Friday, March 12, 2010


Original Title: Zanjeer (The Chain)
Year: 1973
Director: Prakash Mehra
Writer: Javed Akhtar, Salim Khan
Genre: Bollywood, action

Synopsis: The world erodes around Vijay, an honest police officer. He is jailed for 6 months on false charges, trapped by gang leader Teja. When Vijay is released from jail, he plans to take revenge.

Oh baby... Bollywood + Eurocrime

This film is the one responsible for making Amitabh Bachchan a superstar and started a series of films featuring his new "angry young man" style character. I was surprised when watching this how much like a Eurocrime film it ended up feeling like. It opens with a young Vijay and his parents celebrating Diwali. Vijay's dad, a career criminal, has told his boss that he is leaving the life of crime and going straight. Bossman ain't having this shit, so he sends a man (wearing a peculiar bracelet with a white horse dangling from it) to off dad. Mom wanders in and gets plugged too, all while young Vijay watches in horror hiding in a closet.

Fast forward years later, and Vijay has become an inspector and is plagued with dreams of a shadowy figure riding a white horse. Amitabh Bachchan is this eurocrime/Dirty Harry rip-off style detective, not opposed to bending the rules to get his shit done. This is most apparent right from the beginning as Vijay finds out immediately upon arriving at his new precinct (he has been transferred out of several due to his constantly not following protocol - a definite eurocrime convention) the name of a man with loads of public complaints against him and calls him into his office for a little chat.

I would say called him in for a sit-down, but there is actually a great moment once this man Sher Khan (Pran) arrives between him and Vijay where Vijay kicks a chair away from Shar Khan just as Khan is about to seat himself. Vijay had not invited Shar Khan to sit, and was pissed that he was treating his office as if it was his home. The two men go back and forth a bit here, and this all culminates in a pretty sweet street fight later on between the two.

I'm not sure that the end result of this confrontation was all that well done, however: Sher Khan agrees to just stop his gambling dens and such immediately because of his newfound respect for Vijay and his tiger-like spirit. I understand the intention here, and having a new respected friend with connections outside law enforcement helps to move the story along, but I wish that there had been a bit more complexity to the situation or at least to the Shar Khan character. I will say that Pran's performance was a highlight for me, however. I loved his constantly pushing his hair back - especially before/after headbutting some poor bastard in the chest!

Old school dressed with red hair and an awesome stache and beard, Sher Khan was an interesting character and definitely different from those around him in this particular story. At times he made me think of Mario Adorf's Luca Canali in La Mala Ordina (Manhunt), not because he was an underdog, but because he had a fiery disposition inside a deceiving kinda chubby package... (I said "chubby package"). Oh, and he headbutts the shit out of people. He's a prideful man and eventually very reliable to Vijay, but as I said, I wish there was just a little more dimension.

Then there's the obvious other go-to here is Amitabh's character which I have mentioned already. It is a one-dimensional character essentially, as are many cop roles in similar films, but Amitabh's one dimension is pretty fucking cool. He isn't the typical hothead, but instead keeps his wits about him almost universally. He does lose it from time to time, and when he does, he loves to multi-kick people instead of the usual punch combination (hilarious). He throws a dropkick out there which was pretty awesome, and one dude he just fucking stands on to drown his ass in the tub!

But don't get me wrong - it's all about the Amitabh stare and trademark deep voice here. He'll make your balls just a little bigger just hearing it.

The man doesn't even look completely ridiculous in a prison uniform that has short pants, so that says something.

The story stays largely simple and easy to follow fortunately despite the ever-present Bollywood tradition of including many plot points. As with many other films in the police/crime genre, this story boils down to a rogue cop vs. an organized criminal, but Zanjeer toes that line of getting weighed down in its subplots. It's not really enough to mess with the flow of the film significantly, but when you take your time not only on the main story but also on the developing friendship between Vijay and Sher Khan, a childhood flashback, a budding romance with a knife sharpener (and yes that actually comes into play as well!), etc., you will run the risk of just going on too long. 'Tis the Bollywood way, though. Directors here take their time developing stories. As I've said previously, this can be a daunting feature for American audiences in particular who are used to a similar story that can be told in 90 minutes instead of 145!

Mehra made a solid film here, but it isn't going to be for all audiences. The musical numbers alone will turn off many viewers who enjoy this genre film (there are usually around 5 or 6 songs in a Bollywood film this length it seems). I liked the music here, as I typically like the older style Hindi music as opposed to the top 40 sound of a lot of the film music today.

This isn't a story you can't find elsewhere, as 90-minute eurocrimes seem to be a dime a dozen, but it's a cool piece of Bollywood history as it marked a definite transition from loads of romance movies to loads of action movies being made

Plus, you get to see Amitabh Bachchan doing his great angry young man for the first time.

Definitely recommended for fans of Curry-action

Score: 6.5 / 10

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