For someone who, as a kid ‘heard’ Sholay for about 5 years before actually ‘watching’, ‘Sholay’ isn’t just a film but an integral part of my growing up years. I vividly remember the cover of a ‘double-cassette’ pack of ‘Dialogues from Sholay’, which my father had bought for me.
Each and every dialogue, background score (The rust-ridden swing’s sound that terrified me every time I played the cassette), were something I could mouth with much alacrity than Math ‘tables’. A digression here: I was in the fourth grade and had watched an Amitabh Bachchan film, last show with parents. The next day, in the middle of school lecture, I suddenly started uttering dialogues from Sholay, much to the chagrin of my class teacher. Reeling with anger, she wrote a remark in the school diary, addressing my parents: Please come and see me and STOP SHOWING AMITABH BACHCHAN FILMS TO YOUR SON.
Once the ‘ban’ was lifted, I finally got the privilege of watching Sholay on a rented VCR – this time with visuals, and not just dialogues on a cassette set. I devoured it as if it were a buffet of forbidden fruits, and ended up watching Sholay thrice over till the wee hours. The anonymous voices of characters like Jai, Veeru, Thakur, Gabbar, Basanti, Angrezo ke zamaane ke Jailor entrenched in my memory finally found faces. Even after so many years, I often indulge in Sholay dialogues on iPod while travelling.
Despite being hailed as ‘The greatest movie ever made’, Sholay didn’t even win Filmfare Award, except for one award to M.S. Shinde for editing. It later bagged the Best Film in 50 years by Filmfare in 2005, perhaps as an apology.
In fact, when Sholay was released on 15th August 1975, it flopped. The critics were harsh on it and had already written it off. During its first screening, the audience seemed to be in a stupor, with no reaction. Some dismissed it as a second-rate version on Mera Gaon Mera Desh, which had a similar storyline. Film magazines wrote it off as a film that remains imitation of a Western – neither here nor there.
Amitabh Bachchan, who was shooting for Kabhi Kabhi, broke down on Shashi Kapoor’s shoulder. But the worst-affected among the cast was Amjad Khan, who had no other film but Sholay. Furthermore, the critics had already made digs at his voice, which reminded him of writers Salim-Javed, who according to Amjad Khan, had allegedly convinced Ramesh Sippy during the film’s shoot that they made a mistake in suggesting his name to play Gabbar, owing to his voice that lacked baritone of a villain.
As luck would have it, Sholay picked up pace after the first week of its release, so much so that it ran for over 5 years at Minerva Theatre Mumbai and went on to become a milestone in Hindi Cinema. The film marked the trend of including writer’s name in film posters, thanks to insistence of writer duo Salim-Javed. With passage of time, Sholay, for me, evolved to become as much about Salim-Javed than about Jai-Veeru.
The writing of this film never ceases to inspire awe for the writer duo. They used to pay from their pockets to publish ads in film trade magazines with their names printed in larger font size than the makers. Never before did any writers have such audacity. I believe, writers of our times should be thankful to Salim- Javed for proving that writers are indeed the true heroes of a good film.
The film originally had an ending where Thakur kills Gabbar with his feet. There was a scene where Ramlal fashions the shoes made of nails and offers to Thakur. The armless Thakur crushes Gabbar’s arms first, so as to make him an equal warrior. And then Thakur pounds Gabbar to death, uttering the dialogues, “Saanp ko kuchalne ke liye pairr hi kaafi hai, Gabbar!” Though the end seemed justified, Ramesh Sippy was forced to end it on a politically correct note. The alternate ending is available on original DVD.
While watching Sholay on TV, DVD or online, today’s youngsters might wonder how a village can have an overhead tank when they have no electricity. ‘How did they transport water up there?” “Hey how did the villager ‘Dholia’s character suddenly become ‘Shankar’ in the second half of the film?”
Well, such questions of logic die an illogical death the moment Gabbar Singh growls: Soowar ke bachho!