By Suprateek Chatterjee
(Warning: Spoilers. Spoilers everywhere. But, really, you're better off not watching this film.)
In theory, the time is ripe for a Zanjeer remake. In 1973, when the original film was released, India was plagued with problems of corruption, apathy and low economic growth. Congress was the ruling party, with a soon-to-be-unpopular Indira Gandhi at the helm as Prime Minister, and their credibility was going downhill rapidly.
Today, we have all of the same and more, with scams worth more than the GDP of certain nations, an extremely ineffectual government and economic uncertainty. The issues are all there to address. People are angry. With the elections only months away, it is not unusual for dinner-time discussions to turn into 'Why Modi?/ Why not Modi?' debates. Basically, we could totally use a modern-day ACP Vijay Khanna. In theory.
What we don't need is an ACP Vijay Khanna who looks like India's answer to Taylor Lautner.
We don't need a Vijay who uses enough hairwax to put an FYJC student at Mithibai College to shame. We can't take seriously a bronzed Vijay who often wears more eyeliner than his female co-star, the 'bubbly' (because 'murderable' isn't an actual word yet) Priyanka Chopra. We can't identify with a Vijay who works out of Mumbai's "Yellow Stone Police Station" (you can't make this up) and wears tight, slim-fit shirts to show off his Gold's Gym biceps and waxed chest.
Ram Charan Teja, son of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi, makes his Bollywood debut in a role that ended Rajesh Khanna's reign, kickstarted Amitabh Bachchan's career and simultaneously changed the face of Hindi cinema at the time. In the "Impossible Shoes To Fill" folder, this one is the tab named "Bro, this is suicide."
I rewatched the original recently. Truth be told, it hasn't aged very well, like most potboilers from that era. The dialogue-baazi that was the hallmark of that genre of movies, when not viewed through the lens of nostalgia, often comes across as cheesy and overdone now. The screenplay is patchy, certain situations are improbable and the trademark happy ending is hurried and underwhelming.
But the acting! That's what makes Prakash Mehra's film memorable even now. We have a young Jaya Bhaduri as witness-turned-lover Mala, who is believable despite her sketchily-written character, and the late Pran as Sher Khan, playing an over-the-top character with surprising subtlety and infectious enthusiasm.
And then there's the dignified presence of a 30-year-old Bachchan. Tall, lanky and stylish, with none of the conventional good looks of his superstar predecessor, Rajesh Khanna, Bachchan still arrests you with his unwavering gaze and that baritone. His sincere and straight-up commitment to the role is astounding. Watching it today, one feels that he made a conscious effort to be different from his contemporaries and bridge that gap between realism and melodrama. This apparent sensibility makes everything he does and says believable, despite the occasional silliness surrounding him.
Ram Charan, who no doubt must have studied Bachchan's performance thoroughly, has misinterpreted the role so badly that it's heartbreaking. Bachchan's trademark glare, which usually carries with it a mixture of quiet anger, intimidation and irritation, has been translated by Ram Charan thusly: a clenched jaw, narrowed eyes and a direct-but-vacant stare. In his scenes with Mala, Bachchan's Vijay pulls off a shy-and-uncomfortable half-smile with great ease. When Ram Charan does it, it looks like a grimace. Bachchan's Vijay lives and dresses simply; Ram Charan's Vijay lives in a suspiciously extravagant house and, seemingly, buys his shirts at Provogue. When Bachchan's Vijay delivers a line, you're transfixed by the intensity in his eyes and the conviction in his voice; when Ram Charan's Vijay does it, his muscles flex for no apparent reason and you're left wondering how many protein shakes he must have consumed the day that scene was shot.
This Zanjeer, directed by Apoorva Lakhia, is a disaster, as reviews will no doubt tell you. But what is more disheartening is that Ram Charan's Vijay doesn't appear to be the outcome of an intelligent performance that utilises his own sensibilities. This Vijay is no longer the Angry Young Man — he is a commercial construct, conceptualised and fleshed-out by a team of producers and filmmakers, and given a bronzed make-over. Were he a superhero, he'd be the Man Of Bronze. However, much like Zack Snyder's big-budget summer atrocity, he is also a dud.
(Suprateek Chatterjee is editor of Visual Disobedience, a community for emerging indie artists, and a freelance writer. In his spare time, he likes to compose music with his electro-rock band Vega Massive and his Twitter handle is @SupraMario.)