Zanjeer : The making of a legend
* This is an old piece, narration was from prakash mehra himself. Don’t have any reference for this article at the moment.
It was 37 years ago. When a movie that was to go down in Bollywood history made its debut on the marquee — Zanjeer.
The hero in Zanjeer typified the raw seething, anger of the youth of time while also providing, for the first time, some cathartic relief. The line ‘angry young man,’ of course, is picked off from John Osborne’s protagonist, Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. And, in essence, the anger was the same, that of a young man chaffing at the bit, seeking release from a slow, complex and unheeding rhythm that he can see is futile. Zanjeer also drifts into a little psychology, with a horse in a dream representing the suppressed memory of a murdered family. The horse is finally revealed, a little anti-climatically, as the symbol on an ornament the villain wears. Zanjeer never shed a single commercial trapping — there was the lonely innocent roaming the roads, the foe turned staunch friend, the murdered parents, revenge, everything. If Zanjeer scored, it has much to do with the suppressed rage portrayed by the protagonist, played by Amitabh Bachchan, who was preparing to pack up his bags and return to his native Allahabad if this film also failed.
Zanjeer, actually, wasn’t my film. The film was bought over by Dharmendra from the writers Salim-Javed. Dharmendra came to know that I was planning to make a film called Samadhi. written by Pandit Mukhram Sharma. He liked the story idea and told me to exchange the script with that of Zanjeer. I agreed, but told him that besides acting in the film Zanjeer, he would be a co-producer for the film. He readily agreed.
At the same time, I had bought another story idea for a film called Kahani Kismet Ki from the well known writer K Narayan. Dharmendra liked that subject too. He told me to give that subject to his godfather in the film industry, Arjun Hingorani. In return he said he would give me full co-operation for Zanjeer. I was disheartened but I said that I did not mind sacrificing two films for Zanjeer..
Dharmendra had already paid the initial amount for the film and he was to play the hero. But he told me that he wanted to start a film for his own brother and would shoot for Zanjeer after half that film was over. But, I had decided to finish the film within six months with Dharmendra because he was the top actor then. I told him not to delay things, but Dharam said he was helpless. I told him I had already announced that he would be the hero, Mumtaz the heroine. He still told me to wait. But I didn’t find it fun waiting so long. One fine day, both of us amicably settled the matter with Dharam agreeing not to work in the film because of his busy schedule.
Then I decided on Dev Anand. I had seen Dev’s Kaala Pani and liked it. I thought a change of image could make this film a landmark film for him. But the only thing which bugged Dev Anand was that there were no songs in the film. He told me to put three-four songs in the film. But I said I wouldn’t do that. He then offered me whatever money I wanted for the film if I did it for Nav Ketan, his home production. I refused. And so even he was ruled out as a hero.
After that I went to Raaj Kumar who was already working with Mumtaz for a film in Madras. He liked the film. He felt it was a terrific subject, and that he would like to shoot from the very next day. But he wanted me to go south to shoot the film since he had given bulk dates to a producer in Madras. I told him the film was based in Bombay and that there was no way that I could shoot in Madras. He told me to reconsider my decision. I didn’t. Now I was getting tense. Then one day, Pran, who played the Pathan’s role in the film, told me to consider Amitabh Bachchan. He told me to see Amitabh’s Bombay to Goa. After seeing the film, my gut feeling said that he was a future star.
I was especially impressed by the fight scene between Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha in the film. I selected Amitabh because of the emotions his eyes could generate. I thought I should give this man a break in my film even though his earlier films had flopped. Everyone criticised me when I selected him. They came back when O P Ralhan’s film Bandhe Haathin which Amitabh acted flopped. There was no way my film could do well, they said, because, in those days, O P Ralhan’s name was bigger than Prakash Mehra’s. Amitabh was very upset by the Bandhe Haath fiasco. He told me that he was planning to move back to his native Allahabad if Zanjeer too failed.
1969: Saat Hindustani
1971: Pyaar ki Kahani
1971: Reshma aur Shera
1972: Bansi Birju
1972: Bombay to Goa
1972: Ek Nazar
1972: Raaste ka Patthar
1973: Bandhe Haath
1973: Gehri Chal
I had another shock when the heroine, Mumtaz, decided to get married and quit acting. I think one reason she left could be the flopping of Bande Haath in which she had acted opposite Amitabh. I guess she did not wanted to take one more risk with this film. Luckily, I was working with Jaya Bhaduri on another film. Amitabh told Jaya that no heroine was willing to work with him. And she told him that I had approached her to play the heroine in the film. One person I can never forget is Pran. Had it not been for him, the film wouldn’t have been completed. Though Manoj Kumar gave him a new role in the film Pukar and asked him to do his new film Shor, he refused, stating that he had committed himself to me for Zanjeer. He used to pamper me like a child during the film. After 25 years, I won’t be wrong if I say Zanjeer became a trend-setter. However, I always object when people say I brought violence to Bollywood cinema. I never made Zanjeerwith a violent story in mind. The name, ‘angry young man’ was given by the press.
Zanjeer was not a violent movie. If you see the film, you will find out that it is the inner conflict of a person who is suffocating and wants to fight against the system. And he cannot do it alone. When I made the film, I knew it would either be a washout or a trend-setter. There is no romance in the film. The hero never smiles in the film, except during the song Yaari hai iman mera when Pran makes him smile. But my inner feeling was: This film will do something miraculous. People laughed at me because they felt that after making three jubilees, Prakash has gone senile. How can this man pair Amitabh and Jaya together? They used to say, ‘Prakash is making an art film.’ I think in making Zanjeer or any other film, the film-maker’s convictions are very important.
I had other problems — there were no financiers and the distributors ran away. They laughed at me, ‘Who is this tall idiot hero?’ Amitabh used to cry. He used to feel very put off. He used to call me “Sir” in those days.I told him I wasn’t his teacher or professor, I am your director. He then started calling me lalla. In UP, one calls his brother aslalla. He used to complain, ‘Lalla, I don’t know what will happen to my future after this film.’ I used to tell him not to be selfish and think about me. Because it was I who stood to lose every pie if something went wrong.
Among those I should give credit is Manoj Kumar, who inspired me to start my own production. He told me that if I give a flop film as director, I would be jobless. Which is why I made my own film. And some distributors picked the film because they hazarded that since I had given three hits earlier, there were chances this film too could do well. Interestingly, Bobby was being released on the same day. And, believe me, I was not worried about Zanjeer though Raj Kapoor was shocked by Zanjeer’s success despite there being only three songs in the film.
Someone told me that Laxmikant-Pyarelal, the music directors of Bobby, had bought out all the cassettes of Zanjeer to stop the three songs by Kalyanji-Anandji from flooding the market. I used to telephone HMV and seek the latest update on the cassette stocks. 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. I 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, I 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. I was shocked. To this day, I have never seen such a huge rush outside Gaiety-Galaxy. When Amitabh heard the news, it affected him so much that his fever worsened to 104 degrees centigrade.
He could not believe it. For now he was a star.