The angry young man phenomenon that emerged out of the tentative screenplays of writers Salim-Javed (Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar) in the 1970s was in part shaped by the Indian Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi that lasted between 75 and 77 yet predominately the origins of Amitabh Bachchan’s often repeated ‘Vijay’ persona was ideologically conflated with the anti-hero of the forties and Indian mythology. In Zanjeer, similarly like many of the angry young man films of the 70s that featured Amitabh Bachchan what remains strikingly magnified today is the exemplary quality of screenplays produced by Salim-Javed. Their work reached its epoch in Shakti that paired Dilip Kumar with Amitabh Bachchan, exhausting many of their creative ideas whilst leaving open the potential of continually reinventing the angry young persona for Indian cinema’s most culturally iconic of film stars. Watching Zanjeer today, it has been transformed through postmodern homage and imitation into a kitsch cinematic catalogue of star persona’s, social anxieties and zeitgeist hyperbole.
The ultimate pleasure it offers an audience is situated in a nostalgic yearning for the masala cinema of the seventies. If Zanjeer was a revenge film and Shakti a film about father and son then Deewar’s rags to riches narrative seemed to be the one that offered the most visceral and provocative ideological connection with the state of Indian society; Deewar features perhaps the most realised of the Vijay persona’s as it succeeds in blurring the line between fiction and reality. However, upon its release Zanjeer may have been declared as groundbreaking in terms of the mainstream but the melodramatic gestures makes one firmly position this as a film that grasps traditions. The radicalism may have been in the volatile persona of Amitabh’s Vijay but around him, traditional forces constantly remind us that in the midst of such cynicism, an impulse to recognise the vitality of popular genres is what makes much of the work of Salim-Javed so instrumental to mainstream Indian cinema.
4 thoughts on “ZANJEER / THE CHAIN (Dir. Prakash Mehra, 1973, India) – Angry Young Men”
Wow, Zanjeer after Ek Din Pratidin! You sure are covering the entire spectrum.
Yeah, I agree with your observation about the emergence of the Angry, Young Man phenomenon. It certainly was a cultural phenomenon triggered by the then Indian society – sort of similar to the growth of film noirs. The fact that it reflected a lot of what was going on inside the 70's movie goers' minds (especially those belonging to the 20s & 30s age group), was perhaps the prime reason why the audience loved that persona of Bachchan and turned that into a cinematic icon like few before or since.
Similarly 90's were a booming time in Indian economy, and hence the tremendous popularity for the romantic prodigal son images popularised by the Shahrukh's & the Salman's.
Yes, your right, it is a big leap and a stark contrast to Sen's work. Amitabh and Deewar is going to be the focus of the next chapter. It's difficult not cover the Big B when looking at the evolution of Indian cinema. I wish I could fit in a chapter on Sen. Anyway, Amitabh just continues working busily, though admittedly, the quality has varied over the last years. What are your favourite films of the 70s era?
I agree, the Angry Young Man persona is an icon like few others. And though a no. of actors since have tried to create their own Angry Young Man personas, no one had even a fraction of impact that Bachchan had.
Well, most of my favourite Hindi movies from the 70's would feature Bachchan (well, to be honest, I haven't watched as many Hindi movies as most Indians). So what I'll do is rank my 10 favourite Bachchan performances from his 70's movies, arguably his best decade:
3. Namak Haram
7. Kabhie Kabhie
9. Chupke Chupke
10. Do Anjane
Interestingly, a no. of these were multi-starers, and quite a few of his best performances came in supporting roles (e.g. Anand, Namak Haram, Mili, Sholay, Chupke Chupke, etc.)!
Awesome list. Another under rated Bengali auteur,
Hrishikesh Mukherjee, was the one who helped to shape the middle class image of Amitabh and I agree with many of the films you have pointed out especially Anand, Namak Haram and Abhimaan in which like you say, he provides more of a supporting role.