For a while I wasn’t being able to identify what to base my next piece of SALAAM SALIM SAAB on till the Legend himself cleared my dilemma. During a recent conversation he mentioned that when they had narrated the biggest game changer film in contemporary Indian Cinema, Zanjeer, to a renowned film director of that era, he had told Salim Saab that they had wasted two and a half hours of his precious time.
Now that was a statement that grabbed my immediate attention for two reasons. One, the audience has proved time and again that it is far sharper and smarter than filmmakers while it is difficult for good content to get made into films due to the lack of understanding of filmmakers. Two, don’t get affected and shaken by ‘rejection’.
When I brought this up with Salim Saab, the humble cinematic giant took the onus on himself for the initial rejections by saying that it was the nature of the story and not the lack of understanding on part of filmmakers that the film had to go through a harrowing time till it finally got made. He said that at a time when frothy breezy romantic entertainers, peppered with a generous sprinkling of songs, were the order of the day this volatile story of a no-nonsense cop haunted by the nightmare of seeing his parents being shot was too new for most people to relate to.
|Amitabh Bachchan with Prakash Mehra (centre) during the making of Zanjeer
A funny anecdote he shared was that someone who’d heard the story and perhaps even liked it had expressed his concern that making this film could be a big risk because something like this had never been made before. I cracked up on hearing this because I always thought that producers, directors and actors normally look for a story that’s not been done before.
Another truth about Zanjeer also is that the film actually got completed more out of compulsion than choice because while the film was being made Amit Ji’s films were failing at the box office. As a result, Prakash Mehraji was finding it increasingly difficult to generate funding for his next schedule to the extent that he would blame Salim Saab & Javed Saab for putting him in this tight spot by suggesting Amit Ji’s name for the lead role. Another interesting tidbit was that Amit Ji, on hearing the narration, wasn’t sure whether he would be able to portray Vijay’s angst. However, the writers had implicit faith on his ability to pull it off as they had seen some of his earlier performances.
Ironically, Prakash Ji would hesitatingly proceed with each schedule of his film. After all, he’d invested a certain amount of money in the earlier schedules and all of that would be a waste if he shelved the film. So to save himself from repaying borrowed money on an aborted project and further increasing his losses, he completed the film.
But his troubles didn’t end there. A release agent, with great difficulty, got a potential distributor to see the final product by almost falling at his feet and not revealing the name of the lead actor lest the distributor refused to see the film of this actor with a long line of flops behind him. The agent actually held the distributor by his arm and cajoled him into the preview theatre. On arriving at the theatre, the distributor said: ‘Now that you’ve managed to get me to the auditorium, obviously I can’t leave without watching the film. So at least now, tell me who’s playing the hero in the film.’ And when finally the agent with trembling lips revealed the truth, the distributor fled without seeing the film!
Of course, the reaction of the audience after it watched the film is now stuff of film folklore!
It’s important to share these gems with readers who should allow this information to seep into their system, absorb it, doff their hats to the brilliance of Salim Saab-Javed Saab. Very recently, Javed Saab said at an event that not only did the writing maestro Salim Saab teach him the art of screenplay writing but also is the sole creator of the idea and structure of Zanjeer, which existed even before he began his partnership with Salim Saab.
The idea behind writing this piece is that writers should also firmly believe in their own stories, keep their chins up through perhaps a spate of No’s and never abandon their own baby—their own scripts—because success more often than not is a joyride propelled by the fuel of rejection.
Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling