September 6, 2013
Ram Charan Teja, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt, Prakash Raj, Mahie Gill
I’m not part of the anti-remake brigade. Question is: Why waste time and resources to remake a classic if you have nothing, absolutely N-O-T-H-I-N-G, new to say? Director Prakash Mehra’s 1973 Zanjeer – which marked the arrival of Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man on the scene – is a fine example of a lot of things falling into place in one film: Salim-Javed’s story and screenplay that tapped into prevailing public anger against the “system”, Bachchan’s incredible handsomeness and intensity, Jaya Bhaduri’s naturalness before the camera, Pran’s warmth and likeability, the secular sub-text to the friendship between AB’s Inspector Vijay Khanna and Pran’s Sher Khan, Ajit’s quirky Teja and his Mona Darling, and Mehra’s unflinching grip on the cast and written material. Of course it was over the top and melodramatic and unrealistic, but it went well with the times for which it was made.
The world has changed since 1973. Forty years later, director Apoorva Lakhia takes almost precisely the same story, fails to contemporise it or re-interpret it in any way to fit the present Indian social or cinematic scenario, dilutes the Vijay-Sher Khan bond, and begs to be asked that one word: why? Or two words: why bother?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, here’s the story: a little boy witnesses the murder of his parents by a mysterious hooded figure. He is haunted by nightmares of that figure all his life. Cut to the present day and he’s now ACP Vijay Khanna (Ram Charan Teja), a hot-tempered policeman who’s been rewarded for his honesty with repeated transfers. A murder in Mumbai, the city of his latest posting, is witnessed by an NRI girl called Mala (Priyanka Chopra) who is initially reluctant to help the police but changes her mind after a yelling from Vijay. The picture is completed by Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt) who turns his back on a life of illegal activity after a sound walloping from Vijay during which he wallops the cop right back; while looming over the scenario are the oil adulteration don Teja (Prakash Raj) and his moll Mona (Mahie Gill). Those once interesting characters and situations feel cliched in a contemporary film.
I repeat: I’m not against remakes. If a writer or director or actor has a new take on an old film, then for god’s sake let’s not treat a classic like a holy cow. The new Don films, for instance, have been thoroughly enjoyable. Comparisons with Amitabh Bachchan’s brooding character from the 1978 Don were inevitable, so in the remake and its sequel, Shah Rukh Khan wisely made the character completely his own, reworking him as a quirky and lively fellow always in a self-deprecating mood, deliberately emphasising his smaller physical stature in sharp contrast to Bachchan’s booming baritone and towering figure that contributed so heavily to the old film. As for Agneepath, it was part of an embarrassing phase in the Big B’s career when he was playing characters much younger than his real age, opposite heroines too young for him. At 38, Hrithik Roshan was far more suited to the role in the 2012 remake of the film. The new Zanjeer, on the other hand, is a pointless exercise.
The best actors are nothing in the face of poor direction, and Zanjeer is proof of that. There cannot have been a more unfortunate Bollywood debut for Telugu star Ram Charan Teja (Chirutha, Magadheera). The attractive youngster appears to have been instructed by his director to “look intense like Bachchan did back then” which, in this overall bland film, has translated into a bland performance. If you’ve seen him sparkle on screen before, you will know that he’s capable of so much more than this. The only places where he shines in Zanjeer are in the action scenes. Priyanka Chopra’s Mala is an irritatingly cutesy Barbie doll with “Daddy’s li’l girl” tattooed on her wrist. This is not the PC we’ve come to respect. Not only is Sher Khan marginal to the proceedings in comparison with the character in the original, but Sanjay Dutt – who has given us so many fine performances in the past – shows himself in this film to be unworthy of sitting even at Pran’s feet. No Sanju, going bald to play Kancha in Agneepath was not acting. Getting a facial scar for Sher Khan does not count as acting either.
The only saving grace in the cast is Prakash Raj who steps into Ajit’s shoes playing the villain Teja. Ajit’s trademark style of dialogue delivery was entertaining enough to overshadow his acting flaws; it’s definitely what made Teja so memorable. Prakash Raj doesn’t try to be a carbon copy, but instead brings his own brand of menacing humour to the table here. A new character has been introduced in the film: Atul Kulkarni plays investigative journalist Jaydev who is so stupid that he gives a dangerous gangster advance notice of a damaging report he intends to publish in his newspaper.
The one thing that was quite awful in the old Zanjeer was the music, not counting Yaari hai imaan mera yaar meri zindagi (Deewane hai deewanon ko was somewhat tolerable). Not to be left behind, the new Zanjeer serves us an array of terrible songs perhaps as a bow to the terribleness of the old soundtrack. The film does have some excellent action scenes though, in particular that one in which Vijay quietly drives a vehicle right through the homes in a shanty where Teja’s fuel adulteration business is headquartered, leaving explosion after explosion in his wake, and another when an attempt is made to kill him in a hotel washroom.
It’s been many years since I first saw the original Zanjeer. I deliberately didn’t re-watch it before seeing the new one this week since I didn’t want my head to be crowded with memories of it. The effect of the boring and unimaginative remake is that it made me long for the old film. I revisited it as an antidote when I got home and was reminded of what a lovely combination Prakash Mehra, Salim-Javed, Bachchan, Bhaduri, Pran, Ajit, Mona Darling and 1973 were. The new Zanjeer is dated and dull.
Rating (out of five): *1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
2 hours 17 minutes
Photographs courtesy: Universal Communications