Tuesday, 30 October 2018

First Link in the Zanjeer

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By Jaideep Sen

As an avid viewer of Kaun Banega Crorepati, I’m struck by the fact that every time a contestant praises Amitji’s (Amitabh Bachchan) glorious body of work, the reference point is always one of the two milestone films of Indian Cinema: Deewaar or Sholay.

In one of my previous posts I have already mentioned that my personal all-time favourite is Sholay. Not just for its epic writing but also the sheer scale of the film: for once the powerful writing was more than backed up by an audio-visual extravaganza that had never before been seen by the Indian cinegoer. I would not be wrong in saying that it would have come as a surprise for even the veteran writing duo of Salim Saab and Javed Saab. And for this the Indian viewer will forever be grateful to the father-son combine of G.P. Sippy Saab (producer) and  director Ramesh Sippy Ji. 

The tsunami effect of Sholay and the reverence that the writing of Deewaar has achieved draws me to that one game-changer of a film which has somewhere got a bit relegated to the periphery – Zanjeer. This is the film where it all started and  is the origin of the everlasting  phenomenon  of the “Angry Young Man”. Zanjeer, the brainchild of the Father of Film Writing in India, Salim Khan which was later nurtured by him and his writing partner, Javed Akhtar, was brought to life thanks to the relentless pursuit of its compelling story teller director, Late Prakash Mehra Ji. Despite the many roadblocks and rejections the film initially faced, Prakash Ji’s doggedness made it possible for viewers to enjoy one of the classics of Hindi cinema. 
Amitabh Bachchan with Prakash Mehra: one from the archives

A lesser known fact about this blockbuster is that the idea of Zanjeer was conceptualised solely by Salim Saab. This little nugget of information was revealed by legendary actor Dharmendra Ji in a recent TV show  when he mentioned that he was so impressed with the story of Zanjeer that he’d bought it from Salim Saab and intended to produce it as well as act in the film. However, due to some circumstances this did not happen and the rest as they say is history. 

Javed Saab in an interview had once analysed his and Salim Saab’s signature traits as writers. According to him, Salim Saab had the “courage” while he had the “intricacy” and that history repeatedly proved that revolt has always been fuelled by courage. In cinematic terms, the outburst against injustice resulted in the volcanic and iconic Zanjeer

I don’t think any other name has left as permanent an impact on the psyche of the Indian filmgoer as Vijay. Much thought had gone into the name of the protagonist as Vijay would come to symbolise victory over evil. Salim Saab firmly believed that the audience had had enough of a “passive” central character who would tolerate all kinds of injustice meted out to him. There was a need to revolutionise the Hero – and the fiery Vijay was thus born. 

He is a cop who is a no-nonsense man from the word go, completely duty bound and self-less and till the very end he is unaware that the antagonist Dharamdayal Teja who he has locked horns with is the same bracelet-clad murderer who’d killed his parents which he had been witness to. That one event has permanently scarred him and when the revelation happens in the finale, it is cathartic. The shift from anger to hatred is hair raising and is encapsulated with the searing dialogue: “Barson tak yeh zanjeer ek saap banke mujhe dastaa raha”.

The tonality of the film – edgy and simmering – had a huge impact on the audience. Never before had such emotionally aggressive language been used and the audience lapped it up wholeheartedly.

Salim Saab very recently shared with me how at times what initially is considered a handicap, in retrospect unintentionally becomes a terrific asset. The limited financial resources available to produce Zanjeer forced the crew to film in some very claustrophobic, minimalistic and stark locations. This, in the final analysis, added a raw and gritty dimension to the film.

For me, the trendsetting blockbuster Zanjeer birthed Hindi Cinema’s two most remarkable sons, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. The latter has often declared that Salim Saab’s body of work is a treasure trove for generations to come. He has put his creative footprint on the sands of time with his sensational talent and unwavering dedication.


Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling. 

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