Thursday, June 3, Abhishek Bachchan tweets: "37 years! That’s how long my parents have been married. Their wedding anniversary today!"
Congratulations Mr and Mrs B! If ‘close sources’ are to be believed, the wedding of the year was scheduled for 1973, but in October. In May, the much-in-love couple had only planned a getaway together. They had promised themselves a well-deserved vacation if their film, Zanjeer, clicked.
Zanjeer opened on May 20. Producer-director Prakash Mehra who had invested his life’s saving and future in it, on the advice of his filmmaker- friend Manoj Kumar, flew down to Kolkata for the premiere with his tall, dark and not-so-happening hero, Amitabh Bachchan.
Where’s our hero?
The crowds outside the theatre looked upset. “Where is our hero?” they demanded. Mehra pointed towards Amitabh, who was pointedly ignored. The janta was hollering for Pran who had not made the trip.
The chant changed after the first show. It was ‘vijay’ for Vijay in the City of Joy. But the City of Dreams took its time to herald the new superstar.
Business crawled for the first four days. A demoralised Amitabh took to bed with high fever following his 13th straight ‘flop’.
On the fifth day, Mehra rushed to his bedside, claming he had just spotted serpentine queues outside the advance booking window at many city theatres screening Zanjeer. His hero’s temperature soared to a dizzying 104 degrees. Finally a hit? Incredible!
His steady date was delighted. Jaya, a top-ranking star at the time, had surprised everyone by accepting an abbreviated role in Zanjeer. She had reportedly done it because no other actress wanted to pair up with her Lambuji.
Dharam has no dates
Mumtaz opted for Mayur and marriage after signing on the dotted line over another film with her Bande Haath co-star. Many insisted she wouldn’t have changed her mind had the Mehra retained his original hero, Dharmendra.
Yes, Zanjeer had been announced as a Dharmendra-Mumtaz starrer. In fact, Dharmendra had even agreed to co-produce the film for Mehra. But by the time Zanjeer went on the floors, his brother had launched his own film and he was preoccupied with his home production.
He suggested that Mehra wait till the film was half-way through. But the director wanted to cash in on Garam Dharma’s superstardom and release Zanjeer in the next six months. Since the star didn’t have dates to spare, he took his film to Dev Anand.
Not with a stranger
According to industry lore, Devsaab was ready to play cop, if Navketan produced the film. Also, he wanted to wear his trademark scarves and wanted at least three-four hummable chartbusters. Mehra wanted plain khakis and a songless film. So DA was out too.
Year later, Devsaab clarified that the actual reason he had turned down Zanjeer was because Prakash Mehra was a complete stranger. “And I didn’t want to work with someone I didn’t vibe with no matter how good the offer,” he pointed out.
Come to Chennai
Next stop: Raaj Kumar. Rumour has it that Jaani thumbed down the film because he didn’t like Mehra’s face. Not true, he groused to me later. He was prepared to start shooting the next day if Mehra flew his unit down to Chennai, where he was doing another film with Mumtaz, and put up a set on the adjourning studio floor. Mehra refused. How could a story set in Mumbai be filmed down South? And he lost Jaani.
It was Pran who suggested Amitabh Bachchan. His son, Sikander, had been recommending his actor-friend strongly. Why didn’t Mehra go catch Bombay To Goa that had just released?
He did, accompanied by his scriptwriter Javed Akhtar. And was bowled over by a fight sequence between Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha. “Amitabh’s eyes were so expressive, so alive with emotions, that I knew immediately that he was the perfect Vijay,” the veteran producer-director told me years later.
Gamble pays off
His financiers reportedly didn’t share his confidence in the “too tall” hero with a string of forgettable films behind him. His distributors were baffled by his loyalty to the ‘jinxed’ actor. Even AB was apprehensive: “Lalla (Big brother), I don’t know what will happen to me if this film fails, I think I’ll just forget my dreams and return to Allahabad.”
Zanjeer that had been dismissed as “Prakashji’s art movie”, rewrote Hindi film history, along with Raj Kapoor’s Bobby and Yash Chopra’s Daag. And a relieved Amitabh, along with an ecstatic Jaya, started packing their bags for a trip to London.
Then suddenly, the parents apparently started acting middle-class. “How could a young boy and girl who were single go off on a trip together? What would people say? At least get engaged?”
It’s official now
D-day, they reasoned, was less than six months away. Why not make things official so everyone would be happy?
“Our marriage was an overnight decision. It took place of June 3, 1973. All the good things in my life have just happened,” Jaya laughed later.
After the rush-rush Bengali- styled shaadi, with her parents’ blessings, she finally flew off to the Queen’s city with her tall, dark, handsome and just-married husband. And the all’s well that ends well story continues… 37 years later.