Note-Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy Independence Day. 40 Years ago this day, the iconic Sholay had released. Here’s a personal tribute of sorts to the film,as I reflect back in time over Sholay.
For someone who wasn’t even born when Sholay actually released in India (15th August, 1975), I am proud to say that I’ve seen the film thrice in theatres. Sholay was a film which I kept hearing of when I was growing up, both my parents being ardent fans of the film. Unfortunately by the time I remember frequenting theatres the film had completed its original theatrical run in Chennai or Madras as it was referred to then, the city I belonged to those days. Unfortunately there wasn’t any way to watch the film those days unless there was a re-release in your city (which happened once every few years) as it was yet to be shown on TV and there was no home video (VHS) available of the film back then in the 80’s and early 90’s. Of course things slowly changed in the mid 90’s as the film became a lot more accessible to people, creating a whole new set of fans in the process.
I was fortunate enough to watch Sholay for the 1st time in the late 1980’s in Central Theatre, Coimbatore. One of the older, but well maintained theatres in the city, the place was known for its 70 MM screen, 6 track sound and for being the darling of some of the biggest Hollywood studios. So my joy knew no bounds when the film was re-released there and my parents thankfully had no problems taking me and my brother along, it looked like they were also more than eager to revisit the classic film. I sat mesmerized while watching the movie; I had no idea of the backstories behind the film then, nor understood till then why the film had acquired a cult status. But what I remember is that the film kept me hooked from the start till the end, it was a proud feeling for me to get acquainted with the film, each and every character and dialogue went on to become popular for me.
I guess the film finally got premiered on T.V, Doordarshan in fact in 1996 (was it for Republic Day or Independence Day?) and the whole Nation sat glued to the film then. Later on the film went on to become available on home video and a proud property on satellite T.V as well, but there was no fear of over exposure killing the movie at any point of time. The only point of discomfort for me when I saw the film for the first time was when Jai (Amitabh) dies, being a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan, any film in which he dies (and there are many such) gave me grief in my childhood :). But if Jai’s death made me sad, I also appreciated his valour as he sacrificed his life to save his friend. Till today I think the Jai-Veeru Jodi remains one of the best ever examples to talk about in reference to friendship as seen in Indian Cinema.
Watching the film again and again over the years brought me in terms with the fact that perhaps this is the grandest ever film made in the history of Indian Cinema. Considering the scale it was mounted on 40 years ago and the kind of talent that was involved in the film, I doubt if we would ever witness a similar spectacle anytime soon over here. Thanks to Anupama Chopra’s popular book, Sholay: The Making of a Classic, today we are privy to a lot of interesting trivia about the film and several anecdotes relating to the period when the film was shot. On the other hand there has also been criticism for the kind of fan following the film has, with veteran actors like Naseeruddin Shah dumbing down the film. Sholay may have been an inspired film, but then how many films in India have withstood the test of time and continue to be watched, debated, and loved even today? That’s what films like Sholay and DDLJ are exceptional, you may have reservations with these films, but can you deny the kind of reach and following that these films have?
Sometime in 2004 Sholay went on to be re-released in select screens in a few cities in India. I was in Hyderabad when I could have watched it at Prasad’s Multiplex (which also houses IMAX), but the show was at 11 P.M and I had an early morning flight the next day. Considering the length of the film and that I did not want to sleep during the film, I ended up watching something else instead that night, a decision I still regret. However years later, in 2013 I got an opportunity to watch the film once again, this time at PVR Juhu in a special screening organized by Zee Cinema, something I feel so proud of attending. A lot of people seemed to be watching the film on the big screen for the 1st time; hence quite a few people were busy continuously clicking screen shots on their mobile cameras. After a while it got so irritating that a friend of mine actually went over and snatched the phone from someone sitting in the front row, only to issue a warning and return the phone back promptly. But the act worked and we did not face the same problem for the rest of the show thankfully.
Similar to the characters Deep (Sanjay Suri) and Rishi (Rahul Bose) from Jhankaar Beats (2003) even I’ve enjoyed doing impromptu Sholay quizzes, some of the questions having become legendary in quizzing circles considering the popularity of the film by now. Sholay is also another film where the entire experience of revisiting it becomes memorable as you pre-empt the dialogues in advance and say it aloud, and even if you are watching it in a theatre/multiplex there’s nothing to worry. Everyone around you perhaps is also in a similar position :), Salim-Javed’s dialogues are so effective and powerful. Be it the fiery exchanges between Thakur and Gabbar, Jai trying to “hard sell” his friend Veeru to Basanti’s mausi as an ideal match for her daughter or even the water tank episode where Veeru tries to “attempt suicide”, the dialogues have gained an epic status by now. No wonder that it in terms of inflation adjustment the lifetime business would be an envious figure indeed.
Over the last few years we kept hearing of the 3D version of the film getting readied for release and after quite a few hiccups the film finally saw a release in 3D (along with a small run of the 2D version as well) across the country in 2014. If not for the considerable cost involved in the conversion to 3D the box office collections actually did look quite considerably good. The show that I myself saw at Cinepolis Bhandup was housefull on a Sunday, once again most of the people seemed to be watching it in theatre for the 1st time. Call me a purist or whatever but I did not enjoy the 3D version of the film, I found the effects to be distracting, tacky at places and the reworked music at places (apparently) spoiled the experience for me. I would say that releasing the digitally restored version of the film with Dolby 7.1 and/or Dolby Atmos sound would be the best thing that can be done to truly enjoy the film. If nothing I would love to revisit the film once again in theatre if possible when the film completes its 50th anniversary, there would be no bigger treat possible for fans of Sholay.
Sholay is not just a film, it’s an experience. It is a film which tells me a lot even today and there is not a single film which has so far even come close enough to being an all-time Indian favourite. Films like Sholay are not planned, they just happen. Hats off to Ramesh Sippy, Salim-Javed and the entire team of Sholay, knowingly or unknowingly they have given us a gift that remains unparalleled.