Today marks the 8th death anniversary of Prakash Mehra, Bollywood’s one of the most popular and successful filmmakers.
A judicious mix of fact and fiction, “Zanjeer” was heavily inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster, “Death Rides a Horse”, and supposedly based on the life and exploits of an underworld don, Teja. This was the first script that the young duo, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar had sold to actor Dharmendra,, who subsequently traded it with Prakash Mehra for another script. Legend has it that once Dharmendra opted out of his commitment, the director, who had already delivered three hits by then, took it to Dev Anand who wanted more than the already conceived three songs in the script. It was then taken to Raaj Kumar but when things did not work out, the choice, inadvertently, fell on a disgruntled Amitabh Bachchan who had already packed up his bags after 11 successive flops. Persistence from girlfriend Jaya, who had already replaced Mumtaz in the film, a strong recommendation from veteran actor Pran — apart from the fear of financiers running away — cast the die in Amitabh’s favour.
The film opens with a flashback of Ranjit emerging from Central Jail and confronting the boss, Seth Dharam Das Teja (Ajit), when he realises that one of his own off-spring had been a victim of the poisonous calcium pill they had been involved in manufacturing. An imminence of exposure makes the boss, to save whom Ranjit had actually gone to jail, plan to wipe out the family. So amid the noise of bursting crackers on a Diwali night he shoots down both Ranjit and his wife while the son hides in a cupboard and watches the gruesome murder through a jar: a masked man in black with a chain bracelet on the right wrist and a white horse locket dangling from his neck. The recurring images with which an adult Vijay wakes up from a nightmarish sleep after the credit titles.
Inspector Vijay Khanna (Amitabh Bachchan), who has undergone 11 transfers in a short span of five years, is a notorious inspector, who has grown up under the guardianship of a dedicated police officer (Iftekhar, who else?), who hates crime and criminals. Mala (Jaya Bhaduri) is a street smart knife-sharpener in long braids and a scarf round her neck.
Sher Khan (Pran) is a good-hearted, though dreaded, Pathan who runs a chain of gambling houses in the area under Inspector Vijay’s jurisdiction. The outcome of some thrilling encounters between the cop and the outlaw results in a truce, which further results in an enduring friendship. An undercurrent running through the 146-minutes gripping thrilling drama is deaths from sale of spurious liquor, one of Teja’s main activities, which has gone unchecked despite the best of attempts by the police.
De Silva (Om Prakash) with his own axe to grind, keeps giving tips to the police about Teja’s activities. Bindu (Mona Darling) is Teja’s seductive mole. One night Mala spots one of Teja’s bootlegger drivers run over some street children. Vijay prevails upon her to identify the guy. She is chased by Teja’s goons and she finds safe refuge in Vijay’s house. Teja gets Vijay framed in a bribery case, which results in a six-month jail term from which he returns to avenge himself. Released to a lukewarm response, with “Bobby” as a competitor at the box office, the film picked up such a pace from the fourth day that it ran to packed houses with long queues at Mumbai’s Gaiety-Galaxy complex. Prakash Mehra’s taut direction with spirited performances from the limited cast elevated the film to an iconic status with the Manna Dey number “Yari Hai Imaan Mera Yaar Meri Zindagi” lip synced by Pran, proving to be a chartbuster; otherwise there wasn’t much scope for lyricist Gulshan Bawra and composers Kalyanji-Anandji. “Zanjeer” got ten nominations at the Filmfare awards and lifted four trophies: Salim-Javed for Best Story; Salim-Javed for Best Screenplay; Gulshan Bawra Best Lyricist (‘Yari Hai Imaan Mera’) and R. Mahalik for Best Editing.
Trivia: The film was released on May 20, 1973. Though the film clicked in Calcutta, it did not do well for the first four days in Bombay. Prakash Mehra thought then that the film would flop.
The bad time the film was having affected Amitabh so badly that he went down with a fever. But after four days, when the booking for the second week began, Prakash Mehra happened to pass through Gaiety-Galaxy theatre in Bandra. There was a huge rush at the advance booking window. A five rupee ticket was being sold at Rs 100.
Prakash Mehra was shocked. When Amitabh heard the news, it affected him so much that his fever worsened to 104 degrees centigrade.
(Courtesy: ‘Zanjeer’ movie review by Shri. Suresh Kohl for The Hindu)