Movie Review: Zanjeer (2013)

Zanjeer_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Movies about police officers who take the law into their own hands and beat the bad guys to a pulp are ubiquitous in Bollywood, thanks largely to the 1973 film Zanjeer (“Shackles”). While I haven’t seen the original Amitabh Bachchan film, I’ve seen plenty of variations on the same story in recent years, starring the likes of Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar. Given the ongoing popularity of the “supercop” sub-genre of action films, why would anyone risk remaking Zanjeer?

Director Apoorva Lakhia’s gamble doesn’t pay off. Perhaps fearing too much deviation from the original material, the remake of Zanjeer feels dated in its execution. The performances are corny, and the story structure doesn’t feel current. Lakhia would’ve been better off creating an entirely new movie, rather than being hamstrung by the old one.

Ram Charan makes his Hindi-film debut reprising Bachchan’s role as Vijay Khanna. Vijay is basically Batman: a boy whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes, who then grows up to be a vigilante. At one point in the film, Vijay’s girlfriend even wears a Batman t-shirt. The only difference is that Vijay is a maverick cop and not a masked superhero.

Vijay has such a reputation as a violent hothead that his interdepartmental transfer from Hyderabad to Mumbai merits cable news coverage (something that would never happen in real life). His first case in Mumbai involves investigating the murder of a man caught video-recording gasoline theft. The only witness is a beautiful Indian-American woman named Mala (Priyanka Chopra), in town for a friend’s wedding.

Mala is unbearably ditzy and annoying. Her role in the film is to be a lighthearted counterpoint to the always-serious Vijay, but she comes off as oblivious in the face of mortal danger from the organized crime unit that wants to kill her before she can testify. Chopra is a much better actress than this — as evidenced by her performances in Barfi! and 7 Khoon Maaf — so the blame rests on Lakhia’s shoulders for demanding such a grating performance from a talented actress.

In the course of his investigation, Vijay enlists the help of Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a car thief whom Vijay pummels into renouncing his criminal ways. Vijay is similarly successful in recruiting the help of a journalist, Jay Dev (Atul Kulkarni), via threats and an absurd amount of swagger. No one writes lead characters this way anymore, so these scenes feel like out-of-touch throwbacks.

Then again, Charan seems unable to tone down his swagger, so maybe the scenes make sense. He doesn’t play a character so much as pose as one, as if no one told him they were telling a story and not just shooting the cover of the DVD. The fact that Vijay’s shirts are always unbuttoned halfway further serve to make him look more like a catalog model than a police officer. When Charan does act, it appears to require a lot of effort.

Dutt’s and Kulkarni’s roles are poorly integrated into the script, which is a shame. Their parts are eclipsed by Prakash Raj as the villain Teja, who chews scenery while dressed as a pimp. Raj is the best part of the movie, though a scene in which he and Mahie Gill spend thirty seconds meowing at one another is hard to take.

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31 thoughts on “Movie Review: Zanjeer (2013)

    1. Kathy Post author

      My pleasure (sort of)! Remakes are so hard to get right because you’re bound by the original material to varying degrees, never more so than when remaking a classic like Zanjeer.

      Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Hi, Nav! I’m intrigued by Krrish 3, but I’m most looking forward to Ram Leela and Dhoom 3. What are you looking forward to?

      Reply
      1. Nav

        Krrish 3 might bore you…. we have so many Hollywood super hero movies..

        I want to see …..

        1. The lunchbox

        2.
        Manjhi mountainman
        3. Dhoom3 cos of aamir

        4. John day

        Reply
  1. Vineet

    A particularly bizarre bit in the movie is the liberal use of the tune “Rahupati Raghav Raja Ram” especially during violent action scenes, which is baffling as this line is famous for being the favorite of Mahatma Gandhi and is considered more or less a part of his non violent philosophy of “ahimsa” and “satyagraha”

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for pointing that out, Vineet. I also thought it odd that the lyrics to the song used in the opening fight scene were religious in nature, presumably to indicate that Vijay is a divine instrument of justice. I’ve seen this in other action flicks with a he-man, moral arbiter lead character, but I thought it was funny that the gods would send their avatar to beat up a bunch of peaceful protesters.

      Reply
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  3. Avinash

    Hi Kathy…..

    I love your reviews. I would suggest you to see Zubeidaa(2001) and review it. I would like to know what you have to say about it.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I forgot to include The Lunchbox on my list, Nav. Thanks for reminding me. I’m hoping it will get released theatrically here in the States, but you never know. I’m still waiting on Bombay Talkies. I would’ve liked to see John Day, too, but it didn’t open here. I suspect the same may happen to Manjhi — The Mountain Man.

      Reply
      1. Nav

        That’s correct – it is the way it is spelt. I have a question which movie should be India’s official Oscar 2014 entry. I think either one of lunchbox (given the feedback) or ship of theaseus. What’s Your take?

        Reply
  4. Nav

    You can watch these movies on youtube in a few months.

    A must watch movie for you should be –
    Ek doctor ki maut (English translation – “the death of a doctor”.)

    Stars shabana azmi & Pankaj Kanpur (shahid kapur’s dad). Another movie is arth (English. Translation – “meaning”) starring shabana azmi, smita patil.

    I’d be looking forward to your thoughts on these movies.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I’ve heard good things about Ek Doctor Ki Maut before, but I think it’s hard to find in the U.S. I’ll add your suggestions to my list of recommended films, Nav.

      Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Hollywood screener season is just starting, so I don’t have the time right now, Nav. Hopefully someday… 🙂

      Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      The eligibility window includes movies released theatrically in India between October 1, 2012, and September 30, 2013. While the full list of twenty movies the Indian committee is considering hasn’t been made public, three Hindi movies reportedly on the list are English Vinglish, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, and Madras Cafe (source). I think those are good choices, but I would’ve replaced Madras Cafe with D-Day. I think Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Lootera, and Kai Po Che are all strong, more traditional options, but something quirky like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola could pique the interest of Oscar voters as well.

      Reply
  5. Nav

    Why not lunchbox its releasing on Sept 20 in India and ship of theaseus? Also; what are your picks amongst hollywood movies?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I haven’t seen enough Hollywood films yet to make my own judgement, Nav. I suspect it will be another month or so before buzz really starts building. None of these movies are likely Oscar nominees, but so far this year I’ve really liked Oblivion, The Sapphires, and Quartet.

      Reply
  6. Suresh Subramanian

    Kathy, I highly recommend you check out the original film. It is in most part a very tightly scripted and (especially for mainstream Bollywood) a tremendously understated and subtle movie. The characters are revealed through their actions, and not tedious exposition, and the production design is very apt to the requirements of the story. Amitabh in the lead role simmers and at carefully conceived moments erupts in anger. In short it is everything this crap remake appears not to be.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      You’ve written a great pitch for the original Zanjeer, Suresh! I missed it when it aired on the cable channel Turner Classic Movies a few weeks ago as an example of important international cinema. It’s pretty cool to see an Indian film featured on a mainstream U.S. cable network.

      Reply
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