Directed by: Ramesh Sippy
Written by: Salim-Javed
Music: RD Burman
Starring: Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri,
AK Hangal, Asrani, Jagdeep, Sachin, MacMohan, Helen
What can I say about Sholay that hasn’t been said (or written) before? How do you review a film that has been dissected and analysed within an inch of its length? Everyone knows the story, and probably can recite it backwards. Javed says quite honestly that it was a four-line idea that they (Salim and he) developed into a whole script.
The fact that a multi-starrer had such well-etched roles for everybody was a surprise, though. Because it was not just the five main characters who are noteworthy; there was a host of minor characters: mausi (Leela Mishra), angrez zamaane ka jailor (Asrani), Haririam nai (Keshto) who is the stool pigeon, the imam saahib (AK Hangal), Samba (MacMohan), Kaalia (Viju Khote), Surma Bhopali (Jagdeep), even Dhanno (Basanti’s horse)… can anyone who has seen the film ever forget these characters?
Today, more than three decades after the film was originally released, it is one of the movies that has withstood the test of time, without seeming dated. And therefore, this will (mostly) be a photo essay of some of my favourite scenes from an all-time favourite film.
1. The fight on the train
The thakur is asking a visitor (a police official) to trace two criminals; when asked why, he narrates his first meeting with them, when he had to take them, by train, to a jail far away. The dacoits attack the train, and the two convicts beg that they be allowed to help. As he lies wounded, they are the ones who fight until the dacoits fall back. Then, instead of escaping, they carry him to the nearest hospital.
Why: For the enormous sweep of the shot. It’s one of the best choreographed fight sequences ever shot, and that is saying something today. The dusty, barren land, the horses galloping beside the train, the long shots that showed you the grandeur of the dusty plains and steep ravines.
2. Angrez zamaane ka Jailor
Asrani is a jailor who seems to be dressed up as Hitler. He is gung-ho about discipline but seems to get himself into all sorts of silly situations. I also like that 'For he's a jolly good fellow' is playing the background when he marches up to the prisoners.
Why: For its sheer absurdity. And for setting the scene for a further comic interlude with the barber who is the jailor’s spy. For the absolutely deadpan expressions on Veeru’s and Jai’s faces as they discuss elaborate escape plots.
3. Soorma Bhopali
When Veeru and Jai jump jail, they go to the lumber trader, who is busy regaling folks with tales of how he had caught the much-wanted goons and handed them over to the police. On and on he rambles, exaggerating his own importance, egged on by Veeru who stands behind him. His expression of terror when he finds out they have been listening to his tall tales? Priceless!
Why: For its unintentional humour. I mean, for the humour that is experienced only by us, the audience. The character is in throes of shaking in his shoes.
4. Gabbar Singh
Gabbar’s men have been run off by Veeru and Jai. As they return crestfallen, their leader is not very happy. He is very soft-spoken, the castigation very quiet that it makes them (and us) jump when he raises his voice in a profanity.
Why: For the sheer terror. The introductory scene is fantastic – all you can see are shoe-clad feet and a swinging belt. It is the expression on the faces of Gabbar’s men that makes you sense all is not well. And his response to their failure? A Russian roulette, and absolute cold-bloodedness. The maniacal laughter at the end? Wow. Just. Wow!
5. After Holi
Gabbar Singh attacks right in the middle of the Holi celebrations. As Veeru and Jai battle against the bandits, they are furious to see the Thakur take no part in the battle at all, not even to help them when they are in dire straits. While Jai remains the silent partner, the more voluble Veeru castigates him for his cowardice.
Why: For its sheer power. It’s an intense sequence – the men have hired to fight for the man whose courage they respect; now that is gone, they want out. The Thakur's backstory is revealed then; and realisation strikes - the Thakur could not have helped even if he wanted to.
The scene was all the more powerful because of the silence - there is no defence; only a story re-told. It is the wind that blows his shawl off his shoulders. The look on the Thakur’s face, the dawning realisation on that of Veeru’s, the sympathy on Jai's, the silent villagers… perfect!
