Ramgopal Varma Ki Aag, which I consider the worst Hindi movie ever made, now has company in the annals of film history. It’s a coincidence that the second worst Hindi film I had the misfortune of watching is also a remake of a classic 70s hit – Zanjeer.
Directed by Apoorva Lakhia, who has previously unleashed such atrocities on our senses as Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost and Mission Istanbul, the new Zanjeer isn’t just a bad film, it’s a shameless exercise in laziness. As anyone who watches movies for a living will tell you, there’s some merit to be found even in awful films…a nicely picturised song perhaps, or a decent performance from a random supporting actor, possibly a relevant message buried somewhere in the mess. But I’m afraid there’s nothing polite that can be said about Zanjeer.
Prakash Mehra’s 1973 film starred Amitabh Bachchan as an upright cop pitted against a corrupt system. Superbly written by Salim-Javed, the movie shrewdly tapped into the nation’s collective frustration, and the Angry Young Man was born. Lakhia’s version features Telugu star Ram Charan as ACP Vijay Khanna, hot on the trail of oil Mafiosi Teja (Prakash Raj). Priyanka Chopra is Mala, an NRI girl and sole witness to a gruesome murder that could link Teja to the adulterated petrol scam. Closely following the blueprint of the earlier film, Vijay is helped in his mission by reformed illegal car dealer Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt). There’s an informant too, in the form of an honest crime reporter (Atul Kulkarni), who at one point gives Vijay crucial information about Teja’s operations, all the while dancing in a Ganpati procession.
Not satisfied at being a hollow imitation, the new Zanjeer is embarrassingly ill-conceived and is packed with howlers from start to finish. Sanjay Dutt’s Sher Khan and our cop hero first engage in what comes off as a comedic fight scene that leaves them panting for breath. The next moment, they’re bonding during a Playstation game. At another point in the film, while asking that Vijay be protected, Sher Khan says: “Woh mera dost hai. Aur waise bhi Hindustan mein sher aur dost, dono ki kami hai”.
Dressed in badly-fitted gaudy suits and constantly pawing his moll (Mahie Gill in a career-ending performance) while delivering sleazy double-meaning lines like “Mona Darling, apna moonh sirf ek cheez ke liye kholna please”, Prakash Raj can’t recreate the gloriously over-the-top guilty pleasure that was Ajit in the role of the original Teja. The film, in fact, is a treasure chest of corny dialogue, with the choicest lines reserved for Prakash Raj. During a lavish meal with his associates, Teja says, “Chicken and chicks are the two meows of life.” While bribing Atul Kulkarni in a private theatre filled with skimpily-clad white women, he points to one lady and says to the reporter: “How about a massage? She gives the best happy ending.”
Lakhia cobbles together powerful moments from the original Zanjeer, but he brings neither imagination nor depth in his telling. In a cringe-inducing rehash of the memorable morgue scene, as the background score swells, Vijay tells Mala rather tritely, “I thought being a woman, you’d have a heart”. Meanwhile, the famous confrontation scene with Sher Khan in the police station feels strangely muted because Ram Charan can’t muster up the seething intensity that Bachchan brought to that moment.
Ram Charan, in fact, a successful and popular star in Telugu films, comes off as stiff as a wax statue in his Bollywood debut, with barely any emotion, forget brooding anger. His biceps pop out of his uniform, but he barely flexes his facial muscles. Ram Charan never gets under the skin of Vijay Khanna, making it hard to look beyond his kohl-lined eyes and his neatly styled hair. A portly Sanjay Dutt, his wardrobe comprising bright pathani suits, pretty much sleepwalks through his scenes as Sher Khan. Buried under bad prosthetic make up, or the result of too many hangovers, his eyes and face appear hard as a rock.
But the most grating performance comes from Priyanka Chopra, who was so good in last year’s Barfi, you have to wonder if that role sucked all the talent right out of her. Like a six year old on a sugar high, she chatters away inanities without pausing for breath; her Mala an idiot version of Jaya Bachchan’s memorable take on the character.
Having said that, the blame for this film rests squarely with its makers – co-writer and director Apoorva Lakhia, and Prakash Mehra’s own sons who have produced this drivel. If the new Zanjeer was merely a badly made film, you could dismiss the makers as talentless brats. But their biggest crime here is that they don’t so much as try to make a decent film. Their movie stinks of a blatant disregard for the audience’s intelligence and entertainment. It’s an obvious attempt to cash in on the brand Zanjeer and offer nothing in return.
I’m going with zero out of five, for the new Zanjeer. Without belittling their year-long battle with the film’s makers to be compensated for remaking their script, one has to wonder if screenwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar might consider donating some part of their settlement towards admitting these guys in film school.