A Smile *Ahem* Review: Zanjeer (1973)

Films are tricky things. Amitabh is trickier. 

I watched Zanjeer a few months back . . . and luckily, I approached it looking for Amitabh/Pran moments to pounce upon, snap up, and file away into my Filmi Treasury. I wasn't looking for a story to hit all the right notes, or push the big red button and change my world forever. 

Of course, most films will NEVER hold up to that sort of high personal standard, so it's best to just throw that instinct out the window for good if you plan to be a world cinema explorer. Personally, I've managed to do that in my film watching . . . but not book reading. I'm still far too picky about the fiction I pick up . . . and it probably severely interferes with my ability to enjoy the wide range of goodness available in Bookland. Because, if you let yourself truly enjoy the moments of goodness, you start caring less about the moments of badness or dullness. Pretty soon, before you know it, you might even be having a good time.

So, for you who are not picky, and somehow haven't seen this film yet, here are the moments from Zanjeer that have now been transferred to my Filmi Treasury for safekeeping and occasional re-watch.

Amitabh AS . . . Proto-Vijay!

Amitabh as the "man with a masala mission" is shiny and raw and new here, and I kinda liked it. Sure, Jaya seems more practiced at carrying a scene (as everyone knows, she was the more popular star at this point). Sure, he didn't know how to carry the silent brooding quite as well (I think Prakash Mehra's sweet spot working with Amitabh was humor . . . Muqaddar ka Sikandar tends to get lost in the brooding bits, too); but here is someone you are going to root for, whether or not you approve of his methods or his madness.

Jayatabh goodness

Granted, they mostly stand around and gaze at each other from a distance. This is no wild conflagration of chemistry.

 "You are very tall." "You are very short."  "Rab ne bana di jodi, I guess." 

But . . . but . . . how cute are they when they're all quiet and shy together?

I especially love the attempt in the script to flesh out the give and take in their relationship. Sure, Jaya's feisty character becomes domesticized pretty darn fast, which is slightly irritating.

"Oh, is that what we're calling it now?"

But, you can also choose to see it as a maturing process. The switch to saris doesn't completely empty her of personality, either.  *Spoiler* At one point, Amitabh's (the original) Vijay asks Jaya's Mala for permission to pursue his revenge. And because Mala sees that he won't be able to live a normal life without finding some closure, she wisely gives her consent and empowers him to go out and seek justice for his family and the family of other victims.

The constant eye for a style that serves the scene: 

I mean, there's nothing much in this room. And yet, as soon as you see the red light, as soon as you see the disturbing angle of the shadows, you feel nervous. You know something bad is about to happen. And you'd be right.

And sure, this room is sparse as well (reflecting both the budget of the film and that of the the two protagonists' I think), but this really the first time we see these two characters in almost perfect domestic sync. And true to that fact, they match both each other and the furniture! I want to hug the person responsible for this beautiful, minimalistic, symbolic statement.

Pran  . . . being THE best friend you could ever want or need:

The best thing about this movie is Pran. Anyone who says different is selling something. 

Sher Khan is the strange chemical reaction that comes of mixing an Urdu poet with an Irish Santa Claus and less cowardly Captain Hook. Consequently, the song Yaar Hai Imaan Mera is one of the best things I've ever seen in my entire life. Sher Khan does his darndest to cheer up his woeful friend, Vijay. He almost succeeds . . . and simultaneously snags the "Most Creative Way to Be a Best Friend in Filmidom" award.

And look, Bindu trying to pretend she's not in the movie, and failing miserably:

Because, of course, Zanjeer is the origin of this popular Bindu dance . . .  Look for what my brother dubbed as the classic Amitabh reaction to outright seduction. Compare his stony, immovable stance above to his reactions to Helen in this dance from Don (1978).

And lastly, the shivers-down-my-spine moments . . . of which there were many.

Vijay's (and our) growing awareness of the weight of the evil he is pursuing . . .

This is an odd island of Noir and existential humor. Somehow, the song of death and destruction hidden in the background thus far becomes achingly real as we see it picturized on a cemetery and a (rather sloshed) Om Prakash.

There were a lot of shiver moments, though, mostly because the last third of the film was stronger than the first two thirds (at least for me) by a wide margin. Choppy streams of masala tropes finally converged into a  full-fledge masala river. And that river took me someplace I really ended up loving.

In a rare moment of art imitating itself, this film matured with its characters . . . step by choppy step . . . until it blossomed into something a whole lot stronger than I expected. Or maybe it caught a lesson from Sher Khan, and decided to carve out a circuitous path to greatness.


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