Review of Zanjeer (1973 movie)

Year of release: 1973

Director: Prakash Mehra

Writers: Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar

Producer: Prakash Mehra

Lead Actors: Amitabh Bacchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Pran

Zanjeer served as a template for many films in the 70s and later as writers Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar acclimated the British “angry young man” theme to the Indian screen. In doing so, they couldn’t resist introducing some defining religious jibes and stereotypes related to Hindus in their inspired work.  

For example, they needed you to know that the worst crimes happen during Hindu festivals.

In this scene, villain “Seth Dharam Dayal Teja” kills a couple on Diwali night. No one hears gunshots because of the crackers and fireworks. Notice that the killer is a Hindu whose murderous instincts get particularly heightened on the most festive day of his religion.  

This is not a rare Bollywood movie where Salim-Javed used Hindu festivals as backdrops for gruesome crimes.

Husbands die on Karwa Chauth, and ‘Khoon ki Holi’ is a commonly used metaphor in their films. Gems of Bollywood has pointed out some of them here in this tweet.  

We are introduced to Sher Khan later in the film as the greatest soul on Earth who helps nab this killer.

Writers Salim and Javed tell us that there is a lovable, morally upright and religious man underneath Sher Khan’s rough and ferocious surface.

Incidentally, Mumbai’s infamous mafia don Karim Lala who operated several liquor dens, gambling and extortion rackets from the ’60s to early ’80s, inspired Khan’s character.

In the movie, Sher Khan runs a gambling den and offers cigarettes and alcohol to his customers, but wouldn’t touch any of those things because he is a sachcha musalman.

The subtle message is that even a known criminal is trustworthy if he is a Muslim, but Hindus are evil even if they claim to spend plenty on charity.   

Another trope that Bollywood continues to reinforce even today is that sharing thook is love. Romance blossoms between Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Mala (Jaya Bhaduri) when she absent-mindedly hands him her glass of tea, and he sips from it.  

While the movie claims to break away from various on-screen formulas, like the hero always being a romantic charmer in the 60s and early 70s, it doesn’t go too far in portraying empowered women. Mala is a feisty, headstrong and independent woman till she meets Vijay.

He gives her a ‘My Fair Lady’ moment saying her knife-sharpening vendor skills are worthless and she must learn something new from his sister-in-law. And voila, the sassy and financially self-reliant Mala transforms herself into a domesticated maiden who can’t wait to buy new curtains for her future home with Vijay, cook for him and iron his clothes. Her words. 

There are only two main women in this film. One is Mala, who is always dressed modestly in sarees and can’t wait to serve Vijay. The other is the villain’s paramour Mona, who wears deep neck blouses, drinks and smokes. There are only two types of women, we are told. 

In 2015, writer Salim Khan felt he deserves something more than a Padma Shri for his contribution to Bollywood. He declined to receive the honour and said, “For years, the central government has ignored me, honouring a number of my peers as well as juniors in the industry…But when I came to know that the ministry has chosen me for Padma Shri, I felt it does not match my status and work.”

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