Excel Entertainment and actor-director Farhan Akhtar have just announced that the Don franchise is going to “taken forward” with a new film in which Ranveer Singh will be playing the iconic character. Since the first Don (1978), this character has been the smoothest of Bollywood criminals, and had the responsibility of delivering the twistiest of plots. Imagining Singh as Don, the internet has responded with some good natured ribbing (like comedian Rohan Joshi posting on Instagram that given Singh’s eccentric dressing style, the police of just one mulk should be enough to nab him) and a lot of excitement. That there’s so much anticipation for the next Don film shows how popular the character remains, despite going against the grain in many ways.
Indian audiences were first introduced to the character who would become iconic with the 1978 film, starring Amitabh Bachchan in and as Don. Although the film has gone on to become one of the most beloved in mainstream Hindi cinema, screenwriting duo Salim-Javed (Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar) were unable to sell their script for a long time. The plot was not formulaic, the hero was layered, the women characters were feisty — everything about the film seemed challenging. After multiple rejections, the script was ultimately picked up by director Chandra Barot and producer Nariman Irani. Initially, the film was declared a flop because of a miserable opening. However, the word-of-mouth publicity kicked in and Don went on to become one of the highest-grossing films that year.
In the first Don, Bachchan plays a double role. He’s the suave criminal kingpin Don and also a goofy street performer named Vijay. Vijay happens to be Don’s doppelgänger. The action-packed film was considered so tense that the song ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswala’ was specifically written in to slow down the pace. Of course, the song then went on to become one of the most popular moments in the film.
While sequels for Don were rumoured to have been in the works at various times, it wasn’t until the 2000s that this became a reality. Actor-director Farhan Akhtar put a contemporary spin to the original and cast Shah Rukh Khan as the hero of Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006). Akhtar wrote the screenplay with his father, Javed Akhtar. Khan proved to be a wonderful choice to carry out a double role that had menace, humour and action in equal measure. The reboot received widespread acclaim, and also had one of the best-selling Bollywood soundtracks of the year.
The second installment, Don 2: The King Is Back (2011), saw Khan reprise his role. Priyanka Chopra — who had starred opposite him in the previous film, playing a version of the character played by the legendary Zeenat Aman in the original — also returned as Roma. Chopra and Khan reportedly performed all of their own stunts for this film, which went on to become a hit despite mixed reviews. Don 2 won a number of Filmfare Awards, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor (for Khan). Another sequel was supposed to go on floors in 2016, but the plans didn’t materialise.
While news of Don 3 may be disappointing for those who were hoping Khan would return in this role, the choice of Ranveer Singh as one of Bollywood’s most iconic characters has the internet buzzing even though the film is approximately two years away (the teaser promises Don 3 will be out in 2025). The teaser shows a hooded figure, seated in a dark building, lighting a cigarette, while looking out at a glittering cityscape. The voiceover includes Don’s iconic dialogue: “Gyarah mulkon ki police dhoondti hai mujhe, par pakad paaya hai mujhko kaun? Main hoon Don (The police of 11 countries are on the hunt for me, but has anyone been able to catch me? I am Don).” The final frame shows us Singh’s face.
For Singh, whose seems to have got his mojo back after the debacle of Cirkus (2022) with the blockbuster hit Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani (2023), taking on the role of Don offers him an opportunity to be part of a franchise and add something distinctive to it. He has a history of taking unconventional characters and making them his own in a way that has made audiences fall in love with his performance (even when he’s playing a villain, like in Padmaavat). It’ll be interesting to see if Akhtar and Singh bring back the double role for Don and give us a chance to see Singh playing both the hero and the villain in the same film.