6. The massacre of the Thakur’s family
A happy family going about their own business. The elder daughter-in-law cleaning the pulses; the daughter hanging the clothes; the younger son loading a rifle and waiting for his nephew to come along so they can go hunting; aiming at a bird in the sky, and then one single shot – and the man drops. A lone horseman is seen in the distance. Then slowly, one by one, almost for sport, each person, including the child, is slowly dispatched with the same dispassionate approach.
Why: For its implied brutality, which is all the more powerful, because the deaths are quiet, almost non-violent. Apart from them all dropping like flies where they stand. And the slow ominous creaking of the swing… chilling!
7. Radha revealing her feelings for Jai
Jai and Veeru learn that the gypsies who supply Gabbar Singh with ammunition have arrived in the village. They sneak in to destroy the supplies; in the skirmish Jai is wounded. Veeru brings him back home and is explaining to the Thakur when Radha comes running, not able to hide her concern, only to come to an abrupt stop when she sees her father-in-law. Not a word is exchanged between her and the Thakur, or between her and Jai.
Why: For the romance. Once again, it is a scene without dialogues between Jai and Radha. When Radha sees Jai injured, she cannot help herself. The look on her face when she sees her father-in-law is a mixture of love and concern for Jai, and guilt (for thinking things a widow shouldn’t) – what an actress! What a scene!
8. Veeru and Basanti
Basanti is praying at the Shiva temple for a husband worthy of her. Veeru, who is head over heels in love with her, decides to promote his cause, by becoming the lord’s mouthpiece. All is going swimmingly, until Jai pops up to play spoilsport. And then all hell breaks loose as Basanti lets him gives him a tidy earful.
Why: For the chemistry between the leads. Basanti was as iconic a character as Gabbar Singh. Her non-stop chatter, and her independence made her a unique heroine in the annals of Hindi cinema. She certainly didn’t wait around for the ‘hero’ to rescue her – at least not without making a good attempt at it herself. And she didn’t suffer fools gladly. Watch as she makes short shrift of Veeru after she discovers he is fooling her.
9. Jai talking to Mausi about Veeru
Having been arm-twisted into interceding on Veeru’s behalf, Jai goes to mausi with a proposal of marriage. And insists that once Veeru gets married, he will get a steady job. Oh, doesn’t he have one now? You see, he loses at cards. Oh, he gambles does he ? Not often; only when he gets drunk. So he drinks? Oh, only when he visits the local prostitute, and is forced to drink. Oh, my, only then? So on, and so forth.
Why: For the deadpan humour (and sheer spoil-sport-ed-ness); each of Mausi’s accusations is countered by Jai with what seems like a plausible excuse – only the excuse is even more egregious than the original crime. And the climax comes when mausi compliments Jai on being such a good friend to Veeru despite his bad behaviour! Such awesomeness!
10. Veeru’s suicide attempt
Veeru is in love with Basanti and has arm-twisted Jai into taking his proposal of marriage to her Mausi. Not knowing that Jai has, quite cleverly, derailed his entire marriage by painting him as a dissolute drunkard and gambler. So, Veeru decides to die. Not quietly. But publicly, from the water tower in the middle of the village. After loudly informing everyone within vicinity just why he is doing so.
Why this scene: Well, can you imagine Sholay without this scene? If you want any more reasons, for its sheer comic brilliance. And not just because Dharmendra is in top form here with his comic timing, but because his
dialogue monologue was spot-on; also because the dialogue between a naive villager and his slightly better informed compatriot (yeh soocaide kya hota hai? Jab angrez log marte hai, toh use soocaide kehte hai) was unintentionally (to them) hilarious; because of Jai’s completely unconcerned way of drinking tea (Saala, nautanki!) and his deadpan answer to Basanti’s frustrated questioning – like the movie, this scene had it all, tuned to perfection!
