Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bollywood Essentials: Sholay(1975)

Couple of weeks ago, on Labor Day, I spent my entire day sitting in front of TV watching all the three movies in Dollar trilogy. I had not seen first of the three, A Fistful of Dollars(1964) before. So, after that I can cross one of the most popular trilogies of my list. I still stuck around for For a Few Dollars More(1965) despite of having seen it and despite I could remember it vividly just for the hack of it and then I wanted to see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly(1966) because even though I have most certainly seen this one before, that was a long ago and there were big chunks of it that I could not remember. However, since then I have Westerns stuck in my head. Last month, I did one post about Bollywood Essentials where I discussed one of my favorite Hindi movies Satya(1998). I started with Satya mainly because over at the LAMB, Steve decided to go with 'Modern Bollywood' as the theme of Foreign Chops. I would have loved to start with a little more Classic movie. With this western theme stuck in my head right now, this was the perfect time for me to introduce another essential of Hindi Cinema and one of the very very few real Westerns of Indian Cinema, Sholay(1975).

Like most of the Westerns I know, Sholay basically is the story of revenge where at the heart of which is Thakur Baldev Singh and pair of petty thieves Jai and Veeru. Thakur used to be a Police Officer in his prime, and that is where he has seen the duo of Jai and Veeru. He knows that despite being petty thieves who can swindle even their own families for money, they both have big heart and are capable of doing almost anything given the right amount of money. His assessment of Jai and Veeru is based on sole encounter with them where they not only helped him fight against the whole gang of dacoits trying to rob the train they were on, they also saved his life when he got injured. Thakur has something specific in mind for them and despite being told that they both are completely useless, he believes that they are perfect for what he has in mind and hence is looking for them. After some hilarious encounters and some bad-ass fights, both Jai and Veeru arrive at Ramgadh to meet Thakur at his house. Thakur tells them that he wants them to capture in-famous dacoit Gabbar Singh. There is a prize of 50,000 on his name. Not only they will get that prize, Thakur will also pay them on top of it. There is only 1 condition - they will not kill Gabbar. They will only capture him as Thakur wants to kill him by his own hands. Even though it is a lot of money, Gabbar Singh and his notoriety goes far beyond that and hence both Jay and Veeru are little cautious. However, what seals the deal for them is when they understand the real reason why Thakur hired them for the job. During his days in Police force, Thakur was one of the best and most dynamic officers wearing that uniform. One of his most important and famous achievements was he put Gabbar Singh behind the bars. Gabbar Singh certainly is not the one to forget. Soon enough, some of his associates breaks him out and first thing he wants to do after getting out is get his revenge. And when he does, he does it in a worst possible way. After Thakur finds it out what Gabbar has done, he flips out, walks right into Gabbar's den and gets both his hands cut.

Anyone who has seen any westerns will not really find anything extraordinary in this story. Even I sometimes wonder how would I have felt had Sholay wasn't Sholay. To understand what I am trying to say, you have to know a little background about it's place in the Indian cinema. Let me assure you that last sentence was first and last time I will be using word 'Little'. There is nothing 'little' about Sholay anymore, everything is hyperbolic. When it opened in 1975, supposedly it opened to a lukewarm reception for first few weeks but then it picked up gears and went on to become the most successful movie in the history of Hindi cinema. Every single commercial record you can imagine, this film not only broke them but held it's position at the top for almost 20 years. By any measure imaginable, Sholay is 'The MOST POPULAR Indian Movie' ever. I remember I saw this movie for the first time when I was around 10, more than 20 years after its release. It was either 15th August(Indian Independence Day) or 26th January(Republic Day). Being a national holiday, everything was close anyways but during it's run-time, there was not a single soul to be seen anywhere - inside my building, on the roads anywhere and this is 20 years after its release. I remember reading somewhere that if G.P. Sippy, producer of this movie, decides to re-release it today without making any change in it at all, it will do more business than every single movie released on that day and to tell you the truth, I have to agree with it. Even though I have seen it dozen times by now, I am still ready to pay any amount of money just to see this on the big screen. Greatness of this movie lies in the fact that this movie is the most popular, most respected piece of work in career of every single person associated with it and there are quite a few legends of Indian cinema in that list.

