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900 not out!

The romance continues. On January 11 this year, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) completed 900 weeks at a Mumbai theatre, Maratha Mandir, making it the longest running film in Indian cinema. And producer Yash Chopra’s dream of a 1,000-week run, once thought impossible, doesn’t seem like a tall order any more.

The 1995 film was Chopra’s son Aditya’s first film as a director. Yash Chopra died in October last year, but couldn’t mask his happiness when in August, 2001 the film broke the 1975 film Sholay’s 286-week record stint at another Mumbai theatre, Minerva, with an uninterrupted 300-week run.

“I’d been told that the film would be a big hit, that it would celebrate a silver jubilee and a golden jubilee. But never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that it would run for 300 weeks!” he’d exulted.

When the film — made in the 25th year of Yash Raj Films — premiered at Mumbai’s New Excelsior theatre on October 20, the debutant director couldn’t have imagined that it was rewriting box-office history. Aditya Chopra, who had been checking and re-checking the newly-installed Dolby digital sound all day, disappeared just before the unveiling, showing up only after the interval to nervously join his music directors, Jatin and Lalit Pandit, in the foyer.

The trio would occasionally peek through the door, trying to gauge the audience’s reaction to the film. The silence in the darkened auditorium was ominous and ended only when the credits started rolling. Then, the guests slowly rose to their feet and started clapping. “The standing ovation went on for five minutes,” Yash Chopra reminisced years later.

Eighteen years after its release, Raj and Simran — the film’s protagonists — are still inviting people to fall in love — a change from Ramesh Sippy’s curry western that ended with dacoit Gabbar Singh’s bloody death in the original version. Censor disapproval led to the scene being changed — with the cop being called to haul the dacoit away. The original end was retained in the “Director’s Cut Version” in the DVD versions and Sholay went on to enjoy a five-year run at Minerva from 1975.

But the film had initially been dismissed as a “flop show”. The morning after its premiere on August 15, 1975, Sholay was flooded with criticism. Some described it as a second-rate take-off on the superhit Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), others renamed it Chholey with teen maharathi aur ek chooha (three warriors and a mouse) in response to its villain, Gabbar Singh’s (Amjad Khan) squeaky voice.

Dharmendra, who played Veeru in the film, had admitted to this correspondent that they had not been expecting it to be a hit. “It opened to scathing reviews with one critic dismissing it as ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’,” he recalled.

Shaken by the dismal collections, Sippy had planned to re-shoot the ending, resurrecting Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and reuniting him with Radha (Jaya Bachchan) in the hope that it would bring the audience back.

But after a lukewarm first week, collections miraculously picked up on the second Sunday and kept growing. Ten weeks after its release, India’s first 70-mm film in stereophonic sound was declared a blockbuster, playing in 102 theatres.

It remained unchallenged for 70-75 weeks in three theatres, celebrated a golden jubilee in 60 and a silver jubilees in over a 100 cinemas. In Calcutta’s Jyoti cinema it ruled for 103 weeks and in Minerva it ran uninterrupted for 286 weeks till December 10, 1980. It is said that for the first 75 weeks the current booking counter in Minerva didn’t open. Then, as the craze abated, between 1978 and 1980, it was screened only in matinee shows.

Sholay’s record for the longest running film in Indian cinema was broken only two decades later, in 2001, by DDLJ. In February 2009, the Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol starrer set a new record by completing a 700-week run, and two years later, Yash Chopra threw a party when it completed its eighth century run.

This correspondent remembers a movie buff explaining DDLJ’s phenomenal run with the fatalistic cliché, “Sab kismet ka khel hai (Its destiny)!” Interestingly, Kismet, which was released in Mumbai’s Roxy theatre in 1943, was the first Hindi film to set a theatre record with an uninterrupted 192-week run at Calcutta’s Roxy cinema. In fact, till Sholay came along 32 years later, Kismet was Hindi cinema’s biggest grosser even though it was panned by critics for glamourising crime and bestowing fortune and a beautiful lady on its anti-hero who picked pockets.

Rai Bahadur Chunilal, who was on the Bombay Censor Board, was lambasted for allegedly misusing his powers and getting a so-called objectionable film passed because he was the general manager of Bombay Talkies studio that had produced Kismet. However, the criticism only whipped up mass hysteria and people came in droves to see the film. And they kept coming for over three years!

BOLLYWOOD ON RECORD

K. Asif’s epic extravaganza Mughal-e-Azam (1960) enjoyed a 150-week run.

Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat (1949) ran in Calcutta for 100 weeks.

The Marathi film Sangte Aika (1959) celebrated a century-run in Pune, and V.Shantaram’s Shakuntala (1943) reigned for 104 weeks in Mumbai.

Sooraj Barjatya’s directorial debut Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) celebrated a golden jubilee, as did his second film, Hum Aapke Hain Koun! (1994), both starring Salman Khan.

Hrithik Roshan’s first film Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000) ran for a year, as did Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein (2000).

Dharmesh Darshan’s Aamir-Karisma starrer Raja Hindustani (1996) ran for 50 weeks.

HOLLYWOOD ON RECORD

The longest running film reportedly is the musical comedy horror The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), still in limited release.

Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) ran for a year.

Star Wars (1977) was screened for 44 weeks.

Back to the Future (1985) ran for 37 weeks.

Beverley Hills Cop (1984) was in the theatres for 30 weeks.