This week forty years ago a film was released that become a blockbuster and trend-setter Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay. These days, no films complete silver and golden jubilees—they are all opening week phenomena—but back then Sholay broke the longest running record of Kismet (1941), and in turn had its record broken by Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). The film about two criminals Jai-Veeru (Amitabh Bachchan-Dharmendra) hired by the Thakur of Rangarh (Sanjeev Kumar) to help in his fight against the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), was written by Salim-Javed at the peak of their partnership. Elements of the plot were taken from The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven and Mera Gaon Mera Desh, but the writers had created such a fabulous bunch of characters, that so many years down the line, people remember Basanti (Hema Malini), Soorma Bhopali (Jagdeep), Angrezon ke zamane ka jailer (Asrani),Mausi (LeelaMishra), Kaalia (Viju Khote), Samba (Macmohan), Rahim Chacha (AK Hangal) and the white–clad ghostly figure of the widowed Radha (Jaya Bhaduri).
The villain, Gabbar Singh is listed as one of the most memorable Bollywood villains of all time.The funny thing is that in spite of his gruesome cruelty – killing the Thakur’s whole family, including children, and chopping his arm off, Gabbar became hugely popular, so much so that he was used in biscuit ads. The grubby villain with tobacco-stained teeth, dressed in army fatigues and speaking in a sing-song way made Amjad Khan a star. And to think he was not the first choice, Danny Denzongpa was.
The lines from the film: Kitne aadmi the, Arre O Samba, Ab tere kya hoga Kaalia, Chal Dhanno, Tumhara naam kya hai Basanti, Itna sannata kyon hai bhai, and so many others passed on into common usage, and so popular was the dialogue of Sholay that its records and cassettes were sold.
Sholay, India’s first 70 mm film, was released during the Emergency, when the censors had become even more strict and cracked down on violence. The Thakur could not kick Gabbar to death with hob-nailed boots; his revenge had to be interrupted by the cops, which annoyed the director no end, because he wanted to avoid that movie cliché.
The music by RD Burman, and the background score in particular were superlative; even today when that hair-raising howling sound is heard, people indentify it as Gabbar’s tune.
Strangely, the film received scathing reviews when it was released. However, Ramesh Sippy says, it is a myth that the box-office was slow in picking up. With that cast, and the director with the hit Andaz and Seeta Aur Geeta behind him, the film was an advance-booking blockbuster. The only thing that could not be predicted is just how big a hit it would turn out to be.