So, now that I am almost done with my fan-boy banter, let me try objectively to explain what makes it great? Two things - first and foremost Amjad Khan who played Gabbar Singh to perfection and secondly Screenplay written by Salim-Javed. There are some pretty obvious influences, spaghetti westerns like Dollar trilogy and Seven Samurai(1954) being most prominent but this script takes some elements from them, puts them into Indian background and adds pinch of humor, romance and comedy to it and molds it into something original. They also have to be credited for making the character of Gabbar Singh what it is - easily the best character in cinema. He is known for his ruthless, notorious and fearsome demeanor. Amjad Khan doesn't have that intimidating physical presence but he makes it up with his body language and reminds you of his terrors with every single word he utters, every single action and every single movement - imagine Ramone or Indio but much much worse. Amjad Khan in his very first role on screen owns Gabbar Singh. It is a very definition of perfection. One more thing I can credit duo of Salim-Javed for is despite such a strong villain, they made other characters equally strong like Thakur and is played with an amazing determination by Sanjeev Kumar, one of the most versatile actors of industry. Dialogues are iconic, infused with a lot of humor and are so ingrained in pop-culture that when I sat down for the first time to watch it, I already knew 80% dialogues due to countless parodies, homages and tributes. I can hardly remember a movie with so eclectic side characters like Surma Bhopali, Sambha, Kaalia, Asrani's Jailor or A.K. Hangal's Imaam who leave their stamp in a single scene space.

You have to realise that I have rambled on for last 2 paragraphs about what makes Sholay great without even mentioning the 2 leading pairs. Not to undermine their importance, but it is a kind of movie where there is so much to talk about. Combined with beautiful cinematography and set designs to create that look and feel of typical western, great editing, good music especially title track makes it a bare essential that no one with any interest in Hindi movies should miss out.

Rating(out of 5):


  1. I read somewhere that when Sholay was first shown on Indian TV in 1997, the streets were similarly empty because everyone was inside their homes watching it.

    1. Yup. That's what I was talking about. Thanks for reminding me of the year. :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. It was 15th Aug 1990 when it was shown on TV. It was same day when Sholey was released 15 years back. And it was shown on that day on TV because they released another version of the same film that day in which there was different end to story.
    There are more reasons to make it bollywood essential.
    It still holds record of MOST golden jubillees (60 of them)
    If you take min inflation in to consideration then income of this project is 256 Cr. JUST in india...No world rights / publicity budget etc was there in that time.
    Its FIRST movie which is included in Text books now :) (believe it or not)
    BBC has declared this as best movie in century.
    and lot more....

    Another aspect of the film which makes it absolutely catchy is its background score.
    Right from title song to chasing scene of Basanti (tabla played by Samta Prasad)it’s too good.
    In fact there are blank sections (Last scene where Jai is left with only one bullet in his gun) while fighting with dacoits, to show hollowness / inevitability....That is also tremendous....

    1. I don't think the day I remember is this one. I would have been 4 then and I don't have that good memory. :)

      R.D. Burman Man !! He was awesome.

  4. And you didn't mention Yeh Dosti, one of the best things about the movie ;).
    To tell you the truth: I'm a big Sholay fangirl. Okay, I've only seen it once, so perhaps I'm exaggerating, but I loved it right from the beginning. So I guess that Sholay is just special, not only because it's so famous and so known etc., but because it is great, it is wonderful, it is... special.

    1. Haha, OOPS !! :)

      Ohh, I have seen it dozens of times by now. I will admit I first saw it because it was famous and all, but you don't watch any movie so many times because someone else feels it is Good. I loved it and kept coming back to it. It is different, it is special in so many different ways.


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