Don (Amitabh Bachchan) is a dreaded criminal and one of the most wanted men on Interpol’s list of wanted men. He is ruthless and when one his men, Ramesh, tries to escape, Don mercilessly kills him. Ramesh’s girlfriend Kamini (Helen), swearing revenge on Don, seduces him and tries to get the police to arrest him but Don escapes by taking her as hostage and later on killing her. Roma (Zeenat Aman), Kamini’s sister, vows to kill Don and takes up training in karate and judo before infiltrating Don’s gang. Police Officer D’Silva (Iftekhar) has been pursuing Don relentlessly and finally after a long chase does manage to wound him. Don succumbes to his injuries and D’Silva has him secretly buried so that the world would continue to believe Don is alive. Recalling a simpleton, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan again), who survives in Mumbai as a street performer to support two foster children and who looks exactly like Don, D’Silva gets him to impersonate Don. As Don, Vijay escapes a murder attempt from Roma, who on finding out who he is, falls in love with him and he with her. But soon Vijay’s secret is out and Don’s gang is after him while the one officer who can prove he is Vijay and not Don, D’Silva, is killed by supposed Interpol officer Malik (Om Shivpuri) but who is actually the true king of the underworld. With the police also after him convinced that he is indeed Don, Vijay finds himself on the run…
Don is the closest Hindi cinema has come to making a classic Hitchcock man-on-the-run thriller where an ordinary man is caught in an extraordinary situation and finds both the cops and goons after him. Throw in the best elements of popular Hindi cinema as well and you have a perfect edge-of-the-seat entertainer.
Don is easily the best, most complex and often unfairly overlooked screenplay by Salim-Javed. As against their usual hard-hitting angry young man tales, Don is highly plot oriented; it moves at a rapid pace; it is full of clever twists and turns right through to the end. All the tracks of the major characters are well-linked and what’s more, the film manages to involve you enough so as not to question much of it, something vital in a good thriller for in this genre, logic loopholes and credibility play a big, big role in whether one enjoys the film or not. True, the climactic fight though is stretched out too much but nevertheless, the film still works and works well. Yes, there are elements which are dated and many of the 70s cinematic techniques now look terribly creaky and tacky but one has to look at the time Don was made. It was actually regarded as quite a stylish film for its time. The film is directed by Chandra Barot, an advertising filmmaker and remains the only worthwhile work he has done in Hindi cinema. Till date, Barot is known as that man who made Don.
For an out and out thriller, popular Indian cinema elements like song and dance are beautifully integrated without taking away from the thriller aspect and this is Don’s biggest strength. In fact, Kalyanji-Anandji’s music played a big role in its success. The songs and their situations go hand in hand with the film’s main storyline and what’s more lift the film a notch or two. Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Deewana as Kamini shimmies to stop Don from leaving the hotel room is a landmark sexxxy song for Asha Bhosle while Kishore Kumar brilliantly renders Arre Deewano Mujhe Pehchano, Ee Hai Bambai Nagaria and the icing on the cake, Khaike Paan Benaraswala. Incidentally, the last named was not originally in the film at all. But at a trial show it was felt at that particular point, the film was moving much too fast and needed a slight pause. Manoj Kumar suggested putting a song there. The rest as they (always) say is history. Today Don and Khaike are inseparable.
The performances are spot on. Don sees Amitabh Bachchan at his peak and he effortlessly carries off the roles of the ruthless and stylish Don at one end and the simple golden hearted villager, Vijay, at the other extremely convincingly. Zeenat Aman has rarely looked better and looks fit and svelte and is convincing enough in the action sequences to show that she could indeed kick ass. Pran leaves his mark in spite of being far too old for the role and the hideous wig he is made to wear. Helen sizzles as Kamini and your one big regret in the film is how small her role is. Om Shivpuri, Iftekhar and Arpana Choudhary make the most of their most well-known roles.
Sadly, the film lost its producer and cinematographer, Nariman A Irani, during its making due to a mishap but such was his goodwill, the film industry rallied together to see to it that the film was completed and released. It was to be Irani’s most successful film as a producer and helped his widow, Salma, to settle all his debts incurred due to the loss of his earlier production, Zindagi Zindagi (1972).
Imitation, it is said, is the best form of flattery. Among others, Don was remade in Tamil with much success as Billa (1980) starring Rajinikanth and Sri Priya and proved to be a big, big success in Madras as well. In fact, Helen even reprised her role in the Tamil version. It was made in Malayalam as Sobharaj (1986) starring Mohanlal and was recently remade in Hindi by Farhan Akhtar in 2006 starring Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra and though stylish as hell, fails to match up to the original. A sequel too was made, Don 2 (2011) by Akhtar. Billa itself was remade in Tamil in 2007 starring Ajith and Nayanthara and then in Telugu in 2009 starring Prabhas and Anushka. There was even a prequel, Billa 2 (2012) with Ajith again playing the role. Although, it has to be said here – Don itself has basic germs from the Shammi Kapoor starrer, Chinatown (1962).
All in all, Don is easily one of the best thrillers in Indian cinema and my advice is – stick to the original!
Hindi, Thriller, Color