In an interview with Rediff, Prakash Mehra had confessed, "Dharmendra had already been paid the initial amount for the film and he was to play the hero. But he told me that he wanted to start a film for his own brother and would shoot for Zanjeer after half that film was over. But, I had decided to finish the film within six months with Dharmendra because he was the top actor then. I told him not to delay things, but Dharam said he was helpless. I told him I had already announced that he would be the hero, Mumtaz the heroine. He still told me to wait. But I didn't find it fun waiting so long. One fine day, both of us amicably settled the matter with Dharam agreeing not to work in the film because of his busy schedule."
"I had seen Dev's Kaala Pani and liked it. I thought a change of image could make this film a landmark film for him. But the only thing which bugged Dev Anand was that there were no songs in the film. He told me to put three-four songs in the film. But I said I wouldn't do that. He then offered me whatever money I wanted for the film if I did it for Nav Ketan, his home production. I refused. And so even he was ruled out as a hero."
"I went to Raaj Kumar who was already working with Mumtaz for a film in Madras. He liked the film. He felt it was a terrific subject, and that he would like to shoot from the very next day. But he wanted me to go south to shoot the film since he had given bulk dates to a producer in Madras. I told him the film was based in Bombay and that there was no way that I could shoot in Madras. He told me to reconsider my decision. I didn't."
"Pran, who played the Pathan's role in the film, told me to consider Amitabh Bachchan. He told me to see Amitabh's Bombay to Goa. After seeing the film, my gut feeling said that he was a future star. I was especially impressed by the fight scene between Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha in the film. I selected Amitabh because of the emotions his eyes could generate. I thought I should give this man a break in my film even though his earlier films had flopped."
"People laughed at me because they felt that after making three jubilees, Prakash has gone senile. How can this man pair Amitabh and Jaya together? They used to say, 'Prakash is making an art film.' I think in making Zanjeer or any other film, the film-maker's convictions are very important. I had other problems -- there were no financiers and the distributors ran away. They laughed at me, 'Who is this tall idiot hero?"
"Mumtaz, decided to get married and quit acting. I think one reason she left could be the flopping of Bande Haath in which she had acted opposite Amitabh. I guess she did not wanted to take one more risk with this film. Luckily, I was working with Jaya Bhaduri on another film. Amitabh told Jaya that no heroine was willing to work with him. And she told him that I had approached her to play the heroine in the film." And the rest is history.
"Amitabh used to cry. He used to feel very put off. He used to call me "Sir" in those days.I told him I wasn't his teacher or professor, I am your director. He then started calling me lalla. In UP, one calls his brother as lalla. He used to complain, 'Lalla, I don't know what will happen to my future after this film.' I used to tell him not to be selfish and think about me. Because it was I who stood to lose every pie if something went wrong."
Mehra was quoted as saying, "And, believe me, I was not worried about Zanjeer though Raj Kapoor was shocked by Zanjeer's success despite there being only three songs in the film. Someone told me that Laxmikant-Pyarelal, the music directors of Bobby, had bought out all the cassettes of Zanjeer to stop the three songs by Kalyanji-Anandji from flooding the market. I used to telephone HMV and seek the latest update on the cassette stocks."
"Though the film clicked in Calcutta, it did not do well for the first four days in Bombay. I thought then that the film would flop. The bad time the film was having affected Amitabh so badly that he went down with a fever."
" After four days, when the booking for the second week began, I happened to pass through Gaiety-Galaxy theatre in Bandra. There was a huge rush at the advance booking window. A five rupee ticket was being sold at Rs 100. I was shocked. To this day, I have never seen such a huge rush outside Gaiety-Galaxy. When Amitabh heard the news, it affected him so much that his fever worsened to 104 degrees centigrade. He couldn't believe it."
Whenever you hear the term 'angry young man', Amitabh Bachchan's image conjures in your mind and the credit for that goes to Prakash Mehra, one of the most prolific filmmakers in 70s! Till Zanjeer (1973), Big B was yet to taste massive success. Had not several big names like Dharmendra, Dev Anand and others turned down Zanjeer, Amitabh Bachchan's rise to super-stardom would have still been films away.
Amitabh Bachchan's portrayal of a young man seething with anger took the nation by storm. Of course later, he and Mehra proved their mettle as a blockbuster actor-director jodi with films like 'Muqaddar Ka Sikander', 'Namak Halaal', 'Laawaris' and others. But it was Zanjeer who was a landmark in both their careers.
On Prakash Mehra's 76th birth anniversary, we take a look back at this iconic film which gave Bollywood it's first 'angry young man'-