Article Hindi

30 years of Tezaab: Things you should know about the Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit blockbuster


As Tezaab completes 30 years (it was released on 11 November 1988), we look back at the journey of the N Chandra film that not many were willing to give a chance after the trial screening.

Mayur Lookhar

The 1980s and early 1990s were a period when formulaic films were very popular with Indian audiences. The stories often revolved around the theme of revenge. Familiar tales they were, but that’s what clicked.

Director N Chandra had reaped success with films like Ankush (1986) and Pratighaat (1987), both revenge dramas, and it came as no surprise that revenge formed the backbone of his third film, Tezaab (1988).

Chandra roped in a popular actor of the time, Anil Kapoor. But Tezaab, or Acid, made Madhuri Dixit the darling of India.

The film had Mahesh Deshmukh (Anil Kapoor), a promising police cadet, who faces a cruel blow when his parents are killed in a robbery.

Mahesh quits the force and becomes a wanted criminal, Munna. He has no purpose in life but to save Mohini (Dixit) from the clutches of her drunken, evil father Shyamlal (Anupam Kher), who forces her to dance at nightclubs.

Shyamlal is indebted to goon Lotiya Pathan (Kiran Kumar) who abducts Mohini, but Munna comes to the rescue. Munna has a score to settle with Lotiya’s brother Chhote Khan, too.

The film was a resounding success with Anil Kapoor bagging his maiden Filmfare award for Best Actor. While the film took Madhuri Dixit to stardom, it also brought choreographer Saroj Khan and singer Alka Yagnik into the spotlight.

Tezaab completed a golden jubilee run at the theatres, with Chandra scoring a hat-trick of successful films.

The film completed 30 years today (it was released on 11 November 1988). Apart from the engaging content, Tezaab had quite a journey before it came into being. We revisit some intriguing tales about N Chandra’s Tezaab.

How Anil Kapoor landed the leading role

According to an entry on IMDb, N Chandra had initially conceived of his film as a political drama with Aamir Khan and Nana Patekar. Patekar is said to have even shot for a few scenes, but the film got shelved. Chandra then revived Tezaab with a new script, but he had no actor to play the lead.

However, veteran screenwriter Kamlesh Pandey, who co-wrote the Tezaab script with Chandra and also penned the dialogues, has denied that Aamir Khan or Nana Patekar were offered the film. "Aamir was nowhere on the scene then," he pointed out quite pertinently. After all, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak had not been released when Chandra began work on Tezaab.

Nana Patekar on the other hand had worked under Chandra's baton in both his previous films, Ankush and Pratighaat. "I guess that is why there has been this talk of Nana being part of the film," said Pandey.

But Patekar was named in the film's mahurat invitation. This was confirmed by veteran film analyst Dilip Thakur.

Speaking to Cinestaan.com, Thakur said, "The mahurat took place at Natraj Studios in Andheri [a suburb of Mumbai] on 27 February 1987. Chandra chose this date for, exactly a year ago, he had released Ankush. The invitation for the mahurat mentioned Nana Patekar in the cast but he did not turn up. Amitabh Bachchan and Jeetendra were the star attractions. The mahurat took place at Bachchan's hands while Jeetendra rolled the camera." 

A copy of the Tezaab mahurat invitation. Photo: Courtesy Dilip Thakur

Another rumour is that Aditya Pancholi was offered the lead role but producer Boney Kapoor’s influence saw the role go to his younger brother Anil. Pandey confirmed this: "Pancholi was a popular actor then. He was the first choice and had agreed to do the film. However, once Boney Kapoor heard the script, things changed. Anil Kapoor was signed on for the lead role with Annu Kapoor and Anupam Kher added to the cast. Aditya Pancholi, unfortunately, had to step out."

But while Boney Kapoor suggested that Chandra cast his brother Anil Kapoor, getting the rising star on board wasn’t easy as the popular actor had no dates available. Though he liked the character of Munna, Anil Kapoor initially turned the film down.

The word is that Chandra then requested Boney Kapoor to persuade Anil. Boney assured Chandra that if any of Anil's dates are to become available, he would commit those to Tezaab, and that is exactly how things went. Eventually, Anil Kapoor finished Tezaab much before the other films for which he had given his dates.

Rakesh Nath, a casting agent popularly known as Rikku in the industry and who managed Anil Kapoor's appointments at the time, ensured that he shot for Tezaab. "I don't know about that [Boney Kapoor recommending Anil], but N Chandra was like family to the Kapoors," he said.

