Original Don director to play second innings

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  • Published 9.10.06

Why haven’t you made any other big film, despite a Don in your filmography?

You can say I am a lazy director. No seriously, I did do a lot of work. After Don, I signed two more films with Amitabh Bachchan which didn’t work out. In 1981, I announced a film called Lord Krishna with 21 Indian stars and an international crew including David Lean’s cinematographer Jack Hillard. The producer Sattee Shourey gave her daughter in marriage to Boney Kapoor and shelved the film. Then I had a film with Vinod Khanna, who suddenly disappeared to America. The film with Sarika didn’t work out because of her marriage to Kamal Haasan. Bad luck, friend… kismat ka khel.

What were the films that got made eventually?

I made the Bengali film Ashrita with Mithu Mukherjee and Kanwaljeet in 1990. Then I made a film called Pyar Bhara Dil with Aloknath and Tanuja. I also made Boss with Vinod Khanna. It’s lying ready but since it will look dated, I am planning to only show it on television.

How could you rope in Amitabh Bachchan for your first project?

He wasn’t Amitabh Bachchan then. By the time Don released in 1978, yes, he was big, but when we started making the film in 1974, he was getting out of his flops. I was assisting Manoj Kumar at that time on Roti Kapada Aur Makaan. The cameraman of the film was Nariman Irani who was a producer but was going through huge monetary crisis after his film with Sunil Dutt, Zindagi Zindagi, flopped. We were all very close to Nariman and I can openly say that I learnt more from him than Manoj Kumar. So, during the making of Roti, Kapada… Amitabh, Zeenat, Pran and me decided that we will do a film for Nariman.

So the Don cast was decided first and then the story…

Yes. We didn’t have a story with us. So, we went to Salim-Javed, who were very big at that time. They said that they had a script which no one was touching. Everybody from Prakash Mehra to Dev Anand to Jeetendra had turned down the script. I said: ‘Chalega, I will take it’.

What was the script called then?

It didn’t have a title initially. But we had to register it under some title. At that time numerology was on a high and everybody was very particular about their titles. Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan became Roti, Kapada Aur Makaan. Now this script was always referred to as Donwali script. So I decided to keep it as Don.

Manoj Kumar’s driver read it in a Hindi paper and told him that my film is called Down. When he heard it’s Don, he advised to make it Mr Don like the Shashi Kapoor film during that time called Mr Romeo. But I thought it will sound foolish since the word “don” meant English gentleman in the dictionary. Mr English gentleman didn’t make any sense.

How excited was Bachchan with the Don script?

He was doing it for Nariman more than anything else. We were all close friends at that time. I remember we all came down to Calcutta for the premiere of Zanjeer. We had a deal that if Zanjeer was a hit, we would go to London for a holiday. At that time, a lathi charge meant that the film was a hit and so it was in Calcutta that day and I told Amit, you are on.

Why did it take you four years to make Don?

We didn’t have the money. It started with my money, the money I had made as a banker in London. Then as the money ran out we would stop shooting. My mind was never at peace. The total budget was Rs 85 lakh but it trickled in slowly. We would get a financing of Rs 15,000 and we would go and shoot for two days. That too if the dates of our stars got cancelled from other films. It was quite maddening.

Don was such a modern film. How could you manage to achieve that look and feel?

People used to wonder how after assisting Manoj Kumar — known for his desh ki dharti — for nine years I could make a film like Don. But I was always westernised. I was a student of James Bond movies — spy dramas and fast cars. I told Manoj Kumar that I could never imagine my hero singing a song and seven girls jumping from behind with matkas.

What was the inspiration behind the dhobi ghat chase?

Oh, I used to take the train from my Peddar Road house to the shooting locations in Goregaon. When I used to come near Mahalaxmi Station, the dhobi ghat used to fascinate me and I had decided that we had to definitely do something there. It has become a tourist spot now and people still talk about that chase and the solarised opening credit shots.

Tell us about the charbusting music of the film...

One of the first persons I met in the film industry was Kalyanjibhai of Kalyanji-Anandji. I am a product of his, with my sister Kamal Barot singing for him songs like Hansta hua noorani chehra and Dadi amma dadi amma. So we became very close and he would make me hear new tunes every night. And whenever I liked one, I would tell him to set it aside for my film.

How did Khaike paan Banaraswala happen?

It wasn’t there in the original film. The song was included for two reasons. One, I was very angry when HMV brought out an EP of Don and not the coloured LPs like the ones they released for Nasir Hussain’s musicals. They said I didn’t have enough songs. Also, when Manoj Kumar saw a trial of the show he told me, ‘Chandra, tera second half bahut heavy ho gaya. I had a Coca Cola in the interval and I couldn’t go to the loo in the second half. Put in a song somewhere’. The situation was there of Vijay being chased and landing up with these paanwallahs. So, we added the song.

Are you happy that Don is being remade?

I am happy that I am being given credit by re-interpreting the film. Also, Farhan Akhtar is the son of the original writer. So, if he feels that he can do dhamaal all over again, why not? Also, they were sweet enough to come and take a NOC (no-objection certificate) from me before starting.

Did Farhan discuss the new film with you?

No, no it is totally his baby. We haven’t even met. Also, the idea here is not about comparision. As I have seen and read from many sources, Shah Rukh Khan says it is his tribute to Amitabh Bachchan. Kareena Kapoor says that she is priviledged to have got a chance to dance to the classic Helen number. Nobody is competing with the original.

Have you seen the promos of the new Don?

I have but I wouldn’t want to comment by seeing the promos. This is a new film and Farhan is more experienced than I was when I made Don. I loved Dil Chahta Hai. I am in total synergy with his vision.

Are you planning a comeback?

I had no such plans before Farhan opened this Pandora’s box all over again. I realised ki thoda juice baki hai kahin. By recognising my creation 28 years later, he has inspired me to start making films again. We haven’t met but Farhan Akhtar is the reason I am returning to film-making.

What will the new film be about?

Maybe another Don!