My generation grew up on Amitabh Bachchan’s movies and everybody — film historians included — know the priceless contribution of ZANJEER  to Big B’s illustrious career. For the uninitiated, the tag, ‘Angry Young Man’, was coined for Bachchan soon after this film hit the screens and made history at the BO. Although a number of films followed [and continue to be made to this date] — depicting a brooding cop, the fight between honest and evil — ZANJEER is revered, an iconic film by movie aficionados and enthusiasts.
The first time I heard that Apoorva Lakhia was remaking ZANJEER, I must admit, I was appalled. Why would anyone want to play with fire, I asked myself. Remaking an iconic film and reprising the characters of Inspector Vijay Khanna [Big B], Sher Khan [Pran], Mala [Jaya Bachchan], Teja [Ajit] and Mona [Bindu], which have been immortalized by the actors, is a humungous challenge. Sure, the Gen X may/may not be aware of the classic, but those who recall ZANJEER affectionately will find it difficult to see a new set of actors slipping into their fav stars’ shoes.
The question is, how much has Apoorva Lakhia retained from the all-time classic? The new ZANJEER borrows from the original, but it is more of an updated avatar of that film. The essence remains the same, the characters are similar too, even a dialogue or two has been retained… but let me put it this way — it’s his interpretation of a film that’s admired even after four decades of its release.
Vijay [Ram Charan] is an honest police officer who has been transferred yet again by the system for chasing the corrupt underworld goons. He is in charge of a case where the key eyewitness, Mala [Priyanka Chopra], has seen a murder by Teja’s [Prakash Raj] gang and refuses to co-operate. Teja is the head of the oil mafia operation and doesn’t want Mala alive. Vijay manages to convince Mala to give a statement which makes her perpetrators come after her.
He gives her shelter in his house to protect her and soon realizes that she is slowly becoming an important part of his life. He also encounters Sher Khan [Sanjay Dutt], who is into buying and selling of illegal cars. Seeing Vijay’s honesty and determination, Sher Khan turns over a new leaf and mends his ways to transform into a person who now only goes by the book. He has made Vijay a friend for life and will do anything to help him out.
Vijay, on the other hand, is also battling his inner demons, where he is searching for his parents’ killers. He witnessed their cold blooded murder as a child and the nightmares continue to haunt him till date. The film revolves around Vijay’s struggle against the system, his battle against his inner demons and the trail for Teja.
Let’s get one thing right! ZANJEER is *not* a scene-to-scene reproduction of the earlier film. ZANJEER has a present-day setting, thus catering to today’s spectators. Apoorva and his team of writers rely on drama and action to carry the story forward: The conflict between Ram Charan and Prakash Raj works for most parts, while the action is larger-than-life and in sync with what the present-day spectators expect from masala movies.
A subject like ZANJEER is totally up Apoorva’s alley and without comparing him with his peers, I must state that the director has handled a number of dramatic sequences adroitly, especially the ones between Ram Charan and Sanju and also between Ram Charan and Prakash Raj. It’s a double edge-sword for the director, but as a standalone film — not wanting to color my judgment, since I am a big, big fan of the earlier ZANJEER — the director does deliver in the second hour specifically.
Blemishes? The women in the film don’t really work. Priyanka, a fine actress otherwise, is just about okay. And Mahie Gill aka Mona Darling is inadvertently comical. Moreover, the character of the journalist [Atul Kulkarni] is not as convincing. Apoorva also falters because the theme lacks the originality that it had in the 1970s. Haven’t we been subjected to hundreds of good versus evil saga over the decades? The soundtrack is another hiccup. You forget all about it the moment you exit the hall.
Ram Charan steps into a role that was immortalized by Big B and that’s a huge challenge for any actor. The very thought of reprising the iconic character can put you off, but, again, without drawing parallels with Big B’s towering act, I must add that Ram Charan acquits himself very well. He plays the honest cop with precision and comes across as a supremely talented actor. Priyanka Chopra just doesn’t work. Incidentally, this is the third remake for Priyanka, after DON and AGNEEPATH [all starred Big B in the original versions]. After playing the affable Munnabhai and deadly Kancha Cheena, Sanjay Dutt portrays Sher Khan with gusto. He’s first-rate.
Prakash Raj is electrifying as the villain. He is venomous to the hilt. Mahie Gill definitely deserved something better. Atul Kulkarni is wasted. Ankur Bhatia is relegated to being Prakash Raj’s sidekick. Dayashankar Pandey and Aditya Lakhia try hard to infuse humor in the proceedings. Chetan Pandit is passable.
On the whole, ZANJEER is a triumph for Ram Charan, who gets abundant opportunity to exhibit his talent and scores exceedingly well. However, the film comes across as a regular masala fare that caters to the single screen spectator mainly and also for enthusiasts of typical Bollywood entertainers. As for the comparisons with the original ZANJEER, I suggest try not to get there!