Would you believe that it was not Jai but Veeru who was the original choice to play the cop in Zanjeer? Yes, Dharmendra had taken Salim-Javed’s script to Prakash Mehra and was really keen on playing Vijay, but had to drop out just before the film was to kick-off because of a family commitment. Unwilling to wait, the producer-director took the role to Dev Anand who turned him down because they had never worked together and the evergreen star was wary of throwing in his lot with a complete stranger.
I have often tried to imagine Dev sahab spitting out the now-iconic dialogue, “Jab tak baithne ko na kaha jaaye sharafat se khade raho… yeh police station hai… tumhare baap ka ghar nahi”, but the mind can only conjure up an image of Amitabh Bachchan as Zanjeer’s angry young man. However, before he landed the now iconic role, it had reached Raaj Kumar, but Jaani wanted to shoot in Chennai where he was doing another film.
Eventually, his writer duo suggested Amitabh Bachchan’s name, impressed after watching him in a fight sequence in Bombay To Goa. And Mehra agreed after watching the film anyone who could take on Shatrughan Sinha would be able to match Pran’s fiery histrionics as Vijay’s Pathan dushman-turned-dost, Sher Khan. Since he was the friend of his elder son, Amit, Pran sahab approved of their choice and that’s how Amitabh Bachchan came on board.
The Shahenshah of Bollywood who turns 79 today, had made his debut in 1969 in Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’s Saat Hindustani. Suneel Darshan, whose father distributed the film, points out that even in a crowd of six actors, the tall, brooding Bachchan who played Anwar Ali, a Muslim poet from Bihar, stood out. However, he had to struggle through 13 flops before he won his first race. Suneel was only 13 when he saw Zanjeer at a trial show and admits to being wowed by Bachchan’s energy and aggression on screen. Both his father and he were convinced the film would be a hit and so also its leading man. They were right, Zanjeeer, followed by Deeewar and Sholay made Amitabh Bachchan a household name and to this day, he enters our living room every evening to entertain, enthrall and educate with his game show, KBC.
A quarter of a century later, Suneel worked with Bachchan in Ek Rishtaa: The Bond of Love which he wrote, produced and directed. The filmmaker informs that back then, the actor was simultaneously filming Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. “He would shoot for Karan from 9 am to 6 pm, arriving on my set at 7 pm and continuing till 2 am every day. He was never late and he never complained,” Suneel informs appreciatively.
When they moved to day shifts, Bachchan, as always, was punctual to the dot. “Only once, for a 9 am, shoot with Akshay Kumar at Hiranandani Garden in Powai, a suburb in Mumbai, he arrived an hour-and-a-half late. He was profusely apologetic, informing me that he had been up all night as a doctor attended to his eldely parents (Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Teji Bachchan) who were not keeping well,” Suneil shares, still impressed by his sincerity, dedication and devotion to his parents. And that’s Amitabh Bachchan for you, an actor and a gentleman.