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The original Don director speaks - Chandra Barot

Published: Wednesday, October 18, 2006, 16:33 [IST]

Courtesy: IndiaFM
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Mention the name Chandra Barot and it may not ring a bell. But what if we told you that he made one of the biggest grosser's and one of the best entertainers of the 70's and it starred none other than the happening Amitabh Bachchan. Still no idea? Well, that film is being remade by Farhan Akthar today and stars Shah Rukh Khan. Yes, we are talking about the film Don.

Long into hibernation from the film industry and enjoying the role of a senior executive in a leading satellite channel, we traced down Mr. Barot for an exclusive interview.

In a no-holds-bar conversation with IndiaFM, the filmmaker talks everything about the original Don, from its inception to the inspiration behind its characterizations, loads of trivia and never heard before behind-the-scenes stories about the film. And to top it all, the open minded director is quite positive about the remake of the film as well.

What was your first reaction when you came to know that Don was going to be remade?
Let me put the record straight. This is not the first time that Don is being remade. The first instance was done by my friend Kawal Sharma. Years back he made a film with Jeetendra called Dav Pech. He told me that he was going to put the second half of my film into the first half of his film and vice-versa. But somehow the film went unnoticed so not many people know about it.

When I heard about Farhan's Don, I was happy about it because I like him. He has grown up in front of me and Javed saab is my dear friend. When my friend is writing the script then why should I object to his son?

Lots of films recently are being remade today like Devdas, etc. It is a concept from the director's point of view. It is a common thing in the west. Once a movie is 10-12 years old you can buy the rights and remake it. Till now, we have been copying Hollywood films and now we have realized that we have a lot of potential in our own films because technology has really advanced and we have the story and substance with us which caters to our culture and sentiments. So I'm quite happy about it and I'm sure Farhan will make a good film.

So you are confident of Farhan's abilities?
Yes, he proved it in Dil Chata Hai. I see myself making such a film 25 years back in my youth.

Do you think that Farhan will have an advantage considering that his father co-scripted the original and has written the new one as well?
Not only because he is his father. For a person who wrote a hit script 30 years back, it definitely will be better today, even more. See, the ambience definitely has to change. The original Don released in 1978 almost 30 years ago. I've heard that Farhan will be using cellular phones, computers, modern gadgets and really fast cars in his film. His story will be from a young energetic point of view but the content will be the same.

Where did the original idea of making Don come from?
It's a long story. In Manoj Kumar's camp, there was a cameraman by the name of Nariman Irani. He made a film Zindagi Zindagi with Sunil Dutt which flopped and he was in a financial mess. We all loved him and Amitabh, Zeenat and I used to call him 'Bawa' as he was a Parsi. So we told him that the best way to get out of this financial situation is by making another film because as a cameraman he would not be able to pay his debts with his salary. His debt was about Rs. 12 lakhs which was a very big amount back then.

So we all prompted him, including Manoj Kumar to start a film. So Amitabh, Zeenat, Pransaab volunteered but we didn't have a script. So we told Mr. Irani to rope in Salim-Javed because they were riding very high. We just needed their name and couldn't be choosy of the script. So we met Salim and he presented to us a script which was rejected by practically the whole industry. Don was rejected by Dev Anand, Prakash Mehra and Jeetendra. The script did not even have a name. It was a script pertaining to a character called Don. So he said, 'Humare paas ek breakfast script padi hai jo koi nahi le raha hai.' And we said 'chalega'. So that is how Don was made.

And what about Shahrukh Khan donning the role that Amitabh Bachchan immortalized almost 30 years ago?
Amitabh came into the market as a superstar with hits such as Zanjeer, Sholay, Deewaar and Don. There was a craze for him and the audience found someone they could identify with. Today there is a craze for all actors like Aamir, SRK, Hrithik, Salman, etc. So the fan following is steadily still there. So I don't think as far as his fans and viewer ship is concerned, they will be affected.

What about the rest of the cast?
As I said it is the concept of the director. Zeenat Aman was a Miss India and Priyanka Chopra fits into the same category.

Don is still considered to be one of Amitabh's best performances to date. What is your equation with him today?
Jaya (Bachchan) is family. Recently my mother had a stroke and Jaya came to visit her. I was with Amitabh when he was in hospital. I am more in touch with Jaya than with Amitabh. I speak to her practically every other day.

Is it true that Amitabh ate over 35 paans for the song 'paan banareswala.'?
Let me explain. Salim-Javed in the script introduced Vijay in one line as a street singer. In those days when you say street singer, one thing that comes to mind is a man with a harmonium and topi (cap) at the Gateway of India. Zanjeer had released and Gulshan Bawra had done the same thing and that did not gel with me. So I told Amitabh that we need something different. At that time there was a film called Naya Din Nayi Raat with Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bachchan. Sanjeev plays 9 characters in the film and one of them is the role of a masterji where he eats paan and has oily hair. I immediately told Amitabh that we have a look for Vijay. But he shouldn't be in a white dhoti-kurta as Don had a very westernized look. In contrast, I said that we needed a bhendi bazaar look.

On the first day of shooting for the paan banareswala song, we decided to have a green lungi and red shirt. Now, Amitabh's size is such that you cannot go to a store and pick up a readymade shirt for him. So we sent our driver Nagesh to Amitabh's home to pick up a red shirt which he had. We went outside Mehboob studio to pick up a green lungi and found it immediately.

