THERE have been many landmark films in Indian cinema but ‘Zanjeer’ stands out. Released 50 summers ago, it not only launched the star of the millennium, but also set a new trend of action films that lasted for many years. It established the writer duo Salim-Javed in the industry, while heralding the era of the angry young man.
It is fascinating to note how the ‘Zanjeer’ story unfolded after the script was bought by Prakash Mehra (reportedly for Rs 3,500 from actor Dharmendra), who wanted the film to be his first venture in production. Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kumar refused to play Inspector Vijay Khanna. Though upset over this, Mehra had great faith in the script; and despite his many flops, the writers had great confidence in the talent of Amitabh Bachchan. Mehra invested in their belief and agreed to sign the young actor.
Jaya Bhaduri, whom Amitabh was courting those days, agreed to play the female lead even though the role was very short. Pran consented to play Sher Khan, the Pathaan who stands by Inspector Vijay; Ajit was to make an entry into the film as Teja. And yet, Mehra was nervous and so was Amitabh, who had almost left Bombay when ‘Zanjeer’ came his way. When the film did not pick up initially, Mehra’s heart sank and Amitabh was running a fever. A few days into the release, however, the film became a rage. People flocked to the theatres to watch it repeatedly. This is said to have made Amitabh’s fever go up!
A star was born and what a star he turned out to be, at the top of his game 50 years on too. The audiences that had been swooning over the romantic mannerisms of Rajesh Khanna for four years were now mesmerised by this lanky hero with smouldering eyes and a deep baritone voice. People welcomed a hero who was ready to fight not only his own battles, but give a challenge to the ills of society and the system.
The disenchantment that had been setting in after 25 years of Independence made them identify with Vijay’s angst. He was the man of the times and made a lasting impression on people. This image was strengthened by the subsequent Salim-Javed films like ‘Deewar’ and ‘Trishul’, where Amitabh was called Vijay too.
Each character was well-etched and has thus stayed in public memory. Ajit lived with a real-life don to observe his mannerisms. The accent in which he delivered his lines in English became a hit and he repeated this in many films. His expressions, like Smart Boy, Mona Darling, and So Very Nice of You, have become a part of popular culture. His hats, sunglasses and coats became a trend. Om Prakash as De Silva excelled himself and so did Keshto as the deceitful Gangu. Bindu as Mona was perfect.
The romance between Vijay and Mala was highly underplayed yet expressed beautifully. The angry young man became the order of the day post ‘Zanjeer’ though ‘Bobby’, the biggest hit of 1973, was a teenage romance. With ‘Abhimaan’ and ‘Namak Haram’ that followed ‘Zanjeer’ in 1973, Amitabh was established as the biggest star. It broke all prevailing cinematic conventions. The hero neither sang nor danced. He didn’t even smile!
When people watch ‘Zanjeer’ for the first time these days, they cannot understand what novelty it held. But, it is not for nothing that years later, Dilip Kumar said that he regretted having refused ‘Zanjeer’, besides ‘Pyaasa’ and ‘Baiju Bawra’.
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