Chandra had started his career as an editor on Surinder and Boney Kapoor's production Woh Saat Din (1983), which starred Anil Kapoor. He had also edited the Anil Kapoor-starrer Mohabbat (1985).

Dilip Thakur (left), Amitabh Bachchan (centre) and Javed Akhtar (right). Photo: Courtesy Dilip Thakur

"Anil Kapoor was shooting for a few films at the time. I think there was Shekhar Kapur's Mr India. But it was my job to make dates available for Tezaab," Rakesh Nath said. Rakesh Nath later went on to become Madhuri Dixit's manager.

Veteran actor Dharmendra was approached for the role of inspector Gagan Singh, but he refused. The role eventually went to Suresh Oberoi. Confrming this, screenwriter Pandey said, "Dharamji was to play the role, and he even shot for a few scenes in Hyderabad. Thereafter, for whatever reason, he could not continue and N Chandra roped in Suresh Oberoi."

Interestingly, Tezaab was released along with another film starring Anil Kapoor, Raj Kumar Kohli's Intaqaam, or Revenge, which co-starred Sunny Deol and Meenakshi Seshadri. While Tezaab became a blockbuster, Intaqaam proved to be a dud.

'Inspired' by Streets Of Fire (1984)?

Those were simpler days for Hindi filmmakers. It was so much easier to get 'inspired' by the West and not have to pay for it.

Comparisons have been drawn between Tezaab and director Walter Hill’s American film Streets Of Fire (1984). The Hollywood film saw Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) being abducted by a biker gang called The Bombers, led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). Ellen is the former girlfriend of Tom (Michael Paré), an ex-soldier. Tom and his friends rescue Ellen and are now being chased by The Bombers.

In Tezaab, we see Lotiya Pathan (Kiran Kumar) and his gang abduct Mohini (Dixit) from her stage show. Munna and Mohini were once in a relationship in college and he comes to her rescue.

The prime difference between the two films was that Chandra added a back story to the revenge drama. The comparisons didn’t matter, however, for cinegoers warmed up to Tezaab. For the record, Streets Of Fire was a box-office flop.

Meenakshi's loss, Madhuri’s gain

Madhuri Dixit in a scene from Tezaab (1988)

Meenakshi Seshadri was one of the popular actresses of the 1980s. Apparently, she was Chandra’s first choice for Mohini's role. The actress, however, felt that there were too many artistes in the film and thought her character would be lost, as revealed in a Amar Ujala report on Dixit completing 33 years in the industry last year. So, the Hero (1983) actress politely turned Chandra down.

The director was struggling to find a heroine and it was Rakesh Nath who suggested that Chandra have a look at pictures of an unheralded actress named Madhuri Dixit.

The Maharashtrian actress had her made debut with Abodh (1984) and she was working in one film, Hifazat (1987), with Anil Kapoor. But Anil Kapoor apparently felt she did not look like a club dancer. However, Dixit was finalized and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Rakesh Nath told Cinestaan.com, "I showed Madhuri Dixit's pictures from Abodh to Chandra. He liked them and she was signed on for the film. I don't know about Meenakshi Seshadri, but it's normal for producers and directors to approach popular artistes."

Kamlesh Pandey recalled being stunned how young Dixit looked off camera. She was, of course, just shy of her 20th birthday then.

"One of the main reasons why Madhuri was finalized was that she was a good kathak dancer," Pandey recalled. "I told Chandra she has a unique face, like a combination of Nutan and Madhubala. She had the sensitivity of Nutan and the sharaartipan [mischievousness] of Madhubala.

"She was very young then. In fact, she looked like a girl straight out of school.  When I first met her, I couldn't believe she was the same Madhuri Dixit. She looked breathtaking in photographs but in real life she looked like a litte girl."

Interestingly, Tezaab was the only film that saw Mandakini and Madhuri Dixit together. The former has a cameo appearance in the film.

The magic of 'Ek Do Teen'

Before Tezaab, Madhuri Dixit had featured in small films like Abodh (1984) and Awara Baap (1985) and desperately needed a hit to get her career going. Tezaab was the spark that rocketed her to stardom, with the 'Ek, Do Teen' song becoming quite a rage.

When the film was released on Diwali in 1988, Dixit was vacationing with her family in the United States. She was unaware of the film's success and her newfound popularity. When she arrived in Mumbai, she was stunned to be received by hordes of fans chanting ‘Mohini, Mohini’. Only then did she realize what Tezaab had done for her.

