23 January, 2006

The Lost Embers of Sholay

Sholay (1975, Producer: G.P Sippy, Director: Ramesh Sippy)
Star Cast:
Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya BhadurI and Amjad Khan.
Supporting Cast: Satyen Kappu, A.K Hangal, Iftekhar, Leela Misra, Macmohan, Sachin, Asrani, Keshto Mukharjee, Helen, Gita, Jairaj, Jagdeep, Jalal Agha, Om Shivpuri, Sharad Kumar.
Screenplay: Salim-Javed. Camera: Dwarcha Divecha. Music: R.D Burman.
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi. Playback: Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey & R.D Burman.
Art Direction: Ram Yedekar. Editing: M.S. Shinde. Sound: S.Y. Pathak.

Managed to get hold of "The Making Of Sholay by Anupama Chopra ISBN 014029970x" from a friend. As I was reading through the first few pages I felt so nostalgic. What the Hell? I need to watch the movie as I read the book. And guess what I had the " director's cut" of Sholay... Yeah the same uncut edition from Gabbar dies at the hand of Thakur.... Why wait so long to post? Don't ask. The connection between mind and body seems to be going through a strange state of dissociation and limbo.

Nothing was planned. There on my book rack lay a copy of Sholay - The Director's Cut. So as the rest of YMCA gettying ready to go for a Friday Night, I flopped on the bed and popped DVD into the laptop. As I listened to the train coming into the platform, and then the hummable Sholay Title Theme and then cuts to the dacoits chasing the train with Thakur taking the thugs JaI and Veeru. Of course, the original grouse was that Eros had been a skunk about producing DVDs of either version. The delight is in the details.

As i went thru the movie the dialogues Kitne Aadmi the?; Yeh Haath Mujhe De De Thakur; The Suicide scene by Viru, Tumahara Naam kya hai Basanti?; Jai going to Chachis house for Viru, how can anyone even forghet these dialgues. I may have seen the movies a zillion times.

Everyone knows the ending in the released print: the police arrive (too late, as always) in time to stop Thaakur saahab from killing Gabbar; then we have Jai's funeral, Viru leaving on the train (along with basantiI who decides to tag along). In the original ending there ain't no cops. Thaakur uses his specially designed shoes (another deleted scene appears on this edition to support the shoes -- raamalaal punches another spiked stud into the special shoes as Thaakur
watches on) to stomp Gabbar's hands (with the ye haath mujhe de de Gabbar), and then manages to kick him onto a metal spike sticking out of one of the sides of the place where Gabbar had tied Thaakur and appropriated his haath. While Gabbar's death itself is nicely done, it's rather hilarious to see the Thaakur/Gabbar fight sequence (especially the physics-defying leaps that Thaakur indulges in -- since he has no hands). It's like you were watching Crouching Thaakur Hidden Gabbar.

The other additions include more detail in the Ahmed (Sachin) meets Gabbar sequence. There's more explicit menace (and a larger hint at what brutality was in store for Ahmed). Frankly, though, I prefer the more understated version in the original release, where all you see Gabbar do is swat a fly and then you cut to the donkey returning to the village bearing Ahmed's corpse. I feel compelled to paraphrase that sentiment about the Ahmed scene.

As I read thru the book only then did I know that Sholay was meant to be a flop during the initial days and then soon picked up. And as the movie came to and end so did the book. That was what I feel an evening well spent

Losing the nostalgia for Sholay:
'Sholay' : mention the name and you will be greeted with a volley of well-rehearsed dialogues...
'Arre O Samba…Kitne AadmI The?…
'Sarkar Maine Aapka Namak Khaya Hai… Ab goli Kha…'
'Hum Angrezon Ke Zamane Ke jailor Hain…Soorma BhopalI A1…
'Yeh Haath Mujhe Dede Thakur…Chal Basanti, aaj TerI BasantI KI Izzat Ka Sawal Hai…

' The list is endless. Every dialogue is a moviegoer's delight. Today it is impossible to see the film in a theatre, what with the crowd delighting in repeating the dialogues along with the characters. Therein lies its strength. Sholay is the greatest, if not the highest money-spinning movie of all times in India. (For the simple reason that the tickets in 1975 cost a mere Rupees Four! But at today's rates, the six year run (not to add the repeat runs) of the movie would ensure returns that would be unfathomable. The very mention of the film, 'Sholay' produces an automatic response of fear and trepidation. One tends to conjure up intimidating images of dhamakedar dacoits and dashing damsels,who incidentally are in a fair ammount of distress. The film is fraught with high voltage drama and tension enough to make a grown man weak-kneed.

As a movie, it is difficult to categorize into any single genre. It could well be clubbed as action or drama, musical or romance. It was also seen by some as the curry-western, a milieu of Indian spice and western machoism. In fact many a parallel has been drawn between 'Sholay' and John Ford's 'Stagecoach' (1939) Whatever it classifies as does not interest us because this Ramesh Sippy - Javed Akhtar brainchild blew the collective minds of an entire generation of Indian moviegoers. And is still doing so.

