It happens only in India, goes a Govinda song. These words never seem truer than when applied to the vagaries of Bollywood. But even by the unpredictable unscrupulous standards of the Indian entertainment industry, this one takes the cake and the bakery.
It happened in early 1970s when Amitabh Bachchan, fresh raw and struggling for a foothold, signed a potboiler titled Duniya Ka Mela. The film was directed by Kundan Kumar; a little-known name today, but a biggish gun in the 1960s and 70s, Kundan Kumar helmed musical hits like Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo(1962, India’s first Bhojpuri blockbuster), Aulad(1968, the Jeetendra-Babita starrer best-known for the comedic song Jodi hamari jamegi kaise jaani) , Pardesi(1970, a slinky Mumtaz dancing to Chitragupta’s hit tunes) and Anokhi Ada(Jeetendra-Rekha’s first hit together).
In 1973 , before Amitabh Bachchan’s Zanjeer turned him overnight into India’s biggest star, Kundan Kumar launched Duniya Ka Mela with Rekha and a struggler named Amitabh Bachchan. Distributors advised Kundan Kumar against what they saw as a foolhardy move. And they were only being rational: until that point of time AB had featured only in superflops like Saat Hindustani, Pyar Ki Kahani, Bombay To Goa ,Parwana and Gehri Chaal.In the last two mentioned films AB played villainous roles and was seriously thinking of trying his luck as a villain, a la Shatrughan Sinha.
But Kundan stuck to his guns. He even shot a romantic duet Yeh chehra yeh zulfen jadoo sa kar rahe hain composed by the hit-makers Laxmikant-Pyarelal , and filmed on Rekha and the almost-newcomer Amitabh Bachchan.
This is when the distributors threatened to back out of the project. They advised Kundan Kumar to get rid of the wobbly semi-newcomer and replace him with someone more viewer-friendly.
The Big B was sacked overnight, and not even informed properly of his loss. He was replaced by the then hot and saleable Sanjay Khan(who appeared in films as only ‘Sanjay’ in the credit titles). Sanjay(with or without the Khan) had delivered a slew of successes in the late 60s and early 70s.
But look at destiny’s devious ways! By the time Duniya Ka Mela was released in 1974 , Sanjay Khan’s career was on the downslide and Amitabh Bachchan after Zanjeer took over the entire entertainment industry.
The same duet song from Duniya Ka Mela, a miserable flop by the way , that was shot with Bachchan and Rekha was re-shot with Sanjay and Rekha.
Technically Duniya Ka Mela is the first Amitabh-Rekha starrer, although the one that released first with them in the lead was Do Anjaane in 1976 (where believe it not,Rekha eloples with Prem Chopra after marrying Amitabh Bachchan).
Speaking of the experience Amitabh Bachchan says he holds absolutely no grudges. “I was grappling with flops. I was grateful that they even considered me for the film. I was replaced by My Sanjay Khan who was big star during those times.”