Now for the story of eating 35 paans! Kalyanji-Anandji were my friends and Anandji used to come to my house every evening. He had this habit of eating a lot of paan throughout the day and I noticed that there was a red film on his lip. That film could not be replicated with make-up. So we decided to make Amitabh chew on the paan. Nariman Irani used to eat paan and so he bought about 30-40 paans that day. We made Amitabh chew and spit the paan till we got the red film. The outcome was amazing but he screamed his life out because his whole tongue was cut because of the Chuna present in the paan. It was only after that, that we realized that Chuna was not actually required in the paan to get the red film.

And did Kishore Kumar actually chew on paan while rendering for the song?
He was a genius. We had shot the song 'Yeh Hai Bambai Nagariya Tu Dekh Babua' for Don. So I brought the song to film center and showed him the song and told him now we need a different song where he eats paan and makes merry. So while recording for the song, he actually ate paan and made the chewing sounds and spat on a plastic sheet on the floor which he had brought.

The song Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Deewana is still popular today. Is it said to be Helen's best dance and the best thing about it is that she was over 40 years old when she did it.
Helen is an asset to our industry as far as cabaret numbers are concerned. I don't think anybody till date has substituted her position she had been ruling as a queen bee. That was the first day shooting of Don and she justified what was given to her. She was a master in those things. You brought to my notice that she was over 40. At that time she was ruling and nobody came close to her. She was in tremendous shape.

Apparently the same music is going to be in the remake as well. Are you into remixes or remakes of an original song?
Let us not crucify someone who is trying to make a genuine effort to do something really good. These are questions that nobody has an answer to. A man is trying to do something which he himself is fighting everyday on whether he will be able to do it. I'm sure SRK, Kareena, Priyanka must be going through the same thing of whether they will live up to expectations. Let's be positive about it.

Do you think Malaysia is a good setting for Don?
That is like icing on a cake. I worked with Manoj Kumar for 9 years and I learnt one thing from him and that is that location cannot make a film. I recall an old film called Barood starring Rishi Kapoor and Shoma Anand. For the first time they went to Paris and L.A. covering so many locations. Location can help in a very small film but you cannot bank on it. Otherwise everybody would go to Switzerland and make films.

Where did you disappear after making Don?
There is a word called 'Destiny' which we have to accept. After Don released, I did not sit idle even for a day. I have more films down on my name than films released. After Don, I had 52 offers from prominent film-makers. By that time Amitabh, Zeenat Aman, Pransaa, Kalyanji-Anandji and I were a team. So I accepted 2 offers with them. Manmohan Desai had sent me a producer called Rajni Desai. He had made a film called Roti with Rajesh Khanna. So I signed up with him along with Amitabh. Amitabh's career rose in the late 70's and somewhere the picture got delayed.

There I signed another film produced by Kewal Kumar who made Mere Dost Mere Humdum. Then I took up a film with Sattie Shourie where there were 21 stars in it from India and abroad. The film was a mythological film called 'Krishna' and it took 3 ' years to work on. I had the opportunity to work with 2 time Oscar winning cinematographer Jack Hilliard who was hired for the film. Frank Porsel wrote the screenplay for the English version of 'Krishna' and Harold Buck who was the production controller for films like 'Wild Geese' and 'Guns of Navrole'. Despite spending so much time on this film, it never took off.

Then I made a beautiful film with Sarika but her mother shelved the film after 10 reels after she got married to Kamal Hassan.

You also started a film with Vinod Khanna called Boss. What happened to that?
I have finished the film, patchwork, etc. Because it was made a long time back, I'm negotiating with Sahara to release on television. It is a good thriller and I don't think people will think that it is a day old than what you watch today.

What are you planning right now?
Everybody plans a lot of things but they have to materialize. I am a director first and when time passes by, an itch comes to start something. Farhan's Don has revived my enthusiasm and I have a lot of people coming to me to direct their films. There are a couple of scripts that I have gone through and if things work out I will go ahead.

Trivia time Facts you never knew about the original Don

  • Producer Nariman Irani was a cameraman who was in deep debt of around Rs 12 lakhs after his first film Zindagi Zindagi with Sunil Dutt that flopped miserably. So to get out of this financial mess he was advised by Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Chandra Barot and Manoj Kumar to make another film which subsequently turned out to be Don.
  • Writers Salim-Javed were not able to sell the script for a long time until director Chandra Barot and producer Nariman Irani bought it. It was rejected by Dev Anand, Prakash Mehra and Jeetendra.
  • The script did not even have a name. It was a script pertaining to a character called Don. When Nariman Irani approached Salim, he said, 'Humare paas ek breakfast script padi hai jo koi nahi le raha hai.' And Nariman said 'chalega'. So that is how Don was made.
  • The song 'Paan Banareswala' was immortalized by Amitabh Bachchan. However, he howled in pain during the filming of the song because he cut his tongue while chewing over 40 paans for the song. The chuna in the paan burnt his tongue.
  • Director Chandra Barot got the idea of making Amitabh eat 40 paans from Anandji (of Kalyanji-Anandji fame). He used to eat a lot of paan and so got a red film on his lips.
  • While rendering the song 'Paan Banareswala', Kishore Kumar actually chewed on paan and spat it on a plastic sheet on the floor to get a natural effect.
  • Amitabh's look was inspired from a character played by Sanjeev Kumar in his film Naya Din Nayi Raat. Sanjeev plays 9 characters in the film and one of them is the role of a masterji where he eats paan and has oily hair.
  • 'Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Deewana' is considered to be one of Helen's best dances. An unbelievable fact was that she was over 40 years old when she danced to it.
  • Farhan Akthar's Don is not the first remake of Don. It was first done by Kawal Sharma in his film Dav Pech (1989) starring Jeetendra. The film bombed.

Topics: don
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