|Directed by: Chandra Barot|
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.
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.
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:
And no, copy cat movies do not ‘cool’ make!