Sholay’s magic can never be recreated: Ramesh Sippy

At an event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the timeless blockbuster, director Ramesh Sippy helps fans decipher Sholay’s enduring appeal...
It has been 40 years since one of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters, Sholay, opened to an awestruck audience. But in all those years the film’s magic has hardly faded, feels the man behind the film’s camera — Ramesh Sippy. Released during one of independent India’s darkest hours — the Emergency — Sippy’s magnum opus, which was made with a budget of Rs 3 crores and over the course of two years, enjoyed a run of success that lasted for more than four years on the big screen. And at 40, Sholay is still going strong in the hearts of the film’s fans.
Speaking at a celebratory session for the film’s success at the NCPA on Thursday evening, Sippy took to the stage to reminisce over the experience of making Sholay and explained why no one (including him) can ever make it again.
While confessing that he himself is still unaware of what led the film to become such a big hit, Sippy started with how the idea first came about. “After Sita aur Gita, the plan that I had, was to do something that no one had done before. That was the era of big Hollywood blockbusters like Mackenna’s Gold and I wondered why we couldn’t make something of that scale in India. So I discussed the idea with my father and my team and beyond all else I set out with just one motto — no compromise. The 70 mm technology was just entering and I wanted to use every technology available at my disposal and ended up using even those that weren’t at our disposal (the film had to be taken abroad for modern processing technologies). So it was at the time, ‘the biggest film ever made’.”
Now a cult classic that is still making strong sales in CDs and DVDs, the film was initially panned by the critics and trade pundits who were of the opinion that such a big budget film could never work in those times. Exclaiming triumphantly that the same critics soon ate their words, Sippy gave an idea of how the transition from making the film to releasing it was and said, “It is true that many critics at that time felt the film would not only be a personal disaster for me but in fact a disaster for Indian cinema itself. Some made illogical criticisms of the film, while the trade pundits felt the budget was too big for it to work. Everyone thought that I was just a boy who was wasting his father’s money (thankfully that did not include my father!). But we always had confidence in the film and everyone, including my father, Salim-Javed and Amitji, strongly supported the film.”
Sippy added, “But it wasn’t as if any of the criticism hampered the film and it is a myth that it did not perform well initially. I still remember that there was this one theatre manager in Worli who called me on the release day and asked me to come to his theatre because he had some problem. When I went there he accused me of destroying the sales in his popcorn and snack stalls, as he said no one was coming there. I told him that the whole town was cursing me and popcorn was what he was worried about! What he said next is still fresh in my memory. He said ‘No, no you’re mistaken; your film is a big hit. The reason why no one is coming to get popcorn is because they don’t want to get up from their seats!’ And that was when I knew that the film was a success.”
While what happened after it released is an important part of the annals of Indian cinema, the making of the film too was equally dramatic if not more, expressed Sippy. “There were quite a few problems. It was the Emergency and we had to be cautious. The budget overshot by two times from the initial figure of '1 crore. Scouting locations was tough because I wanted the setting to be different from the Chambal Valley, which had already been explored in many films. But the most famous one has been casting for Gabbar’s role — a role that immortalised Amjad Khan. The initial plan was to cast Danny Denzogpa and he was as much my choice as Salim-Javed’s. In fact I even gave Danny a cheque for the film. But he had to pull out because of his dates clashing with another film he was doing, called Dharmatma, and that was that. Danny still has that cheque and time and again he shows it to me and still asks me, ‘Sippy saab, where is the role you promised me!’ But Gabbar was a role destined for Amjad and I believe Amjad and Gabbar are one. Salim saab had some problems with Amjad’s voice not suiting the role, but ultimately we decided upon him and he went on to become the film’s most famous icon.”
So is there a chance of an uncut version with a different ending? “Sadly no, as none of those portions are still preserved,” said Sippy. “The original film was four hours! And I cut some 40 minutes of it (much to the ire of Burman saab who had composed background score for the whole four hours). But nothing can recreate that magic now. Sholay was the result of a great many things coming together perfectly at the right time. And I am happy that we are still talking about it 40 years later, which is a big enough achievement already.”
( Source : deccan chronicle )
Next Story