scene of the crime when they are supposed to, instead of trailing in after the hero has made mincemeat of the villain. Incidentally, the ‘villain’ is the ‘hero’ for quite a third of the movie, the good guy only landing up well after nearly half the movie has progressed. 
  • A very unusual villain. Hmm… the suspense totally kept until the last couple of reels. Very unusual. Lots and lots of red herrings in between to keep you at the edge of your seat. 
  • An absolutely fantabulous opening sequence in myriad colours and who cares that it was ‘inspired’ by James Bond? It was the coolest opening credits that had ever graced the Hindi film screen. 
  • And did I mention that it was being directed by a complete newcomer? Chandra Barot’s first and only movie. (Why? Beats me!)  
  • Oh, Jagdish Raj was NOT a policeman, though he does masquerade as one (does that count?).
  • The music: I’m not a great fan of Kalyanji-Anandji, especially in the latter years, but this score was absolutely ripping! If we had Ae mera dil with Helen shimmying to keep Don in the room until the police arrive, then we had the fun-tastic Ee hai bambai nagariya tu dekh Babua where the doppelganger, a street entertainer, an immigrant into the city, is wondering how the various names have nothing to do with the places – koi bandar nahin hai phir bhi naam bandra, church ka gate hai, church hai la pata… and you fall in love with Bombay all over again. Then, in a detour from his usual dour self, (the fake) Don sings Main hoon Don and, as a man on the run from both the police and his erstwhile gang members, he takes a break to go back to his Allahabadi roots with Khaike paan Benaraswaala, with the svelte Roma for company. The only false note was Jiska mujhe tha intezaar, the regulation duet, which, I suppose, since they had signed Zeenat Aman, they needed to add.
Okay, these are all the reasons why this film was (deservedly) a cult classic. Is it a ‘Classic’ in the true sense of the word? Nope – not a cinematic one at any point. But for sheer entertainment value, heck, this could (and did) pack a wallop that left you gasping Yeh dil maange more. It was the height of ‘cool’ – heck, it was cooler than cool. 

And no, copy cat movies do not ‘cool’ make!

Alright, I’ll admit I was trigger-happy with the screen caps. But since I have so much more than I know what to do with:

17 27
82 85


  1. Anu, Sunday evening. Hot chai and samosas and Don. I'm watching it just now. It's my favourite movie from the late seventies. I agree with the 'cool' tag - it really was one of the coolest thrillers of all time. And I have often wondered why Chandra Barot never directed again. I mean, this was a super-hit!

  2. I read this yesterday, but didn't have the chance to comment. This was a really entertaining film. Thanks for the review, it brought back memories of Bombay (for some reason) during the monsoons. And I liked that Zeenat Aman really had something to do during the climax scenes. Her Karate-Judo seems to have worked.

  3. Hey, I want samosas. It's a dull, damp, depressing over here. And while I can make hot chai for myself, fresh samosas are too much work.

  4. All right, I'm not going to fly into a tizzy and get all excited about the fact that I:

    (a) mentioned Shammi Kapoor's double role as Shekhar and Mike (in China Town) in my latest post, and that always reminds me - a little - of Don

    (b) mentioned 'Khaike paan Banaraswala' on harvey's 'Jaanewaala phal' post.

    The SRK Don was not a patch on this one. I didn't expect it to be, but I still watched it when it was shown on TV. And no, nowhere close.

  5. Don was a remake of the Shammi Kapoor starrer China Town and believe me I loved Amitabh in this double role particularly the way he plays the ruthless villain. I love to, therefore, see this film whenever I have the opportunity. I only wish the end was not so long drawn out, usually such ends are a result of interference from the distributors, I guess Don was no different.

  6. Madhu, *grin*. I tell you , we are *definitely* fodder for a Manmohan Desai-type script. I mean, and people said that Manmohan Desai depended on coincidences that *couldn't* happen in real life!

  7. Shilpi, it was definitely inspired from China Town. I don't think it was a remake, per se. Whatever we call it, both films were entertaining. And yes, I liked Amitabh as Don too. He was terrific. The ending became more comic than intense, don't you think, with all the acrobatics and the monkey-in-the-middle with the diary, and all? I know my six-year-old was chortling right through.

  8. My conscience was kicking me nearly for a week, after I laughed at SRK's entry in Don. He looked like a baccha in it. I shouldn't be saying such bad things, but SRK was so unconvincing (is that the right word?). AB was simply great in this film and I loved every minute of it!

