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40 years of Dostana: The bromance that launched Dharma Productions with a bang

Revisiting the star-studded movie for which screenwriting duo Salim-Javed were paid more than the leading men, making this a landmark moment in Hindi cinema.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The first film to be produced under Yash Johar's Dharma Productions banner, Dostana (1980) was directed by the veteran Raj Khosla and written by the duo Salim-Javed.

Featuring a stellar cast that included Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Zeenat Aman, Pran, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri, Helen, KN Singh and even Ruby Myers (Sulochana) in a bit role as a nun, the film was a big commercial success, launching Dharma with a bang.

Several Amitabh Bachchan films in the decade from 1973 foregrounded male friendship — Zanjeer (1973), Sholay (1975), Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978), Naseeb (1981), Yaarana (1981), to name only a few. Dostana was another in this line-up and begins with a song where the two leading men sing a paean to their friendship — an ode to their bond that has lasted through thick and thin! Obviously, these ties are severely tested through the film and, quite predictably, a woman is the cause for the friendship unravelling.

Two best friends, criminal lawyer Ravi Kapoor (Sinha) and police inspector Vijay Verma (Bachchan) often find themselves going head to head because of their professions but they never let it affect their friendship, till they encounter Sheetal (Aman). Sheetal finds Vijay’s gruff manner charming and romance blossoms between them, as they remain blissfully unaware of Ravi’s feelings for her. The smuggler Daaga (Chopra), a client of Ravi’s, uses this to create a rift between the friends, who now turn on each other.

To get rid of Vijay, Daaga frames him for murder and Sheetal has to approach Ravi to put their differences aside and defend him. Bristling from the humiliation of not getting the girl and eager to extract his pound of flesh, Ravi agrees but puts forth the indecent proposal that Sheetal must spend a night with him. This is a pivotal scene in the film and was apparently why Khosla cast Sinha over Bachchan's more popular co-star in two-hero films, Vinod Khanna, because, well, how believable would a woman who refused the handsome Khanna be, he thought!

The film is predictable, the songs are nothing to write home about and despite the stellar cast most of the artistes seem to ham their way through. But the most disappointing feature is the lack of any chemistry between the two 'best friends'! Rumour had it that by this time Sinha and Bachchan were not getting along on the sets, and the animosity is clearly visible on camera. Bachchan had the better lines and action sequences and Sinha was positioned as the second lead, a situation that could not have gone down well with the star.

Despite all this, the film was a big hit and the leading men appeared together in the glitzy thriller Shaan (1980), also written by Salim-Javed, later the same year and in Naseeb (1981), the last film in which the two acted together.

Dostana also includes a cringe-worthy scene where Vijay tells Sheetal the reason she is ogled at by men is because of the clothes she wears. Incidentally, the clothes she wears in the scene were also used extensively on the film’s posters for publicity.

In light of the bromance (dostana) between the two men, film scholars have pointed out the articulation of male desire in the film where, as Gayatri Gopinath, associate professor of social and cultural analysis and director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University, has noted, Sheetal features merely as a “bonding device that serves to cement male friendship”, being passed from one to the other.

However, the film stands out for its brilliantly choreographed, fast-paced action sequences by action director Veeru Devgan. The car chase, action scenes atop a train, and the excellently shot climax which involves a helicopter, an airplane and a truck, add much needed drama and pace to the otherwise dull fare.

The other notable thing, as revealed by writer Salim Khan in an interview with Neelesh Misra, is that the writer duo demanded Rs50,000 more than what was paid to leading man Bachchan as their fee! Such was their draw in the industry at the time that the demand was accepted, and Khan called up veteran writer-director Abrar Alvi to tell him the day had dawned when the writer was being paid not just as much as the leading man but more, a landmark moment in Hindi cinema.