Movie review: Zanjeer
Cast: Ram Charan, Priyanka Chopra, Prakash Raj, Mahie Gill, Sanjay Dutt, Atul Kulkarni
Director: Apoorva Lakhia
The Indian Express rating: * 1/2
This film brings with it a series of whys, the first being the biggest: why remake an iconic film which has never disappeared from view? Forty years ago, Prakash Mehra made his Zanjeer, with Amitabh Bachchan as Inspector Vijay Khanna, a cop with serious anger management issues, brought on by a murder he witnessed as a child, Jaya Bahaduri as a reluctant witness to a gang killing, Pran as the noble-hearted Pathan-ka-bachcha, the marvelously mannered Ajit as Bad Guy Teja, and Bindu as the bursting-out-of-her-sequinned-slinkiness Mona Darling. That 1973 Zanjeer turned into a superhit, and kickstarted Bachchan's rise and rise in Hindi cinema.
That 40-year-old flick is to be seen forever running on a loop on a movie channel or two. Despite its hamminess (Pran took the word ‘ham’ to sublime levels with his dire auburn wig-and kohl-eyed goonda-turned-good Sher Khan), and its quotient of melodrama, that Prakash Mehra film remains a zinger. It gave us the Bollywood hero with the longest legs, in all senses of the word, and a prototype plot -- cops vs robbers-- which never tires unless done badly.
And then you watch this new Zanjeer and you get started with the whys.
Implicit in all remakes is the idea that you are refreshing the film, both for those who may have seen the original, as well as for newbies ( in the screening I was at, I found someone who, gasp, hadn’t seen the old one).
The filmmakers have been carefully calling it a “tribute”, and they have added a couple of elements which weren’t in the older film, but to me it was a neither here-nor-there thing: it’s neither faithful remake nor campy, knowing tribute. It’s just a poor copy. So why?
Ram Charan, who plays the new Vijay, has the physique for it. He’s tall and hunky and buffed (though that puffed-up hair is straight out of a styling salon) and has the most delicious come-hither heavy lashed eyes. I saw him first in his Telugu superhit Magadheera, a back-to-the-future revenge piece which I loved: he was doing in Telugu what all superstars around the country do in all languages. He was jokey, danced as well as his leading lady, and landed a mean punch.
All of which Ram Charan tries to bring to the table here, but he is more fumble than finesse. Bollywood is a different terrain, and you can see him shifting constantly for a better fit, but except for some action sequences, it doesn’t happen. What can he do if he has to act opposite a dumb blonde version of a Bollywood ditz, the NRI Mala who is in India to attend a Facebook friend’s wedding ( yes, that’s right), and who wants to run back to her Daddy, and not give gawaahi in the murder she witnesses? Priyanka Chopra is even more of a misfit here, with not one shred of her usual intelligence showing through in her over-the-top-squeaky-girliness. Why?Poor Prakash Raj. He really seems to be the go-to villain these days, but we've been seeing him doing the same thing too many times over. His Teja lives in a gargoyle of a palace somewhere in Mumbai, with a swimming pool, loyal henchmen, and curvaceous moll Mona Darling (Gill) who may be the
silliest prop in the film.
The nakli dawaai of the older film is replaced by nakli petrol: the oil mafia, which skims over the top, and sells in the open market, and which is being investigated by sharp investigative reporter Atul Kulkarni, accompanied by a hanger-on of a female colleague. That kind of treatment was very much of a product of its time. It makes no sense now. Going by this Zanjeer, Mumbai still has only one cop who is capable of weeding out the baddies (his sidekicks are cartoons), only one journo who wants to break stories, only one really bad guy, and that one fellow who turns from bad-to-good in the blink of an eye (Sanjay Dutt is Sher Khan, all togged out in techni-coloured Pathani suits and scarred cheeks, has the dubious privilege to react to this iconic line: “yeh tumhaare baap ka ghar nahin, police station hai”. He also gets to dance, fight off a dozen men at the
same time, and save the hero’s life.
There’s a part in which this Teja and Mona Darling are seen watching an excerpt from that Zanjeer, in which Ajit and Bindu are shown cosying up, and you instantly get nostalgic. In this instance, old is certainly gold. And new is dross. There really is nothing in this film that catches your eye except for a few set pieces, and a new male face which could make some space for himself if he gets something better.
The rest is best described by a dialogue in the film which goes thus: "that was work, this is a hangover".