  9. You can have all the chai, but give me the samosas!

  10. Don was such a cool film. Naturally one can can discuss about Zeenat's judo or whatever skills and her dialogue delivery, but she had screen presence! Pran looked ot old to play the character he plays but his voice... no one can surpass that. And AB, such a finesse, his presence, his dialogues, his... 'Ab kya misal du me tumhare shabab ki'. Okay I didn't mean his shabab but his acting and other skills, but my Urdu isnot so good as to substitute the word shabab with a proper one.
    But for all I know it could even meet the case!

  11. I think my problem with the SRK Don was that he seemed to be trying too hard to be cool. And those were very big feet that he was trying to fill. I don't think films should be remade - at least not in the same language. I haven't seen a single remake that was better than the original. Technically better perhaps, but technique does not trump content.

  12. Unless I make them myself, Harvey, there are no samosas :( And I'm in no mood to make them from scratch at the moment.

  13. Oh, I don't think anyone went to see a Zeenat Aman film to see her *act*,but you're damn right she had screen presence. Pran did look a bit too long in the teeth, but it is PRAN! I can't think of any word to substitute for 'shabab' either, but I think you made your point. :)

  14. Loved everything about this fil. You're right - it was the height of cool! :) I don't think there had been a hero / villain quite like this before. I mean, it was inspired by China Town alright, but Shammi's Mike was not so much in the arclight as Don. In China Town, it was Shekhar who was the protagonist. (I liked that film too, by the way.)

    Thanks, Anu. I'll be sad when the Amitabh posts come to an end. :(

  15. Thanks, Anu. I'll be sad when the Amitabh posts come to an end. :(

    Not to worry - you have three more to wait for. Then I'm taking a break from all things Hindi for some time, unless it is a song list or two.

  16. Finally got a chance to sit down and write a comment. Work has been hectic not leaving me any time for such simple pleasures as reading your blog!

    I absolutely loved this film. I don't know how many times I have seen it. I waited eagerly for SRK's Don because I really, really like him, but was so disappointed with the end product. He looked like a little child playing dress-up. And when we watched the film (in the theater in NJ) people began to laugh when he said 'Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai'. It sounded so silly, like some vainglorious boasting, instead of the quiet confidence that Amitabh's Don had. :(

  17. You seem to have gone on an AB Snr spree a couple of months ago! There can be no match for AB"s Don for me. It was a totally entertaining movie. I can see it any time and still enjoy it. The picturisation of Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar ka Deewans was awesome - Helen and AB at their coolest best. I like the dialogue just after the song ends when AB says "bahar dekho tumahare kitne saare Aunty ayaein hai"

     I am not interested or inclined to see SRK's Don or Don2. Why settle for a pale copy when we can still enjoy the original?

  18. I did! For one, it was his birthday / month, and two, I got tired of people asking me why I, such an avowed AB fan, wasn't reviewing his films :) I think they got what they wanted, in spades. :))

    I absolutely loved Don - I also think it has weathered well, in that it can still be seen and enjoyed today, even though secrets are no longer kept in diaries. Like you, I was totally disinterested in SRK's Don - for one, I thought he was being totally presumptuous (and insecure, but that is a rant for another day); and two, I hate 'remakes' with a vengeance! Whatever happened to originality?

  19. Well, yes, Why Chandra Barot didn't directed afterwards, because people soon got clenched in the tight grip of daily-soaps kinda movies made in that VCR generation of 80s....In today's directors I see the potential of thrillers in form of Mr Sriram Raghavan (Ek Haseena Thi, Johnny Gaddar, Agent Vinod)....

  20. I do like Sriram Raghavan's movies, and am waiting eagerly for Agent Vinod. I don't think Chandra Barot stopped making movies because everything else became 'soaps' during the time; like Mansoor Khan after him, I think he was just not cut out for the industry. Remember Barot was an 'outsider' with no ties to the industry.

    Besides, he apparently did direct one more film - in 1991; called Pyar Bhara Dil.

  21. I'm seeing this comment now! I agree about SRK playing dress-up; it is hard to get into AB's shoes.

  22. Excellent review.I don't recall reading any other review anywhere either.
    Have you heard about 'Billa', the 'don' remake in Tamil which Rajini used as his claim to fame.not the only Amitabh remake he was part of.(and bollywood gets flak for copying south films even if the producers and directors are same!) I liked Helen in the remake but hated Rajnikant in the title song even copying Amitabh's costume.

  23.  Thank you, Chris. Yes, I have not only heard about Billa I even watched it. :) During that period, most Amitabh films were remade in the south-Indian languages. Both Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan have reprised AB's roles in Tamil.


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