Sept 07, 2013
Usually, the endeavour of any reviewer/critic is to be as balanced and objective as possible. I disagree. It has to be a fair game. If the opponent brings a gun, I’m obviously not going to carry my finest cutlery to a fight. I’m going to carry a bazooka, loaded and ready to shoot. So, balance gaya ghaas charne, aur objectivity gayi tel lene. This review is personal. Very, very personal. Because Amitabh Bachchan’s Zanjeer was a very personal affair. And not just for me.
Zanjeer, which released in May 1973, was special for various reasons. The innocence of Independence and Nehru-Gandhi had ended. There were ghotalas, milawat, shortage, inflation and street protests. People were getting tired of lover boy Rajesh Khanna’s constant mooning. Zanjeer brought the angry young man to a pissed off nation. All of us identified with Inspector Vijay Khanna, the brooding, lanky figure who was always on slow boil.
Yes, the headlines are similar today, but this is a different world, and we are in a different mood.
So if, despite the baggage that Zanjeer carries, a director and producer have the gall to mess with it, they had better grid their loins, surgically.
Apoorva Lakhia’s Zanjeer is a putrid, out-of-context copy that hangs on to the outsized collars of the original for its dear life. It’s so petrified of invoking the wrath of AB and Zanjeer fans, that it begins by chanting a shanti paath. It pays its respects to Prakash Mehra, Pran Saab and thanks Amitabh Bachchan. This dandwat pranam to the original is good. I just wish it had stayed there, supplicating and dead to the world.
It doesn’t. It rises.
I had thought that this film would make me very angry, it didn’t, because it’s just an exhausting dullard.
In a line, then: Whilst Zanjeer, the original, was soulful, this one’s a slow soul-fry.
After credits, that arrive in desi Bond style — one poor man’s Mugdha Godse (if such a being exists) with pouty lips, lolls about and sings “Zanjeer hai, Zanjeer hai” — we cut to a bearded man. He’s having a nightmare — a man in a hoodie is on a rearing horse. He has a tattoo and is wielding a knife. Bearded man wakes up hassled, grabs a water bottle and heads for his punching bag.
So, we figure, the zanjeer here is more a metaphor than a real chain. Whatever.
Cut to bearded man’s day job, in Hyderabad, where some burly men are doing rasta-roko and shouting “CM murdabad”. Bearded man, now in uniform, is ACP Vijay Khanna (Ram Charan). He slaps these guys to the loud strains of Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram… I have never seen violence choreographed to the chants of Gandhiji’s favourite song. It’s uncalled for and is deployed only to attach a moral tinge to all the bashing this ACP indulges in. He’s been doing this for five years, that’s why 17 transfers.
This latest bashing leads to another tabadala, to Mumbai, whose commissioner, not Iftekhar, calls Vijay to deliver a bhashan on vardi, duty, limits etc. I couldn’t really focus on what he was saying because behind him, on a white board, something gossipy, naughty was scribbled. I could just catch “Salim Javed in court”, and then the camera shifted.
On September 4, Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar withdrew their suit against the makers of this Zanjeer after the two sides agreed to a financial settlement. Their story, they contended, was worth Rs 6 crore. Aye, aye!
Anyway, back to this Zanjeer. In the same city, one girl is dancing so vigorously to Mumbai ki na Dilli walon ki, Pinky hai paise walon ki, that we assume she is Miss Pinky. But no, she’s not. She is Mala (Priyanka Chopra), an NRI who has come to India to attend her Facebook friend’s wedding. To show us that she’s a cool gal from New York, she orders some shots. I deduce from this scene that Indian girls don’t do shots. Instead they carry in their handbags little bottles of Ganga Jal and when they feel the urge to let loose, they steal a few swigs.
Anyway, after so much liquid, and returning to her hotel on a bumpy road, Mala has the urge to pee, like, really, really badly. So she stops at a petrol pump whose loo, like all petrol pump loos, is a nightmare that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
(Aside: Here’s an idea for the creatively-challenged team of director Lakhia and producer Sumeet Mehra for Zanjeer 2: A pissed off woman goes around a city in the dead of the night kidnapping dirty western commodes using bulky iron chains. At a secret hideout on an island she keeps an army of men and women, all known public toilet offenders, to clean them.)