Of course, Madhuri Dixit was not the only one whose career took off with Tezaab. The film also brought choreographer Saroj Khan and singer Alka Yagnik into the spotlight with the same 'Ek Do Teen' number. While Dixit earned a nomination for the 1989 Filmfare Best Actress award, Saroj Khan bagged the award for Best Choreographer, incidentally the first year that award was given. Alka Yagnik took away the award for Best Playback Singer (Female). And Kamlesh Pandey bagged his maiden Filmfare trophy for Best Dialogues.

The story behind 'Ek Do Teen'

The iconic number had quite a journey of its own with music composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal taking inspiration from a Koli folk song to create their 'Ek Do Teen'.

In their brainstorming sessions, director Chandra, the music composers and lyricist Javed Akhtar could not arrive at any consensus. Chandra had explained the film's situation, that he needed a dance number before the villain, Lotiya Pathan, abducted Mohini. But the team couldn't come up with any lyrics or even a tune.

Javed Akhtar did not turn up for the next sitting. That was when Laxmikant-Pyarelal made Chandra hear the tune of the Koli (fisherfolk) song. The trio then came up with a melody that went like Ding Dong Ding Ding Dong Ding Dong.

Javed Akhtar liked the tune when he heard it and reportedly took just an hour to write down the entire song.

"Often composers create the tunes first," Kamlesh Pandey said. "Laxmikant-Pyarelal had just created  a tune where they must have just said 1, 2, 3, 4 as the cue and a song was created from it! Javed Akhtar is a genius. Imagine, he wrote a song out of this!"

Choreographer Saroj Khan had Madhuri Dixit rehearse for 16 days before the song was shot. Years later, in an interview, the actress revealed that after the success of Tezaab she was flooded with dance offers.

A male version of 'Ek Do Teen' featuring Anil Kapoor was also shot but dropped in the film's final edit. Once the female version by Alka Yagnik became a hit, the male version, sung by Amit Kumar, was added to the film.

"I think it was after some 15 weeks that the male version was added," recalled analyst Dilip Thakur. "The song was shot in the bungalow that is now Mannat, residence of Shah Rukh Khan. It was used for many shootings back then. The 'Ek Do Teen' female track was shot at Mehboob Studios."

Earlier this year, the film Baaghi 2 (2018) had a remake of the iconic song with Jacqueline Fernandez stepping into Madhuri Dixit's shoes. The remake was initially criticized by Saroj Khan and N Chandra, but the duo later retracted their statements.

'So Gaya Yeh Jahan' and the Tamil version

Although the Tamil film Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal (1989) came a year later, the tune of the 'Keladi Kanmani' song was quite similar to that of the 'So Gaya Yeh Jahan' number from Tezaab, sung by Nitin Mukesh.

The Tamil song was composed by Ilaiyaraaja with lyrics by Vaali and it was sung by SP Balasubrahmanyam. While it is hard to say now which was the original, audiences enjoyed both numbers.

Apparently, before the release of Tezaab, the distributors felt the film was too long and asked for the 'So Gaya Yeh Jahan' song to be dropped, but Chandra stood his ground. In fact, he had shot the song in two different cities. Kamlesh Pandey recalled, "The song was largely shot in Mumbai, but some portions were shot in Hyderabad. The film itself was also shot across the two cities."

A 'disaster' at the trial screening

Filmmakers often show a rough cut of their work to close friends in the industry whose opinions they value. Kamlesh Pandey recalled how not many who saw Tezaab at the trial screening were willing to give the film a chance.

"I think a month or two before the release, we showed the film to some people in the industry," he said. "I remember Shekhar Kapur, who had scored a hit with Mr India (1987), was not convinced. He said something about how this will be hard for the audience to digest. This was a unique story where, perhaps for the first time, we saw a flashback within a flashback. Some felt the film needed to be re-edited, but we stuck to our original cut."

The screenwriter added that he met Kapur a few weeks after the film's release and the director was pleasantly surprised by Tezaab's success. "Shekhar and I are good friends," the veteran said. "We met again and I told him look, our film worked. He was coming on the back of a success like Mr India. Maybe he had a different perspective. You have to respect people's opinions, but eventually one has to go by one's own conviction."

Another intriguing aspect of the film was the unique character names, which connected very well with the masses. Pandey said, "You never had a hero named Munna. Then we had characters like Baban (Chunky Pandey), Kainchee (Johnny Lever), Guldasta (Annu Kapoor) and Lotiya Pathan. Chandra and I come from humble backgrounds and we created characters based on our experiences."