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Don was a Salim-Javed script that many big stars in the industry had passed on but Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and director Chandra Barot decided to take on the 'difficult' project to pull one of their friends out of debt.
Released on May 12, 1978, Don featuring Bachchan in a double role, that of a mafioso and a simpleton went on to become a blockbuster with its racy music, iconic dialogues and pulsating action.
In an interview with PTI, Chandra traces the birth of "Don", how several stars rejected the film and how he once made Bachchan eat 40 'paans' just to get a scene right.
Basically Don Was Made To Help A Friend Financially
Chandra was the long-time assistant director of Manoj Kumar and became friends with Bachchan and Zeenat during the shooting of "Roti Kapda Aur Makaan". He also developed a close bond with the cinematographer of the film, Nariman Irani, whom they fondly called 'Bawa'.
In 1972, Irani produced Sunil Dutt-Waheeda Rehman starrer Zindagi Zindagi, but the film bombed and Irani found himself in debt.
"Because we all were working together Amitabh, Zeenat and Pran saab - we were friends. We decided to make a film for Bawa to help him come out of the financial mess. Even Manoj ji suggested the same. But we didn't have a script," Chandra says.
Here's How Salman's Dad Salim Khan Came Into The Picture
As luck would have it, Irani's wife was Waheeda's hairdresser and knew writer Salim Khan.
"We asked her to put in a word for us. When we met Salim, he didn't have a script ready but told us, 'There is one subject which no one understands'. In the '70s, we had 'thakurs' and no one had heard the word 'Don'.
Many Superstars Rejected The Film
"Dharmendra, Jeetendra and Dev Anand had refused the film. But we said, 'We don't care, we just want 'Salim-Javed' written on the posters'. It was a ready script and we took it immediately. It didn't even have a title. Everyone in the industry called it 'Don waali script'," Chandra recalls.
First Day Of Shoot
The first day of the film was to begin with the shooting of "Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar Ka Deewana" but they did not have enough money, so Chandra took Rs 40,000 cash from his sister, singer Kamal Barot, and the set was created.
"There was a scene in Shah Rukh Khan's 'Don' remake, where he jumps off a plane. That single shot's budget was our entire films budget - nearly 84 lakhs," Chandra quips.
The Story Behind The Song 'Khaike Paan Banaraswala'
It was not just Helen's "Yeh Mera Dil" which became popular, Bachchan's "Khaike Pan Banaraswala" also became a talking point of the film.
The song was added after the film was complete and Manoj Kumar had a role in getting the song included the last moment.
"Manoj ji saw the film and he was angry. He said, 'Second half of the film is so tight, there is no loo break! Please add a song so that people can go to the washroom'."
Big B Was Limping In The Song 'Khaike Paan Banaraswala'
Javed was initially reluctant about making changes in the script but Chandra cracked an idea during a music session with composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji and lyricist Anjaan.
Anjaan said everytime he used the words 'Banaras' and 'Ganga', the songs worked. Chandra then spoke to Javed and they decided to set up the sequence as a Banarasi boy who eats 'paan' and makes merry.
Chandra says Bachchan had injured his foot while shooting for "Laawaris".
"So if you watch 'Khaike...', he is limping. It is not choreography. He was actually injured!" he adds.
Big B Ate 30-40 Paans For 'Don'
For Vijay's introductory song, "Yeh Hai Bombay Nagaria", Chandra was inspired by Sanjeev Kumar's "Naya Din Nayi Raat" look and decided to make the character a lungi-clad paan-chewing singer.
"Anand ji used to eat a lot of 'paan' and by the end of the day, his lips would have a red layer, a look which was not possible to create with make-up. So, we ordered 30-40 paans and made Amitabh chew them till we got the look right.
"We got our scene, but the next day he could not speak as his tongue was cut because of the 'chuna' in the 'paan'. So the next day we ordered 'paan' without 'chuna' in it. Though Amitabh still scolded me!"
The director says a popular journalist wrote his "obituary" just before the release of the film as Yash Chopra's "Trishul" had released a week ago and was a big success. Bachchan also had releases like "Ganga Ki Saugandh", "Besharam" and "Muqaddar Ka Sikandar" that year and then there was "Don".
Chandra lights up as he remembers the release day. "The advance booking line was so long, I still have the photographs with me," he says.
Sadly, Irani, who had produced and shot the film, died six months before the release and could not see how the film would go on to rewrite thriller genre in Bollywood.
"Before the release, we all let go of our remuneration. Amitabh was signed for two-and -a-half lakhs, he let go his one-and-a-half lakhs, Zeenat let go her one-and-a-half lakhs, Pran saab was the highest paid, five lakhs, even he left half of his money. I let go of mine too."
Looking back, Chandra has the fondest of memories of shooting the film. "It was a picnic. We had no clue that a film no one wanted to make will one day become the one people can never forget.
Credits - PTI