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Zanjeer@50: The Gamble That Paid Off

May 18, 2023 17:14 IST

'There was an extraordinary intensity about Amitabh Bachchan even in bad films.'
'Kuch baat thi.'
'Salim saab and I insisted on casting him in Zanjeer.'

Zanjeer changed a lot of lives. It turned around Salim-Javed's careers, Amitabh Bachchan and Director Prakash Mehra's careers.

Not that Mehra did not have any success prior to Zanjeer. He did.

Haseena Maan Jayegi, a low-budget 1968 musical featuring Shashi Kapoor in a double role, and Mela, featuring real-life brothers Feroz and Sanjay Khan in 1971, were major successes.

Zanjeer irreversibly changed the lives of everyone connected with it.

Says Javed Akhtar, "It accelerated our careers and redefined the screenplay for Hindi cinema. The comedy track was done away with, for once. The hero didn't sing any song. He didn't even smile in the film. At the time when it was being made all of what Salim saab and I thought to be USPs in our script were stumbling blocks."

Many heroes refused Zanjeer. Dharmendra was the first hero it went to. Dharmendra, in fact, had bought the original story of Zanjeer for Rs 9,000.

Prakash Mehra bought it from Dharmendra and offered him the lead. Dharmendra in his own words was all set to do the film. Then something happened.

Recalling the Zanjeer incident, Dharmendra says, "It is true I was offered Zanjeer first. But I was promise-bound. A dear aunt of mine had some major differences with Prakash Mehra. She made me promise her that I would never work with him. And I never did. I am a very emotional man. I would give up a thousand Zanjeers for the sake of my loved ones."

Dharamji is all praise for his colleague who bagged the career-making role.

"It is all destiny. Amitabh was destined to do Zanjeer. Woh kehte hain na, daane-daane par likha hota hai khane wale ka naam. The same is true of roles. I wanted to play Anand in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's film. But Rajesh Khanna played Anand. And I don't think anyone else could have done Anand better. Likewise it is impossible to imagine anyone else but Amitabh doing Zanjeer."

Curiously, Dharmendra starred in another film Yaadon Ki Baraat released months away from Zanjeer which too was a blockbuster.

Nasir Hussain's Yaadon Ki Baraat and Zanjeer had near identical plots.

The were both scripted by Salim-Javed. In both the hero was a brooder and sang no songs . They even starred the same villain, Ajit Khan.

After Dharmendra opted out of Zanjeer, Dev Anand and Raaj Kumar also refused to play the livid cop Vijay Khanna.

Dilip Kumar felt it didn't jell with the kind of films he was doing. He felt there wasn't much room for a performance for the hero.

However when once Salim Khan asked Dilip saab which films he regretted not doing he mentioned Baiju Bawra, Pyaasa and Zanjeer.

Amitabh Bachchan was approached after Javed Akhtar saw him in a flop film called Parwana.

Recalls Javed saab, "I could tell there was an extraordinary intensity about Amitabh Bachchan even in bad films. Kuch baat thi. Salim saab and I insisted on casting him in Zanjeer. It was a gamble. It paid off."

Mr Bachchan owes a special thanks to Jaya Bhaduri who was ruling the box office at the time when she was offered Zanjeer.

There was nothing much for the heroine to do. She agreed only to help the struggling actor whom she was dating.

Now married to the same actor for whom she did Zanjeer, Jaya says, "It was not some big magnanimous gesture. Agreed he had the author-backed role. But don't forget, later he did Abhimaan and Mili with me where I had the author-backed roles."