A Gush, Ahem, Review of "Don" (1978)

You know how some films aren't perfect measured by general terms, but they somehow manage to be perfect for you?

Don (1978), is not perfect. But I didn't want anything else afterward, and customer satisfaction has to count for something, right?

Yep. That's Zeenat Aman stealing a light from Mac Mohan. 
Just when I was starting to think I knew what to expect from Hindi movies of the 70's, "Don" comes along and tricks my brain into a buying into whole different level of entertainment. To be honest, it was probably all the better because I was expecting something tired and worn, for whatever reason. You know what they say, "Expectation, Expectation, Expectation." I was expecting microwave food, and I got a 5 course meal instead. I went into a store to buy an outfit I thought I might like, and left with something I might never take off (if society would let one live that way.) I went to bed on a Friday night, and then slept through my alarm and got almost three luscious hours of un-looked-for, unsolicited dream-time.

And if all those analogies make it sound as if Don is something to be consumed happily and frivolously and without thought--then you would be right. But it also doesn't mean I wouldn't gleefully return to it time and again. Who doesn't want to catch up on some sleep (or a five course meal) once in a while?

In all the random online conversations and reviews I've caught about Don, I'm pretty sure someone neglected to mention how awesome Zeenat is in this movie. Either that, or I wasn't paying attention because it was so different than anything I have come to anticipate from a female character in a Hindi movie. Observe:

Wait. How did that get in there?

Pran explains it best: 

I realize now that almost all my screencaps are of Zeenat because I wasn't really watching anything else. Oops. Sorry, Amitabh or Pran or Iftekhar fans. Honestly, the movie really should have been called "Roma," because nobody was cooler in the face of danger than Zeenat's character, and no one else had martial arts training, and nobody else had as many sundar-pagal-glam wigs. (I mean, Pran's was fine, but it was so creature-like that I expected it to wake up and crawl off his head at any moment.) But I'll admit that Amitabh was also pretty fun in this film, and that I enjoyed the antics of the villains more than usual.

The ending was RAD/FAB and reminded me of this scene:

Finale of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
Maybe it's just the undying "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" lover in me, but I never get tired of people fighting in graveyards. The setting itself adds instant gravitas to any fight--especially when people start falling into open graves. Gravestones constantly save peoples lives as they duck behind them, which is just a deliciously subconscious irony. Plus, any time people, (esp. heroes) trod so confidently across "sacred ground," it smells of sedition at best, and desecration at worst. All of which adds up to action sequences that are more than the sum of their parts.

Take the showdowns of spaghetti westerns, the car chases and music and general aesthetics of 70's cop shows, a classic Separated-via-Masala Madness family, a final third that reads a lot like "The Fugitive," a teaspoon of Andy Garcia playing the baddie in random gangster films, and the kick-ass girl roles of  every Joss Whedon TV serial ever . . .  injecting some innocents who need saving and numerous injustices to be redressed, and you have a ticklishly entertaining film on your hands.

I really can't complain.


  1. Hi - just checking if i can post comments on your blog. Have replied on P's blog too.

    Don (the original 78 movie) is one movie i will never tire of. U r absolutely right about Zeenat Aman having a role quite different to the usual 70s masala fare and she nailed it. The movie is very popular for AB's role esp as Don plus the usual Banarsi bhaiya routine of the other character. I find it interesting every time i watch it - never a dull moment.

  2. Never a dull moment is right! It's solidly entertaining. My issues with it are very few. I do think it could have benefited from a more memorable soundtrack. And I really wanted a little more overt loyalty-driven collaboration (in the style of other masala male bromances) between Zeenat and Amitabh's characters. But you can't have it all, and I will say that I liked the fact that Zeenat and Amitabh's romance was hardly played up at all--if it had been, it would have marred the excellent motivations behind Zeenat's character and turned her actions into just that of the requisite love interest rather than the avenging secondary lead.

  3. True - their romance was given the right angle - too much would have been an overkill and destroyed her original motive as you have rightly pointed out. The soundtrack was hugely popular and continues to this day mainly due to the situational context of the songs. Javed Akthar (Farhan's dad) has recently said that the original Don was made on a short budget. Some how I am not in favour of remakes - hence did not see the SRK versions although a friend said that Don2 was good.

    1. I'm sure Javed was probably one of the big reasons Don works. Salim-Javed as a writing team never fails to impress me in some way, even in earlier ventures, like Zanjeer. Right now I'm working my way through their films, and loving it.

      I didn't see the SRK Don until I'd seen the Amitabh version. I think the new Don is worth seeing because of how it recycles the old story and turns it into something different . . . even drastically different by the end. However, I don't think I'll ever be more than amused by it. Sure it's shiny, well choreographed, and doesn't have any bad special effects. But give me a grainy and zany Amitabh vehicle any day over an glossy SRK spectacle. Of course, that opinion says more about my tastes than any real objective superiority of the 1978 film.

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