At the cost of being labelled a die hard Big-B fan, this eponymous film has to be added to the list to our Retro Gems section sheerly on the strength of its popularity due to its story, screenplay and of course Amitabh Bachchan in antipodal double role of a sauve but hardened gangster and a Kohl-eyed bumpkin.
There was novelty in the story but it was such that it could have even back-fired. It were Amar Akbar Anthony, Trishul before this and Kasme Vaade after this that propelled the already popular star Amitabh Bachchan to new heights of megastardom. It was his decade and the ‘Chora Ganga Kinarewala’ had made it big in this cut throat world of Hindi film industry. Whatever he did or touched turned to gold; take for example the song ‘khaike paan banaraswala’ which was introduced right at the height of tension when the hero and the heroine are trying to escape from the goons, the scene demanded a certain amount of tautness but this guy pulled off this song with such aplomb including making an uber-mod Roma dance to his desi tune, that the entire tension of the scene was relieved.
Zennie baby (Zeenat Aman) was aptly cast for the first time opposite Amitabh and matched his height for height they were rarely cast together after that, I recall only a couple more Bollywood movies such as Mahaan and Dostana, they made a good pair and would have liked to see them in more films together.
Amitabh’s on-screen escapades were mimicked in schools and on street corners alike, he had become the darling of the masses in North as well as South. I can vouch for this ’cause as an 11 year old I stood in line for two hours at a cinema hall on Bengaluru’s (Bangalore back then) Kemp street with my uncle to get the tickets which were rationed two per person.
There were many greats to balance AB’s persona like Pran who was in great form, then there was Helen crooning the sexy ‘Yeh… mera dil’ for Don in a closed hotel room to exact revenge. The cast packed with the veterans of the time like the do-gooder cop Ifthikhar who knew the secret of Don and of course Om Shivpuri who is revealed as the real Villian of the piece, a predator in sheep’s clothing, then there were others like Satyen Kappu, Kamal Kapoor and our own Sambha (Mac Mohan) in a suit.
All the on screen shenanigans were lapped up by the wide-eyed audience with no questions asked even when they saw a lame duck Pran escaping on a tight rope with two of his kids who were young enough to be his grandkids, we all clapped and waited with bated breath – the clash between AB and Pran after that scene. One can say that AB ruled the aspirational gullibility of the public of the time, who were in search of its own superman. Apart from the iconic ‘Khaike’ song there was this catchy title song ‘Arre dewaano’ where the bumpkin tries to establish himself as the dead Don.
Some 25 years later Shah Rukh in his stupor to capture the Shehanshah’s crown tried to recreate the magic with a remake albeit with a twist and then Don 2, but believe me, his charisma wasn’t an iota to the real Don. It was like showing a torch to the sun. There were some iconic dialogues in the original, like the now famous ‘Don ka intezaar toh Gyarah mulkon ki police kar rahi hai’ which was repeated in a few movies in the later years and ‘Mujhe junglee billiyan pasand hai’ which was also repeated in Shah Rukh’s Don.
AB played the baddie with same zest as the good guy, he would have made one heck of a villian. The movie was produced by Nariman Irani and directed by Chandra Barot. Irani was in debt and was advised to make a film with AB, so he got this super rejected script from Salim Javed which had been thumbed down by one and all including Dev Anand, Jeetendra and even Prakash Mehra. Irani died during the shooting of the movie and when AB got the Filmfare award for best actor he called Irani’s widow on stage to receive it.
Amitabh and Zeenat never charged for the movie but were given their share after its success and the remaining went to Irani’s widow. The Khaike song was originally recorded for Dev Anand’s ‘Banarasi Babu’ but was used here as an after thought to dissipate the film’s fast paced action and provide relief. The movie was remade in many languages, the most famous being the Tamil version Billa of 1980 with Rajnikanth and made him a star too down South. This is Chandra Barot’s only release.
– Revisited by PAWAN GUPTA