Weekly Classics: Don
Back in the 1970s, Amitabh Bachchan was without doubt the dominant figure in the Indian film industry. He rolled out one hit movie after another, and was “a one man film industry” to quote French film director Francois Truffaut. He established himself as arguably the biggest movie star that the subcontinent has ever produced. One of the classics in which he acted in was the 1978 blockbuster “Don”. It’s a movie that has been remade several times and has all the ingredients that make Bollywood movies stand out from other film industries.
The film incorporates the famous double role persona, in which an actor plays two separate people whose lives, by remarkable circumstances, cross paths. In this particular film the “Big B” plays (as the title says) Don: a ruthless underworld figure wanted by the authorities for a long laundry-list of crimes, ranging from smuggling to murder. Don holds a vice like grip over his gang and will not tolerate any dissent. One member of his gang, named Ramesh, however wants out of the criminal enterprise. Don gets a hold of Ramesh’s plan to escape with his fiancée Kamini (played by the luscious Helen) and kills him before he can run away. Kamini seeks revenge on Don by seducing him under the false name of Sonia and tries to have him caught by a tough police officer named DSP Dilva, who has been trying to catch the criminal for a very long time.
But as Don himself says it “Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai!” and escapes from the clutches of the police.
Later on however he is not so lucky and dies in a botched escape attempt in the back of DSP D’Silva’s car. The DSP becomes the only one in the police to know that the gangster is dead, but keeps that secret to himself because he suspects that Don answered to someone higher in the hierarchy and wants that man found. As it turns out that supreme criminal is a man called Vardan, who has kidnapped an Interpol officer, and is now under a false guise heading a team to find Don.
While all this is happening, Ramesh’s sister Roma (played by the even more luscious Zeenat Aman) wants to avenge her brother and his fiancées murder. She does that by learning some Judo and joining Don’s gang so that she can take him out from within the organisation like some female version of the Trojan horse.
DSP D’Silva also decides to infiltrate Don’s gang by hiring a wanderer named Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan again) who shares a spot-on likeness to the deceased gangster, and putting him in his place. Vijay agrees to the idea only on the condition that D’Silva takes under his wing two orphan kids who he has been looking after.
The two kids however do have a father named Jasjit (played by Pran, who wears one wig too many in this film). Jasjit was a circus performer who has already crossed paths with Don’s gang and DSP D’Silva. Initially refusing to commit a robbery for the gang, he had reluctantly agreed after his wife had an accident and he had to come up with money for her emergency surgery. But as luck would have it he was caught by D’Silva and sent to jail. With his wife dead and the location of his children unknown, Jasjit has vowed revenge on D’Silva.
Later on Vijay, after successfully returning back into the fold as Don, gets a hold of a red diary that has all the details of the gang’s operations and names of associates, including that of the main man Vardan. Roma on the other hand still wants revenge on Don and tries to kill him unsuccessfully. By a series of remarkable coincidences she eventually finds out Vijay’s true identity and magically falls in love with him.
Everything seems to be going fine for Vijay until DSP D’Silva gets killed in a raid on Don’s hideout by Vardan. With the only man who knows his true identity dead, Vijay now finds himself in the predicament of being wanted by the police as Don and by Don’s gang as an imposter. The red diary which everyone is after turns up in the hand of Jasjit who uses it as a bargaining chip to settle old scores. Now all that is left is to find out who gets the diary and whether Vijay can clear his name before he gets killed in a case of mistaken identity.
The plot may seem outrageous and highly unlikely, but it is actually a very good story written by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. It incorporates escapism, thrills, action and comedy in a perfectly gelled script. It has all the ingredients to make this film a classic. Whether it’s the colorful characters, the fast pace of the film, or simply the great music by Kalyanji Anandji and playback singing of Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar, everything falls into a perfect crescendo.
The remake in 2006 starring Shahrukh Khan, doesn’t hold a candle to the classic original. The 1978 film is still the best and one that is required viewing.
We will continue to highlight one classic a week, including foreign-language films, as well as local classics, so check back same time next week to see our next weekly classic!
Raza Ali Sayeed is a journalist at Dawn.com