It was first released on August 15th, 1975. Thirty eight years later, the 3D version of Sholay was released on Jan 3, 2014.
Two generations have passed, but Sholay remains the most successful movie ever made in India. Some would argue that Dulhaniya Dilwale…, and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun were more successful. And Jai Santoshi Maa, released in the same year as Sholay, was one of the top blockbusters of all time.
But Sholay is in a class apart. The movie stands alone at the very top of Indian cinema’s best-ever movie greats.
Yet, there was nothing original about the movie. The story-line was just the same as any other desi Western, like ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’, ‘Ganga Jumna’, ‘Gora aur Kala’, and several others. And there was nothing original about the movie’s music score. The background score was based on Ennio Morricone’s music in ‘For a few dollars more’. The main song, Mehebooba, mehebooba, was a direct copy of a Greek song, Ta Ryalia, composed by Michalis Violaris, two years before Sholay was made. The villain’s den, was ‘inspired’ by the rocky terrain of ‘The Guns of Navarone’.
Indeed, Sholay was pronounced a flop by critics when it was first released. Its popularity gradually grew, solely through word of mouth. Three months after its release, Sholay really took off and then went on to break every known box-office record.
Minerva Talkies in central Bombay, ran the movie for six full years. I lost count of how many times I saw Sholay in those days. Right through my graduation years, whenever we felt we had nothing else to do, we’d take a bus downtown and watch Sholay.
If one were to single out a reason for Sholay’s huge popularity, I’d say that single reason was its villain. Amjad Khan in the role of Gabbar Singh did more than create history. His Gabbar Singh was the embodiment of unadulterated sadistic evil. He had not one redeeming quality about him. The man was just pure evil. Gabbar Singh became the benchmark in cinematic villainy, the standard against which all other villains would be measured.
And yet, he was and still is the most popular villain in Indian cinema. We knew each of his dialogs and mannerisms by heart. (And I still do!) But, no matter how many times we saw the movie, Gabbar Singh would send a chill up our spines.
Danny Denzongpa was the original choice for Gabbar Singh’s role, but he was unavailable. Amjad Khan’s selection is a mystery, but it turned out to be a historical choice. It was only his second movie, and Amjad Khan put everything he had into the role. His preparation was meticulous, he did a lot of research on the dacoits of the Chambal, he studied ‘Abhishapta Chambal’ authored by Jaya Bhaduri’s father and spent time in the Chambal valley.
He even chewed raw chunks of coal, to stain his teeth black for the role.
Gabbar Singh was so popular in fact, that he is the only villain who became a brand ambassador for a consumer product – for Brittania’s Glucose D biscuits (of all the things!). His catch-phrase for the ad, ‘Gabbar ki asli pasand’, became as well-known as his dialogs in Sholay.
There was another factor in Sholay’s success. And that was its remarkable cinematography. Until Sholay, the term ‘cinematography’ was largely unknown to Indian audiences. The cameraman, as we knew him, was a shadowy figure who lurked behind the scenes and all he did was to hold the camera steady. Dwarka Divecha changed all that with his ground-breaking work in Sholay.
Sholay was the first Indian movie to use the 70mm format. However, the producer GP Sippy, could not afford 70 mm cameras. Divecha shot the movie using conventional 35mm cameras and later converted the film to 70mm format and six-track stereophonic sound. The result was awe-inspiring. Sholay, in its full 70mm version, was majestic. The opening credits and the train dacoity scene made our jaws drop. The climax of the movie, albeit heavily censored, gave us goose pimples.
Of course, the rest of the cast were also responsible for Sholay’s immense success.
But for me, Sholay is about Gabbar Singh and Amjad Khan. Remove Gabbar Singh, and Sholay becomes just another chapati Western. No one else could play that role as Amjad Khan did, as Amitabh Bachchan discovered to his cost when he attempted to play Gabbar Singh in Ramgopal Verma’s disastrous remake of Sholay.
Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya!
Cheers … Srini.