This 1973 Prakash Mehra movie is often cited as the launch of the Amitabh Bachchan angry-young-man role that was a turning point in the actor’s career as well as mainstream Hindi cinema, and coincided with a growing dissatisfaction with post-Independence government. It’s a story of one man’s revenge for the wrongs done to his family.
But never mind all that; Zanjeer is packed with funky 70s fashions, w-i-d-e sideburns and a fantastic getting-even story.
As with Amar Akbar Anthony, the film opens with a father just released from prison after taking the fall for his rich and powerful boss. In this case, it’s Ranjit, who works for a company that sold poisonous calcium pills, that he soon learns upon arriving home, have killed one of his own children. In his fury, he confronts the main bad guy denouncing what he’s been doing. Realizing that Ranjit is a danger, he dispatches one of his thugs to take care of him. It’s Diwali and as firecrackers go off, Ranjit and his wife are shot dead, as their son Vijay hides in a cupboard. From a partially open door, the terrified boy sees the arm of the assassin, and the chain bracelet and white horse charm that he wears.
The orphan Vijay is taken in by a police officer (again, reminiscent of one of the three boys in Amar, Akbar, Anthony) and lives in a caring home, but the child is still thwarted by dreams of a white horse, ridden by a masked figure clad in black, surrounded by mist.
Cut to the opening credits and Vijay, now an adult, awakes sweating and with his heart racing from the same dream.
As he leaves his bedroom to get ready for work, we see the uniform hanging on the back of the door. Vijay is now a police officer, one who has had 11 transfers during his five years on the force. His chief tells him that his weakness is he sees each criminal as his enemy.
In the next scene we meet the real-life Mrs. Amitabh Bachchan, the then Jaya Badhuri, in the role of Mala, the knife sharpener girl. She wears long braids and a gypsy scarf and earrings, and when confronted with a rude guy she is well able to defend herself, before Vijay arrives to take the ruffian away.
Shortly after, we meet the other important character in the film, Sher Khan of Badshah Lane, played, in flame-haired glory, by Pran. Sher Khan is a good-hearted Muslim who runs illegal card games. He crosses paths with Officer Vijay, first in the police station, but then at a market, where Vijay comes to fight with him on equal terms. Aside from some comic elements (the panwallah’s eyes spinning as he watches the fight), it was interesting to note that some shots during the fight scene were solely of Amitabh’s eyes and the bridge of his nose. The men realize that their fight is a tie and, acknowledging each other’s prowess, become friends, with Sher Khan giving up his illegal business endeavours.
Local crime boss Teja invites Vijay to a party at his house, thinking he can get him under his thumb. Vijay shows up in his party duds: a double-breasted red blazer, with a white shirt and topped off with a cravat, and we get treated to the spectacle of a vampy number by Bindu. She shimmies suggestively around the guests in a long sleeveless yellow dress with slits up the sides and fabric cutouts at the waist, and, best of all, a floral arrangement in her hair.
Mala witnesses one of Teja’s bootlegging drivers run over some children, and is convinced by Vijay to identify the man and testify against him. One night she is chased by Teja’s goons and she makes it to safety at Vijay’s house, where she spends the night. No hanky panky. (This is the early 70s!) But next morning a group of street performers outside the house sing as the two are separated, standing in two different windows side-by-side, and it becomes apparent that they have feelings for each other.
Vijay is later falsely accused of corruption and is rescued by Sher Khan, more than once. Mala wisely sees that his anger over his parents death and his desire for revenge is consuming him, and she releases him to seek vengence for once and for all so that they can be together in peace. Vijay meets the man (D’Silva) who’s been giving him tips to where Teja’s men will be moving goods, and learns that Teja has been responsible for the deaths of his three sons from some bad liquor one Christmas. Vijay sets off for the big showdown with Teja. Sher Khan drives him there, smoothing his voluminous read hair as he drives (er ??), and once at Teja’s pad, does away with one of the thugs with just the pink silk hankie he carries.
The big fight scene has a few surprises, including some pretty darn good knife work by Mala. Jaya was indeed an adorable young woman before she became the Uber Indi-Mom she is today. It was cool to see her in a role – even over 30 years ago – where she wasn’t just the squealing damsel in distress, and actually had something to contribute, other than her good looks.
See it or skip it?
This one is a must see! Amitabh Bachchan is at his smouldering best, this is a landmark in the history of Hindi movies as well as his career, and the story and characters have more depth than so many other mainstream films.