Cast: Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Amjad Khan, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri, A.K. Hangal, Sachin, Leela Mishra, Helen, Jalal Agha, Viju Khote, Jagdeep, Asrani, Mac Mohan, Sadhu Meher, Satyen Kappu
Director: Ramesh Sippy
Rating: 5 Stars
How do you review a film that’s been a legend for decades — three point eight, to be exact. For most film critics today, unlike the critics who panned the film when it was released, including the great Bikram Singh of Filmfare (he gave it two stars, a “fair” rating), reviewing 'Sholay' is an exercise in vanity. This is a Sippy-sent opportunity to bask in its glory once again, this time in three dimensions, and to pin our two-bits on a film that’s colossal, that’s way, way bigger than us.
Since I live in a red vanity case, I’m going to indulge.
'Sholay' symbolises all that was unique and brilliant about Bollywood in the 1970s. But it’s also the first among equals, and that line-up includes Raj Khosla’s 1971 'Mera Gaon Mera Desh', 'Sholay'’s precursor whose villain was called Jabbar Singh.
'Sholay' released on August 15, 1975, the first Independence Day India celebrated somberly because Emergency had just been imposed.
Pothas and blogs have since been written on the film, including a very fine book on its making by Anupama Chopra. Every little anecdote, factoid, tit-bit has added to making 'Sholay' the legend it is today.
* During the two-and-a-half years of its making, Jaya Bachchan, who plays the virginal child bride/widow Radha, gave birth to Shweta and got pregnant with Abhishek.
* During its shooting the strange real-life love triangle of Hema-Dharmendra-Sanjeev Kumar unravelled.
* Amjad Khan, to get a grip on his nine-scene role of Gabbar Singh, read Abhishapta Chambal, a book about the dacoits of Chambal by Taroon Kumar Bhaduri, Jaya’s father.
Usually I react to 3D films like I would to a proposed weekend with my in-laws on a remote island. I’d rather die. But in this 3D film the gimmicks department has been kept in control, and the stray bullet, splinter that comes charging at you is most welcome.
The film, as I watched it today, remains the classic it is. 'Sholay' is a masterstroke, a lovingly made film to which everyone brought their best. Every scene, even the smallest one, is perfect. Each frame is composed intelligently, and every performance — from the extras’ daku-log riding horses, especially in the train robbery sequence, to Thakur and his keel-waali jutti; from Asrani’s angrezon ke zamane ke jailor to Mausi’s rejection of the marriage proposal — is flawless.
Gabbar, Jai, Veeru, Basanti, Kalia and Ramlal have transcended cinema and are now almost mythological characters.
This perfection didn’t come easy. To get the expression, dialogue, timing just right, reams and reams of camera reel were sacrificed. Apparently, the scene of Radha lighting the lamp took 20 days to can; the shot for the dialogue “Kitne aadmi the?” took 40 retakes. There was no compromise. That’s why not a strand is out of place, not a second superfluous.
And then there’s the story. As a drunk Veeru shouts from the paani ki tanki, “...is istory mein emotion hai, drama hai, tragedy hai”. This revenge saga has one of Indian cinema’s most touching love stories, Jai and Radha’s. Add to that the love Jai had for Veeru.
The bond between the two handsome, young outlaws in denims, with their cocky fatalism — lanky Jai with his duffel bag and mouth-organ, and jolly Veeru with his tharra bottle and heart on sleeve — was so deep, their partnership so spirited that it deserved a song to itself.
Though billed as “the greatest story ever told” when it was released, writers Salim-Javed were accused of serving a mishmash of several spaghetti westerns with Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Tru dat. Yet, the film’s performances, its brilliant camerawork, direction and dialogue are its own.
'Sholay' didn’t do well when it was released, but its dialogues were instant hits, especially the ones assigned to Gabbar Singh. This prompted the producers to release LP records of the film’s soundtrack — dialogues and songs with the sound effects.
In our house we had a cassette of 'Sholay'’s soundtrack that played on a loop. I can’t save you from bhoot-pishach by reciting the Hanuman Chalisa, but I can regale you with the soundtrack of 'Sholay', all 207 minutes of it, dialogue for dialogue, dhishum for dhishum, without pause or plunder.
'Sholay'’s dialogue are special because that are not limited to their context. Spiked with humour and falsafa, they are profound, metaphysical thoughts that can be used to beautifully articulate angst and distress in everyday situations. Sample a few:
- Tumhara naam kya hai, Basanti?: Usually muttered under one’s breath on being impaled by a particularly verbose and banal so-and-so
- Ek galti ki Thakur-saab, jo tijori khol ke dikha di: On spying a hot sister/brother of an acquaintance, or at an open invitation to a well-stocked farm house
- Thakur ne hijron ki fauj banayi hai, ha ha ha: Though inappropriate, it is still used to describe a uniquely inefficient and clueless team in-charge of an event, call centre
- Tera kya hoga, Kalia?: To a poor soul when an ex makes a sudden appearance in his/her love story or a senior arrives to take over a high-profile assignment
- Chakki peesing and peesing and peesing...: The motto of all homemakers and plodders
- Itna sannata kyun hai bhai?: This deeply sad line is in my opinion one up on the Joker’s “Why so serious?” It is absolutely superb and can be used, most appropriately, on arriving late to a rather dull party, or on entering Sheila Dikshit’s house
- Chal Dhanno, aaj teri Basanti ki izzat ka sawal hai: Imploring a car to start flying because you are late for a crucial meeting; a bride to her slow-as-snail makeup lady; to a heavy file that’s taking forever to reach boss
- Basanti in kutton ke saamne mat nachna: Kindly do not ingratiate thyself to lesser beings, for love or money
I plan to go watch 'Sholay' again tomorrow, to meet the coolest chors in Indian cinema, to genuflect at the genius of R.D. Burman and Ramesh Sippy, and to weep when Jai dies. Come with me, or go with your friends. I implore you not to miss this opportunity. I mean, how often will you see this credit-line on the big screen: “Introducing Amjad Khan”....