In the Indian mythological epic – Raamayan, Sage Vishwamitra asks King Dashrath for his sons – Ram and Lakshman to take on the might of the evil demons, creating havoc in the pious forests inhabited by the saints and finally the twosome kills all the evil ones, restoring peace and Dharma once again.
Millenniums later, in the celluloid era, a movie was made in Japan – Seven Samurai (1954) directed by Akira Kurosawa, which portrayed the story of a veteran Samurai (Japanese militaryman) taking six others with him to get the better of a dangerous bandit which is synonymous with terror in his village. This story inspired many Indian cine-script writers to make its Bollywoodish versions which came in the form of Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), Khote Sikkay (1974), Karma (1986), Army (1996), China Gate (1998), Keemat (1998) etc. However the most impactful of the Indianized versions of Seven Samurai is definitely – Sholay (1975) which was written by the high-profile cine-script writers, Salim-Jaaved. Though they had taken inspiration from Seven Samurai as well as the Hollywood movie – Magnificent Seven (1960) for it; yet, by default, Sholay turned out, not at all a shadow of these or any other movie on similar lines. It developed an identity of its own and became a legendary movie of the Indian cinema.While acknowledging thanks my dear friend Deepak M.R. who has been pursuing me to pen a review of this movie, I admit that my procrastination to write this review was reasoned by my dilemma as to whether I would be able to do justice to this landmark movie or not which is undoubtedly the most popular movie in the history of the Indian cinema.Sholay (flames) is based on the theme of the revenge-seeking mission of an ex-cop Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) whose all family members but for himself and his young daughter-in-law, Radha (Jaya Bhaduri) have been killed by the dangerous dacoit – Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who has deprived him of his hands too. Handicapped Thakur seeks the help of two petty thieves – Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jay (Amitabh Bachchan) who visit his village, Ramgarh only to earn money in return of helping him. However, the knowledge of the truth transforms their hearts and they fight tooth and nail with the bandit and his gang. Jay loses his life in this mission whereas Veeru gains the love of his life in the form of Basanti (Hema Malini).It is said that good pieces are made through hard, sincere and planned work but masterpieces are born by default. The same thing has happened to Sholay. It’s a masterpiece by default and not by deliberate effort. The screenplay contains many loopholes and it’s definitely overdramatic, devoid of the naturalness to a large extent. Still it keeps the viewer hooked because the high-quality and all round entertainment provided does not allow him to caste an eye upon any loophole. In fact, had the story been portrayed as a natural one, perhaps it would not have enabled the movie to be considered a classic. The over-the-top nature of the picturization alongwith comic and witty dialogues (and their memorable delivery) is something which makes this entertaining movie not only more entertaining but also an unforgettable experience for the viewer. It’s this trait only which provides unmeasurable repeat value to this movie. No surprise that several spectators have watched it dozens of times.
There are two major plus points of this movie adding spice to its already high entertainment value – 1. The mannerisms of the villain, Gabbar Singh and his theatrical dialogue delivery, 2. The comedy generated by Veeru, Basanti, Jay and some insignificant characters like Angrezon Ke Zamaane Ka Jailor (Asrani) and Soorma Bhopali (Jagdeep). The scene of Veeru climbing up the water tank in a drunken state, threatening to commit suicide and demanding the hand of Basanti in marriage, is definitely the best comedy scene of Dharmendra’s career.
Sholay is just like a dish in which every ingredient and every required spice is just optimum, making it a highly delicious one, rendering the eater a taste to remember forever. And that taste is such that it draws the eater again and again towards the dish. It’s not a realistic movie about the bandits of India (now replaced by the white-collared and sophisticated bandits who seem to be above the law). It’s an entertaining movie, providing wholesome entertainment through the activities of the characters who may not be found in this world. I consider Sholay as the biggest fantasy whose unique characteristic is that apparently it does not render the look of a fantasy.
Director Ramesh Sippy has directed the movie well despite loopholes and inconsistencies which are overlooked by us because we are mesmerized by the entertainment we get through the narrative. It is a movie which keeps the audience in a hypnotized state right from the start to the finish. Besides, it has earned so much name and fame that we find it good because we expect it to be good.
Technical and production value aspects are quite high despite the fact that almost the whole story takes place in the rural setting. Music by R.D. Burman is quite okay, neither excellent, nor bad. The Holi song is definitely one of the best Holi songs from the Bollywood movies. Ditto can be said for the friendship song of Jay and Veeru.
The biggest strength of the movie is the dialogues, especially the dialogues of the villain, Gabbar Singh. These dialogues alongwith Gabbar Singh, his sidekick – Saambha (played by Mac Mohan) and a member of his gang – Kaalia (played by Viju Khote) have become so popular that now they are a part of the Indian folklore. Who can forget – ‘Arre O Saambha’ and ‘Tera Kya Hoga Kaaliya’. And – ‘Jo Dar Gaya Samjho Mar Gaya’ is now quoted like a maxim.
The high-profile star cast of Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and Jaya Bhaduri has excelled in the roles assigned. Everybody gets full marks for the underplay (Amitabh, Jaya and Sanjeev) and overplay (Dharmendra-Hema) as required by the situation in the scene. Asrani has been given the get-up of Hitler in his completely over-the-top role of Angrezon Ke Zamaane Ka Jailor (the Jailor of the British times) but he and others like him generate laughters as demanded by their roles. Leela Mishra, A.K. Hangal, Sachin etc. also leave their mark in their cameos. A.K. Hangal’s emotional performance upon the demise of his son, Sachin is something to remember forever. It’s a movie in which every character is able to maintain his / her identity. Leave aside human characters, even the animal – Dhanno (the mare of Basanti, driving her tonga) has become something unforgettable.
And finally, it’s Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who has become immortal because of this movie. Never in the history of cinema, a villain had amassed so much popularity which overtook the popularity of the hero / heroes. Amjad Khan never got such a role in his career again and also could never come out of the hangover of this role. Gabbar Singh with his mannerisms has become a legend.
Sholay is a movie in which the negatives also turned out to be the positives and everything just fell in place to render it a class of its own. It made a record by running continuously for five years (in all the shows) in the Minerwa theatre of Mumbai. It has been re-released many times and the Indian folklore has absorbed it. I need not recommend this movie. It recommends itself.
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