With significant many accolades to back up our claim, we easily pronounce Ramesh Sippy's Sholay as one such landmark in the history of Indian cinema.
Released on 15th August - a little short of 3 decades after the Indian independence - in 1975, Sholay opened to a lukewarm response initially, perhaps a sign of the 'calm' before the proverbial storm that was going to take the audiences by a rage for a long time to come after! Riding high on its 60 golden jubilees, having run as long as 268 consecutive weeks in one theatre in Mumbai, Sholay continues to be the highest grosser of Indian cinema in all times, when factors like inflation are accounted and adjusted for.
The story of notorious thieves, Jai and Veeru, whose thick bonding has long stood a benchmark for onscreen friends, these two protagonist characters go onto evolve into a then contemporary Indian version of Robin Hood(s), in their own space and rights. Hired as defenders by the 'retired-hurt' honest cop Thakur, these two safeguard the oppressed village of Ramgarh (technically Ramnagaram, Karnataka, the shooting location), against the atrocities of the widely wanted dacoit of the region, Gabar Singh. And amidst much action and theatrics unfolds also, the subtle love story of Jai with Thakur's submissive widow bahu Radha, and Veeru with the bubbly chatterbox Basanti. Side characters like angrezon ke time ka jailor, the blind good man Imam, sincerely always Ramlal, faithful sidekicks Samba and Kaaliya, pyaar ki dushman Mausi, partner in all chats and crimes Dhanno among others, have been just as unforgettable as the prime leads.
And perhaps therein lies the greatest legend of Sholay, in how each of its character has come about to be a trendsetter of its own kind, like prototypes in their own categories which have inspired years of fictional characters after. The dialogue writing, in addition, has gone the longest mile to serve the record making interest of this movie and its team - and in testimony, Sholay was the first Bollywood blockbuster to release its official 'dialogue soundtrack' in the market, which were a huge sell out back in the day, and continue sales even now. Quoted, and re-quoted in countless movies that followed, not to mention oh-so-many stand up comic acts, Sholay has lived on through the transition of generations, to sustain its evergreen popularity.
Some lesser known facts about Sholay:
* Everyone knows how the onscreen alliances of this movie, actually translated into real life wedlock(s). What few people know, is how Amitabh Bachchan married Jaya Bhaduri (nee) just four months prior to the commencement of shooting, and the schedules had to eventually be shifted around as she got pregnant with daughter Shweta in the duration of filming for Sholay. Dharamender on the other hand, working on striking courtship with Hema Malini, his co star previously from the blockbuster Seeta Aur Geeta, paid the spot boys to spoil 'romantic' scenes and render several retakes inevitable!
* Amitabh Bachchan was preceded as a choice to play Jai, by Shotgun Shatrughan Sinha, but worked hard to pursue his chance and got it. Amjad Khan was also not the first choice to enact Gabar Singh, but stepped into the role after Danny Denzongpa turned down the offer owing date clash. Additionally, Dharamender was originally keen to play the armless Thakur, and Sanjeev Kumar was offered the role of Veeru. However, with Hema playing Basanti, Dharam paaji eagerly accepted the role exchange!
* Sholay was co-written by famous lyricist Javed Akhtar, who at that point was still finding a firm foothold in the industry and initially indulged in script writing, along with Salman Khan's father Salim, for a while, before devoting his skills to the task of song writing.
* From the lack of initial response, the movie was under the threat of being a short-lived showing on big screens country wide, until word of mouth brought in numbers, which thereafter continued to grow exponentially.
* The movie took two and half years to complete shooting, with Ramesh Sippy striving for unprecedented perfection (up to that point) and simple sequences like Radha (Jaya) lighting lamps taking 20 days of retakes due to daylight inconsistency, and the famous "Yeh Dosti" song being filmed in as many as 21 days.
* As an ode to director Sippy, a hamlet in the original shooting location of Ramnagaram near Bangalore was named Sippynagar by the locals of the area.
* The character of Gabar Singh was inspired by a real life dacoit in the Gwalior ghats at that time, who was infamously known to cut the ears and nose of honest officers taken captive by his men. But perhaps even more interesting is that Veeru's suicide scene from atop the water tank was also inspired by a real life incident!
That Sholay continues to live on in name and fame to date, is a laurel well earned and deserved by the cast and crew of the movie. And if reading this retro review has brought back some good old memories, you know the drill - go get snug into a couch with the largest popcorn bucket and watch the movie again, for the nth time!