This day in 1973, Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer was released, a film that that is indisputably a mainstream trendsetter.
There is movielore attached to the old film– which does not even seem to be 47 years old — even though characters like the Chaku-chhuri wali (played by Jaya Bhaduri) and the Pathan (Pran) are not to be seen in Mumbai any more. (And the character of Mona Darling, the moll, played by Bindu has all but vanished from Hindi films.)
Prakash Mehra wanted to cast Raj Kumar in the lead role, but the famously eccentric star is supposed to have turned it down, saying he didn’t like the smell of the director’s hair oil. It’s not as it Mehra was a newbie, he had directed three successful films, Haseena Maan Jaayegi, Mela and Samadhi before, but Dharmendra, Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor also refused the film for their own reasons.
Pran suggested Amitabh Bachchan, who had had a string of flops behind him. No actress would agree to star opposite him, but Jaya took it up; doing this film together strengthened their romance and led to marriage.
Salim-Javed were so popular then, that soon their their names would appear on the posters and hoardings of their films– a first (and last) for screenwriters.
Bachchan played the intense police inspector, haunted by the murder of his parents– the only memory he has is of the killer (Ajit as the suave villain, Teja) wearing a bracelet with a stallion charm. Because of the serious nature of Inspector Vijay, Mehra refrained from giving him any lip-synch songs, his love for the knife-sharpener Mala is expressed through a song by street singers — Deewane hain, deewanon ko…
The most popular song turned out to be Yaari hai imaan mera, sung by the gangster Sher Khan (Pran in a fierce henna-haired, kohl-eyed look), who has a memorable and oft-copied duel with Vijay. The Pathan sneers, even a dog can be a lion in uniform, at which the cop takes off the uniform and proceeds to bash up Sher Khan in front of his henchmen; this encounter results in the reformation of the criminal and a strong friendship between the two brave men.
Zanjeer made a superstar out of Amitabh Bachchan, created the Angry Young Man label for him, gave him the name Vijay that was used in many subsequent films, and started a long-lasting trend of violent vendetta films.
In 2013, Apoorva Lakhia attempted a remake, which was an unmitigated disaster.