Ramesh Sippy is the man behind Sholay. t2 caught up with him about the 1975 film that defines Bollywood.
Sholay has just released in 3D, a move that you challenged in court and lost. Do you think Sholay as a film can ever be tampered with?
The intrinsic value of the product is such that people are going to watch Sholay for the film it is. The 3D aspect is an added value, but Sholay as a film is so strong that it will continue to draw its audience. Sholay was a film far ahead of its time… in its technique, its storytelling…. There was something while making that film that drove me to say: ‘I want to do more than what has been done before’.
The Wild West look and feel was the first for a Hindi film. What were your influences and inspirations?
There was (Akira Kurosawa’s) Seven Samurai. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and all these Sergio Leone films… A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good The Bad and The Ugly… the classic setting, the lazy pace and yet that sense of expectation and danger… the magnificent visuals.
One striking aspect of Sholay is your unflinching attention to detail — from waiting for the exact hour to film the lamp-lighting scene featuring Jaya Bachchan to taking 23 days to film Gabbar Singh’s massacre of the Thakur’s family…
When you make a film and decide not to compromise on anything, then the attention to detail follows automatically. Radha (Jaya) lighting the lamp was an important scene and if it didn’t have that moment of reality and that perfect light, it wouldn’t have been as impactful as it turned out to be.
The scene was a depiction of the silent romance between Amitabhji (Jai) and Jayaji’s characters. This ‘magic hour’ as we call it in cinematic language, the time between twilight and sunset when the sky turns almost dark and yet is photographable, that’s the time we would wait for every day, to shoot that scene. Then the background music from Mr RD Burman came in the form of Jai’s harmonica and added to the whole atmosphere and, of course, one cannot forget the magnetic personality of Amitabh Bachchan and the presence of Jayaji. It’s because of such moments in the film and such attention to detail that almost 40 years later, people are still willing to watch the film in theatres.
Sholay was the first Indian film in which the villain became iconic. While making it, did you have an inkling that Gabbar would become so big?
When the script was written, there was a feeling that yes, Gabbar’s character was quite colourful and would be interesting to watch. But nothing prepared us for the kind of mania that happened after release. During the filming, there were some apprehensions: ‘Oh, he’s a new guy… his voice is so different….’ But I was so confident of Amjad Khan’s casting that I was unfazed.
From sticking to your guns about casting a relatively unknown Amitabh Bachchan to sweeping aside suggestions of dubbing Amjad Khan’s voice, Sholay was a huge risk for you...
It wasn’t a risk… it was my conviction. In my head and heart, I did what I felt was right for the film. Like I felt that Amjad Khan’s voice was his USP… that laughter… you can’t get somebody to dub that laughter.
Did your faith in the film waver at any point?
Even the most confident filmmakers do have their moments of anxiety. In January of the same year, Deewar (the Yash Chopra film starring Amitabh and Shashi Kapoor) had released and for a while, I got the jitters because Sholay didn’t have the kind of emotions that Deewar did… the emotion of a mother and son.... I was worried that it was too western a concept, but then I realised that we were doing something different and we stuck to it. The film didn’t take off as we thought, but then I kept the faith. The reviews were unflattering, but the box office turned around after that and the rest, as they say, is history and Sholay became the film you know it today. The critics who brought it down, apologised a few months later.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
That was the toss of the coin during the time when Veeru (Dharmendra) holds Jai’s dead body and tosses the coin away when he realises that his friend had deceived him with a same-sided coin. The film was shot in stereophonic sound and the impact of the sound of the coin was such that people in the hall would look under their seats for the coin. But I felt later that the placement of that sequence wasn’t right at the time because that was the time when Jai was dying. It was a fun and frivolous moment and shouldn’t have been placed in a death sequence.
The film originally had a different ending in which the Thakur smashes Gabbar to death with his spiked sandals, but you had to change it when the Censor Board objected to the violence…
Yes, there are some people who have seen that ending. Under any circumstance, that is the ending I would have liked to keep.
BULLETS WHIZZING AT YOU
Sholay is 39 years old, Sholay 3D a week young. How are Ranchi and
Jamshedpur warming up to this cult classic? t2 went spying
Watching a 39-year-old cult classic wearing 3D glasses can be anything from homage to nostalgia, a solemn duty as a film buff, an effort to satisfy curiosity or a revelation. Especially the last if you are watching Sholay for the first time on the big screen or the first time ever. But too many TV reruns, too few 3D screens in the cities and too much Dhoom made Sholay more cold ash than hot embers
Ranchi: Plaza Cinema & Meenakshi with 2D facilities; Fun Cinemas, Glitz Cinema with 3D
Jamshedpur: GT Cinema & Eylex with 2D facilities
Is Sholay 3D hot?
“Bahut jaan banki hai na is film mein. This is my take-off from Gabbar’s chilling snarl “bahut jaan baki hai na in haathon mein” when he chops off
Thakur Baldeo Singh’s
hands. Watching the film
in 3D format is thrilling as
sound and picture quality
is superb. It seems characters
are talking and moving
around me,” Ranchi
resident Sonu Prasad at
“When Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) fired bullets at the handcuffs of Jai and Veeru (Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra), it appeared that the bullets were shot at me. Amazing. This is the first time I am watching the movie on big screen,” Ranchi resident
Nikhil, a college student,
at Fun Cinemas
“It is all about the era we live in. Sholay is a super-hit film, but that was decades ago. Though Sholay’s script is better than Dhoom 3, the technology and glamour of the latter matters. I watched Sholay, but in 2D you don’t get the special
effects. Dhoom 3 was better,” Jamshedpur resident Sagar Mishra, a software consultant, who watched the film at Eylex.
“Response wasn’t good because we don’t have the technology
for 3D films. People want new
experiences,” Ranchi resident
Deepak Kumar Choudhary,
manager of Plaza Cinema,
which stopped screening
in a day
GenY knows Sholay is inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven. They know Danny Denzongpa’s loss was Amjad Khan’s Gabbar gain. They even know Jaya Bachchan was pregnant with daughter Shweta while the film was being shot and pregnant with son Abhishek when the film premiered.
But trust Ranchi’s Sholay buffs Nikhil, Vinay and Shanideo Kumar Das to come up with a cracker of a query
Q. “Do you know who was murdered in the film for real?”
A. “The ant that Gabbar had trampled under his feet”
VIJAY DEO JHA &