Director: Ramesh Sippy
This is not a review. This is why I think 'Sholay', re-released in a 3D version, needs to be your go-to movie this weekend, no ifs, no buts. And that’s because, `Bharat desh ke vaasiyon’, ‘Sholay’ is the greatest Hindi 'masala' entertainer ever made, 3D, 2D or no D.
For those who saw it back when it released (75), it is a crackling refresh, and for those who have only seen re-runs on television, this is your chance to experience a genuine, panoramic wide screen, and how riveting a story and how memorable every single character can be. How songs and dances can add up, and how wonderful it is to anticipate the dialogues—oh those chart-busting dialogues packed into `cassettes’ which sold briskly for years after—and mouth them along with the characters. Basically, why ‘Sholay’ is everything that it is cracked up to be.
I watched it yesterday in 3D, fully prepared to moan and groan about how it ruined the film for me. But nothing took away from my viewing ; I even enjoyed a few of the 3D bells and whistles, despite the darkened screen. And of course I cheated, by whipping off those glasses every few minutes and catching it as it was meant to be.
Best friends and small-time thieves Veeru ( Dharmendra) and Jai ( Amitabh) rolling along in that ridiculous twin-seater scooter, the meeting with Thakur Baldev Singh ( Sanjeev Kumar) in the train, that opening fast-paced `daku’-chase scene, the `paan-chewing’ Soorma Bhopali ( Jagdeep), the `angrezon ke zamaane ka jailor’ ( Asrani), the rocky-outcropped picturesque `gaon’ Ramgarh and its residents, the chatterbox `taangewaali’ Basanti ( Hema), the diminutive, sad-eyed Radha ( Jaya), and the glowering, vengeful `thakur’.
And Gabbar Singh, who deserves a whole paragraph to himself. `Sholay’s bad guy is Hindi cinema’s most enduring, fearsome, charismatic villain, no contest. Legend has it that Bachchan wanted to do this role, but it went to the debutant Amjad Khan. Without his outstanding Gabbar, togged out in olive green fatigues, rotten teeth and clattering boots, and his inimitable delivery, the film wouldn’t have been what it was.
It was many years after I watched it first that I discovered in a genuine spaghetti Western, a couple of scenes which seemed like they were completely transplanted onto ‘Sholay’. The soundscape, with the trademark goose-pimply keening, was very Sergio Leone-sque. Village Ramgarh looked as if it was fashioned like a Hollywood western outpost. But the way director Ramesh Sippy, writers Salim-Javed, cinematographer Dwarka Diwecha, and music director R D Burman crafted this film, those couple of imitative scenes were so beautifully knit into the fabric of the film that you felt they were always part of it. Real-life dacoits in their dhoti-kurtas, post 1975, must have cursed Gabbar for forever stamping his wardrobe imprint on them, as well as wondering where they could find a campfire and item queen Helen and the very colourful Jalal Agha whooping it up to Mehbooba, Mehbooba.
‘Ooo, ooo, ooo’. `Kitnay Aadmi Thay’? `Poore pachaas hajaar, sarkaar’. `Tumhara naam kya hai, Basanti’? `Yun toh hamein zyaada baat karne ki aadat nahin hai’. `Budhiya jail mein chakki peesing and peesing’. `Itna sannaata kyon hai, bhai’? The dialogues, and there are so many more, are iconic, and have seeped into our pop culture. The mournful mouth-organ tune and the growing, silent smoulder between Amitabh and Jaya, the more earthy equation between Dharmendra and Hema, the camaraderie between the two denim-clad male leads, and how well they horsed ( we saw more of it many more films, especially ‘Chupke Chupke’), the tragic backstory of the `thakur’, and all the gun play which still has the power to thrill, nearly 40 years later.
I found bits of the long jail sequence dull, like I had before, and a flashback involving Jaya wisely taken out at the time it first released, made me wince this time around. But only for that moment, because I was caught up with the rest again, and enthralled all over again. It feels surprisingly undated, and fresh.
You can divide Hindi cinema into two eras, pre-and-post ‘Sholay’. It is a landmark. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.