11. Ahmed’s death and its aftermath
Ahmed had been sent, against his will, to the city to seek employment. Gabbar had killed him, much like he squashes a fly (that is all that is shown), and now his dead body has come home on his horse. The villagers are beyond anger; they want the thakur to hand his hired goons over to the bandit. Amidst all the accusations and counter accusations the imam says quietly: Jaante ho duniya mein sabse bada bhoj kya hota hai? Baap ke kandhe pe bete ka janaaza. (Do you know the greatest burden in the world? The weight of a son’s funeral bier on a father’s shoulders.)
Why this scene: For its pathos. For a father’s loss, and his resignation and his courage. It is one of the most effective scenes in the movie. It is the imam’s support *despite* his son’s death that turns the crowd back in favour of the thakur and his men.
12. Jai’s death
The battle is won, but the price has been heavy. Jai is fatally wounded, and even as Veeru is crying over him, Jai recalls Veeru saying that Jai would tell stories to his (Veeru’s) hypothetical kids. Now those stories will remain incomplete. Then, slowly, he looks over to where Radha is standing bereft, silent, stoic, and says quietly Yeh kahani bhi adhoori reh gayi. (This story also remains incomplete.) And as they cremate him, Radha quietly closes her windows.
Why: For its heart-stopping emotion. Jai’s and Radha’s romance has been quiet and short-lived. Jai was planning to talk to the Thakur about marrying Radha; he was also going to go straight. The Thakur had been one step ahead. He had seen his daughter-in-law’s feelings and had spoken to her father about her remarriage. Radha at least knows this. It is that hope that has been taken away from her. Without Jai, that second chance at life and love seems meaningless. Closing that window is symbolic of closing out any more chances at that happiness. Touching. Very touching.
Trivia: In an interview with CNN, Amitabh Bachchan had mentioned how there had been talk of changing the ending. Released on Friday, by Saturday Sholay had almost been declared a disaster. The four of them, director Ramesh Sippy, writers Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan met to discuss the possible reasons for the failure. And almost decided to go down to Ramnagara (Karnataka) on Sunday to shoot an alternate ending where Jai would live, and settle down with Radha. And everything was set in motion, the units were called, when Ramesh Sippy said, ‘Let’s wait until Sunday and see’. They did, and the whole story took an unexpected turn; history was being made, and everyone (happily) dropped the idea of reshooting the end.
Funnily enough, there *was* another ending to Sholay – not the tame one that we have all seen so far. In the original ending, Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) continues to kick Gabbar with his nailed shoes, until he dies – a bloody mess. At the end, the thakur falls to his knees and sobs, crying as he never did even his family was killed. It was cut by the censors who felt that showing a man take the law into his own hands would be sending a wrong message to the viewers. Aaargh!
Apparently, the original ending is available on the Eros DVD now, as a director’s cut.
After the dialogues were written, both Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan wanted to play the role of Gabbar Singh, instead of the roles they were signed on for. Interestingly enough, Amitabh was not even the first choice for the role of Jai. Ramesh Sippy wanted to sign Shatrughan Sinha, but Amitabh lobbied hard for the role, including asking Dharmendra to put in a good word for him. Which the genial Jat did, much to the consternation of Shatrughan Sinha who was a good friend of his.
Amjad Khan was also not the first choice for Gabbar Singh. The role had been offered to Danny Denzongpa, who turned it down because he was busy shooting for Feroze Khan’s Dharmatma. Javed, who had seen Amjad Khan on stage, and had been impressed by his acting abilities had mentioned him as a prospect to Salim. They broached the topic to Ramesh Sippy who called Amjad Khan for a screen test.
Dharmendra, who had begun to romance Hema Malini in real life during the shooting of Seeta aur Geeta, apparently bribed the lightboys to mess up the shots during the shooting of Sholay. Jaya, who had married Amitabh soon after Zanjeer released, was pregnant with Shweta during the shoot.