The tale is one of Thakur Baldev Singh, played by the late Sanjeev Kumar, once a senior police officer. In an attempt to fight the evil dacoit Gabbar Singh (the dynamic debut of Amjad Khan), he joins hands with two local smalltime crooks , who despite their criminal records have hearts of gold. The Thakur is quick to recognize the underlying humanity beneath their fearless, tough-as-nails exterior.

These two outlaws, Jaidev and Veeru (played to perfection by Amitabh and Dharmendra respectively) procede to Ramgarh, the Thakur's estate. In an exceptionally poignant moment of the film, the two while trying to break into the Thakur's safe at night and escape with the loot are seen by Radha, the Thakur's widowed daughter-in-law, who offers them the keys on the grounds that at least it would open her father's eyes to the fact that they are crooks, and not the brave fighters he perceived them as.

Through the device of the flashback, the viewer is let into the traumatic past at the same time as Jaidev and Veeru are enlightened by the Thakur. It is here that we are introduced to the character of Gabbar Singh played by the invincible Amjad Khan. Who, on being caught by the Thakur and unceremoniously being sent to jail, swore revenge. Gabbbar Singh escapes soon after and guns down the Thakur's entire family ruthlessly. This scene of carnage and relentless massacre went down in the annals of history as the goriest bloodbath in Indian cinema at the time. The only one to escape the carnage was the youngest daughter-in-law, Radha, who was away at the temple. Coming home to this devastation, the Thakur in a violent rage, rode unarmed to the ravines where Gabbar Singh reigned. Finding him helpless and ironically
vulnerable, Gabbar Singh chose to hack off the Thakur's arms which had once held him prisoner.
Gabbar Singh went on to become yet another iconic figure-head of terror. His opening exclamation "Suar ke bachchon!!! " is a classic example of his irreverance. He was the kind of man who wouldn't lose sleep over feeding golis to his namak consuming chelas. He delivers one hundred percent of the quintessential villian, one who pursues evil as an end in itself. On the more romantic front, Veeru falls in love with the gregarious tangewalI Basanti, while the more serious Jaidev feels drawn to the young and lonely Radha, who watches him silently from a distance. When Veeru goes to keep a rendezvous with Basanti, he discovers that she's been kidnapped by Gabbar's men. To add fuel to the fire, Gabbar orders BasantI to dance on splinters of glass if she wishes to see her love-interest alive. This time it is an all out war, and the men fight it out desperately. Fatally wounded, Jaidev pretends he is mildly hurt, and sends Veeru back to the village with Basanti. He manages to heroically blow up a bridge and kill most of the bandits. At this point Thakur arrives on the scene and insists on fighting Gabbar alone.

What follows is a rather dramatic display of footwork, enough to give Ronaldo a run for his money. Thakur hits out with his hobnailed shoes at a wily Gabbar, who without the protection of his gang becomes a cowering beast. With Jaidev dead , Veeru decides to leave Ramgarh, but in the empty compartment of the sleepy train he finds … Surprise!!! A coy Basanti waiting for him in heated anticipation. The film is groundbreaking because of it's unabashed display of violence and gore as well as for it's repertoire of catch phrases, which have inspired many a free spirited rebel who wished to talk tough. Several wannabe Gabbar Singhs spouted daku-lingo merrily, much to the displeasure of all mild mannered gentry. Interestingly enough, when the film was released it didn't open very well. This was attributed to the fact that it was way ahead of its time. But its six year uninterrupted run at the box office gave it enough time to catch up with its swashbuckling style. Thus it is safe to say that emerging as a brilliant little spark of superlative filmmaking, 'Sholay' built up enough punch to rewrite movie history. It continued to gather momentum as it went along the rugged terrain of time and transformed into a raging orb of fire, destroying all conventions that came across it's path.

The film has made use of several interesting innovations.
This included, spectacular inematography, with shots panning over rocky heights and barren landscapes, often under the menacing shadow of a threatening cloud. It was also the first film to be shot in the large-screen, 70mm format with stereophonic sound. This gave the film most of it's pulsating tension.
Although in present times of desensitization, one would not even bat an eyelid at the most gruesome of murders, for its time, 'Sholay' was a revolutionary film, which inspired many film makers to continue its trend of imaginative cinema.
To date 'Sholay' remains a cult film by any standard. Many clones followed, but the original will always stay fresh in the minds of all movie lovers. It's doubtful whether any will ever surpass the sheer canvas and magnitude of 'Sholay'. Maybe in terms of money spent or money earned. But in completeness? In script? In cohesion of a story well told or a project well received? Doubtul.