Mala heads for the bushes. “Smart girl,” Ajit would have said if he was hovering around. He’s not, sadly. But before Mala can relieve herself, she’s distracted by a murder scene. She forgets her personal urgency and calls the cops. This does two things — brings to us details of the illegal business of Rudra Pratap Teja, i.e. milawat-wala petrol, and brings Vijay to Mala. Oh, another character is introduced here — a journalist who is in relentless pursuit of the petrol mafia, Jay Dey (after the murdered reporter J. Dey, played by Atul Kulkarni).
Somewhere in between all this, we are also introduced to Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a stolen cars ka dealer who wears pathani suits and eye bags and visits Vijay’s Yellow Stone thana only to annoy us. Let’s pause here to consider Ram Charan’s caliber. Before he can utter that famous AB dialogue —Jab tak baithne ko na kaha jaye sharafat se khade raho… — he takes a few seconds, real time and in front of the camera, to knit his brows and summon an angry expression.
We also, finally, get to meet Teja (Prakash Raj). A flamboyant, oily businessman, Teja arrives and regales us with his theory about men, chicks and chicken, then slits a throat and goes off to be mollycoddled by his moll, Mona (Mahie Gill). I’ve always found Mahie Gill really hot. But 10 Mahie Gills can’t maketh one Bindu. And when Ms Gill decides to dance and we, along with Vijay, have to endure this torture, just for that if Vijay had killed Teja, I’d be his defence witness.
The film, apart from a few cosmetic, superficial changes, follows the original script diligently. I would have said stay for the end credits because Amitabh Bachchan’s dialogues from the original come on, but they are accompanied by an insufferable item number starring Ram and Priyanka. It would have been more appropriate if Amitabh Bachchan and Ram Charan came on at the end, singing Lambuji Lambuji, Bolo Tinguji…
If Apoorva Lakhia’s film wasn’t called Zanjeer, we wouldn’t have known when it came and sank. But it is. So it must be dealt with.
The original was rooted, had a context and most of its characters felt real, especially Vijay. The original Vijay barely smiled. And even if his mouth did, like when Manna De sang Yaari hai emaan mera, yaar meri zindagi, his eyes remained angry, little embers.
Here Ram Charan has to first go look for a match box, then he must search for a candle, light it and wait for the room to get warmed up.
In the original, Vijay’s daddy was a reformed criminal — that shade of darkness is gone here. So Ram Charan’s anger remains an afterthought, a by-product of living alone. The moment he gets to make out with Mala, he’s happy to go on dates, sing songs.
Ram Charan doesn’t look like he’s made of flesh and blood. He looks pasty and his face is uniquely two-dimensional — he resembles those virtual creations, the guys who get energised on hand-held PlayStations at the press of a few buttons. Also, not a single thought seems to dwell beyond his kholed eyes.
He’s also probably very short and that’s why an elongated pompadour wobbles on his head throughout.
Apart from the sparkling dialogue stolen from the original, this Zanjeer makes do with functional ones that range from the crass (assigned to Prakash Raj) or plain idiotic (for Sanjay Dutt) to baffling (assigned to Priyanka). And because this film relies so much on the original, nothing is really established here. All things must be assumed. Or not.
Like the bond between Sher Khan and Vijay. Here it’s formed because they play video games together. I kid you not!
Sanjay Dutt’s increasing girth is inversely proportionate to his talent. All I can say is that he has interesting footwear here.
Prakash Raj is the only redeeming thing here. It seems that in Bollywood, if the Seventies and Eighties have to be recreated, Prakash Raj is the first prop art directors order. His Teja carries traces of the original, but he plays it in his standard stylised, over-the-top way, matching the beats of the catchy retro RD-style background score that accompanies him. He’s entertaining, but Prakash darling is not a patch on the original.
The number of people who will watch this film and seek the original, just as a palate cleanser, will be legion. If I had any box-office gyaan, I would like to sing to Lakhia-Mehra, Gule-gulzaar, kyun bezaar nazar aate ho… But you never know. We live in strange times.