Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Forty years after…”

Posted on September 13, 2013


Comparing the song situations in the old and new ‘Zanjeer’, we see how much has changed – in society as well as cinema.

You could argue that the new Zanjeer needed to be made for a few reasons – for instance, to serve as the definitive example of how not to remake a movie. Set the older film against this one and tick off everything that went wrong, and you have a cinema appreciation course right there. But there’s another reason I think remakes prove useful, and that’s to show how much has changed over the years: what the considerations (mainly, the musical situations) while making a movie were then versus what these considerations are now; what society was like then versus what society is like now; what passed for entertainment then versus what people (supposedly) want to see now. Of course, no one sets out to remake a film to illustrate these “sociological” aspects of an evolving nation and its most aggressively consumed cultural product, but once these new films arrive (and after we’re done sniggering at them), they do end up telling us things.

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Sometimes, these are obvious things. The older Zanjeer needed the song that Bindu, the gangster’s moll, swayed sexily to because that was a time when the heroines wouldn’t do such things – they were virgins and we needed the vamp to add some sizzle. (The Westernised heroine typified by Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi was just beginning to be seen.) The new Zanjeer has the heroine moving into the hero’s home and sleeping with him after what looks like an afternoon’s conversation. Besides, she seems to have no problems with performing sexually provocative numbers. The first time we see her, she’s dancing at a wedding, implying naughtily that she’ll go home with whoever offers her money. In other words, the heroine is introduced through a Bindu-type item number. So when the gangster’s moll in this film shakes her booty, she serves no real narrative purpose, and the song is staged in such a clichéd fashion that she doesn’t even serve the purpose of eye candy.

Speaking of heroine-introduction songs, the number in the older film had the heroine going about her job, earning a living by sharpening knives. This is a song situation that we no longer have much use for, because we hardly see people involved with their jobs anymore (unless they are cops in a procedural). Where’s the scope for a song around a blue-collar wage-earner like Jaya Bhaduri here or Mumtaz in Dushman (making a living with her bioscope) in this age of the multiplex? We barely seem to be aware of what today’s on-screen characters do in order to live such lush lives. Look at the hero’s mansion-like apartment in the new Zanjeer, interior decorated with a lavish art director’s allowance. In the older Zanjeer, too, the hero lived in a biggish house – the bathroom had a bathtub; the living room was carpeted; there was a large refrigerator where water was cooled in whiskey bottles – but the tiles in the kitchen were chipped and his police uniform was left to hang on his bedroom door.

That’s the door the heroine opened when she came to serve him tea, and we came, slowly, to the love song. In the new film, we have cutesy (or at least, meant to be cutesy) montages of hero and heroine enjoying each other’s company – at one point, she mock-threatens him with a loaded gun and it goes off mere inches from his skull; ah love! – and finally falling into bed. The problem isn’t the falling-into-bed part. Had the filmmakers treated this relationship as what it appears to be – the friends-with-benefits kind of situation that’s likely to crop up between an unattached man and woman – then we would have sensed some honesty. But they don’t. They want to treat this like the traditional romance, and without additional scenes between the lovers (which are not possible, given that this is not the kind of story that can accommodate those kinds of detours), we just don’t take this development seriously. We just don’t care.

But in the older film we do care. We care because they’re both alone, both orphans (in a sense), and they need each other, but they’re not going to do anything about it on their own. They barely even sense the other person as a possible life partner – so we have a deus ex machina (again, a device that no one uses anymore) in the form of a traveling song-and-dance troupe (again, blue-collar wage-earners) whose singers put into words these dormant feelings, and the leads fall in love. What a lovely device this is, as if the universe were conspiring to make them lovers, gently nudging them towards each other. By the end of the song, she turns towards the mirror and behind her reflection we see his. They’re united… as much as an unattached man and woman from a certain social background could be in those times.

Even better is the song that the heroine sings when the hero is framed and sent to jail. She asks God – fittingly, given the deus ex machina earlier – why He gave her those moments of happiness and gave her a glimpse of a future with someone, only to snatch it all away. Here too, there isn’t much scope for additional scenes between the lovers, but the song takes care of the dynamic between them, while also giving us a glimpse into the heroine’s character – her loyalty, her despair, her sense of being stranded between the life she’s left behind and the life that doesn’t seem to have worked out the way she thought it would. The new film doesn’t even bother sending the hero to jail, in the first place – it looks away from this juicy emotional hook, which adds much more meaning to his actions thereon. Do they stop and think about these things when deciding to remake a movie or do they just say, “Cool, let’s do Zanjeer!”?

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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