As Gabbar would say, "Pachas kos door jab bachcha rota haI to maa kehtI hai, bete soja, warna Gabbar aa jaayega.." However it goes without saying, that the fame of Gabbar and thereby 'Sholay' goes way beyond the pachas kos margin.No one could of have imagined the spectacular degree of SHOLAY's success. The film changed lives, transformed careers, and even twenty-five years after its release it remains the box office gold standard, a reference point for both the Indian film-going audience and the film industry. Over the years, 'Sholay has transcended its hit-movie status. It is not merely a film, it is the ultimate classic; it is myth. It is a part of our heritage as Indians. The film, still as compellingly watchable as it was when first released (in 1999 BBC-India and assorted internet polls declared it the Film of the Millenium), arouses intense passions. Its appeal cuts across barriers of geography, language, ideology and class: an advertising guru in MumbaI will speak as enthusiastically and eloquently about the film as a rickshaw driver in hyderabad.And the devotion is often fanatical. 'Sholay' connoisseurs - to call them 'fans' would be insulting their ardour - speak casually of seeing the film fifty, sixty even seventy times. Dialogue has been memorized. Also the unique background music: the true 'Sholay' buff can pre-empt all the sound effects. He can also name Gabbar's arms dealer who is on screen for less than thirty seconds (Hira), and Gabbar's father who is mentioned only once as Gabbar's sentence is read out in court ('Gabbar Singh, vald HarI Singh...'.

After watching the film yet again, I can see my global appreciation for the film break down into appreciation for the
specifics. From noting the influences (both acknowledged and unacknowledged), to noting the innovative space that the
film defined and noting some of the understated performances I have come to the point where a bulk of the film just grates -- the Viru/Basanti romantic stuff is overdone (a trend in Bollywood that still refuses to go away); Hema MalinI grates; Dharmendra hams gloriously; some of the timing of Amitabh's retorts seems off, there's a lot of perfunctory "essential" sequences that don't seem to add much to the movie (the jail sequence, even Soormaa Bhopali), except perhaps to establish the characters enough from a mainstream POV; and there's a LOT (and I mean that, a LOT) of exposition. All these won't be grouses that a mainstream audience looking for a "complete" entertainer will have. And perhaps that's where Sholay fits best -- a film in the mainstream mould that attempted something different while complying with the conventions of mainsteam "entertainment". And for defining the "curry" western.

Do I still like it? Time to toss that coin.

Again as beautifully put by a Veteran Director in the book "The Making of SHOLAY " the Indian Film Indstry can be rightfully classified a s Sholay AD and Sholay BC

What is it about 'Sholay' that works on us still? When people watch 'Sholay' today, certain aspects of the film seduce them all over again: the soaring imagination of the story and the way it is told; the vitality of the scorching rocky landscape, charging horses and falling men; the gritty directorial conviction that allows an unhurried tale to be developed, full of texture and rhythm. The elements fall into place perfectly:a marvellous chemistry between the actors
; a fable like story detailed into a superb script; unforgettable dialogue and fine performances. The film skillfully blends traditional and modern elements. It has, as author Nasreen MunnI Kabir says, 'Differences in lifestyles which co-exist without appearing illogical.' The steam engines, the horses, the guns and the denim give the film an ageless quality, a feeling of several centuries existing next to each other.

Facts on Sholay.
01. Released on 15 Augast 1975.
02. Real Bullets were used for the close up action scenes.
03. Amitabh was almost killed at the end of the movie when a stray bullet from dharmendra missed him by inches.
04. First scene shot for the movie was Amitabh returning the keys to the safe to Jaya.
05. There are two sets of negatives, one in 70mm and one in 35mm as every shot/scene was done twice.
06. The last shot done in the village was Jai's death scene.
07. Basanti's chase sequence was shot over twelve days.
08. Jim Allen,Gerry Cramton,Romo Commoro,John Gant...some of the foreign technicians who worked on the action sequences.
09. The train sequence took seven weeks to shoot.
10. The last scene shot for Sholay was the Thakur meets Veeru and JaI outside the jail and offers them the job.
11. Sholay took nearly two and half years to complete (450 shifts)
12. Amjad's voice was nearly dubbed as there were whispers it not being strong enough for a villain.
13. The background music took a whole month to complete.
14. Sholay's Budget was close to three crores.
15. Jaya was pregnant during the shooting of the film with Shweta Bachchan.
16. Jaya was glowing again during the premiere of Sholay...this time with Abhishek Bachchan.
17. Sholay's premiere audience saw a 35mm print as the 70mm one was stuck at customs.
18. Sholay was released in Bombay with 40 prints.
19. Saachin was a veteran film actor with 60 films behind him from 1962.... but A.K Hangal was a newcomer to films.
20. Amjad's first scene shot was his introduction scene .....his first lines "Kitne AadmI The"?
The deleted 'Chaar Bhaand' qawaali. (8 mins)
Playback: Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, Bhupinder and Anand Bakshi, with chorus.

Chaand sa koI chehra na pehloo main ho
To chandnI ka mazaa nahin aata
Jaam peekar shraabI na gir jaahe to
MaikashI ka mazaa nahin aata

(There is no joy in moonlight
Without the moon-faced one by my side.
There is no joy in wine
If having drunk I do not stumble and fall)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

good one

February 10, 2009 6:19 AM  

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