Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Sept 11, SHOLAY

Cut to India.

The most popular western ever made here.


Ramesh Sippy

Sholay can be said to have inaugurated the modern period of commercial Hindi cinema. Often described as India's best-known "curry" western, Sholay was 'patterned' on American spaghetti westerns, though as with any other good Hindi film, the presumed 'copy' is at least as interesting as the 'original'. The addition of romance, comedy, and songs gave it the ambiance that one expects of a Hindi film. The film narrates the story of an ex-cop Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) who hires two jail birds (Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra) to eradicate a town and neighbouring villages of the menace of Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) and his band of dreaded dacoits.

The film made use of several interesting innovations. This included its spectacular cinematography, with shots panning over rocky heights and barren canyons, often under menacing clouds. This lends the movie much of its eerie tension. One of the long opening scenes, which shows a train being defended by Baldev Singh against an attack by bandits, is quite spectacular in its effects, and is reminiscent of similar scenes in westerns, most notably John Ford's "Stagecoach" (1939). Sholay, likewise, plays upon themes of nature versus culture, the encroachment of nature upon culture, and the meaning of civilization in wilderness.

“Kitne aadmi the?”

But Sholay will also be remembered for the heights it took villainy to in Indian films. Unlike earlier villains who were content to bring about a misunderstanding between the lovers' families, Amjad Khan's Gabbar seems to pursue evil as an end in itself.

Sholay presents interesting parallels with its predecessor by nearly two decades, Mehboob Khan's Mother India, notably in the enduring trope of the daku (Indian English "dacoit") or highwayman—an outlaw whose popular representations span the gamut from freedom-loving Robin Hood to rapacious sociopath. Unlike in the former, the dakus of Sholay—from their first appearance in the flashback of the train-shootout—are unambiguously evil and bent on carnage, yet they are apparently ensconced in the very heart of the nation (the film's visual setting is the plateau country of the northern Deccan, India's midsection), and the forces of social order (here focused in the brooding patriarch, Thakur Baldev Singh) are powerless to defeat them. Indeed, the sadistic Gabbar Singh has brutally murdered this "Father India's" two sons and has literally cut off his law-administering arms (cf. the comparable though "accidental" mutilation of the father in Mother India). To strike back, Singh must (as he puts it) "use iron to cut iron," replacing his slain offspring and severed arms with two "adopted" criminal “hands,” who alone possess the requisite bravery (and moral ambivalence) to track down the monster in his lair.

Significantly, a mere six weeks before the premiere of Sholay, on June 26 1975, another self-styled "Mother India," Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, claiming that anti-social forces imperiled the nation and that draconian measures were required to prevent chaos, imposed a "State of Emergency," suspending constitutional rights and jailing thousands of political opponents. In retrospect, Sippy’s cinematic epic appears as a surprisingly dark and prescient parable of the erosion of traditional order and the brutalization of politics in the once-happy
village of Ramgarh—the Nation writ cinemascope.

One of the biggest hits in history of Bollywood, Sholay (in English as Embers, Flames, Flames of the Sun), was recognized as the Best Film of 50 years at the 50th Filmfare awards. It was India's first 70 mm, stereophonic sound film and was released on Friday, August 15, 1975, with as many as 250 prints, including at the Minerva Theatre in Bombay (now Mumbai). This was the first film in the history of Indian cinema to celebrate silver jubilee (25 weeks) at over a hundred theatres across India. To date, more than 1,100 prints of Sholay are in circulation-the highest number for any Hindi film.

Although initially declared a commercial disaster, Sholay went on to become the most successful film in Indian film history. It is the highest grossing movie of all time in
India with collections of Rs. 2,134,500,000/- or US $ 50 million. Even today, it remains the box office gold, a reference point for both the Indian film-going audience & the film industry.

The large cast of super-stars contributed to that, as did the memorable dialogues between Gabbar and Baldev Singh, and between Gabbar and his henchmen. Amjad Khan played the role with perfection, and not without sardonic humor. His lines became so popular that cassettes of Gabbar's dialogues were being sold separately, to be learnt by rote by millions of movie goers.

It is widely acknowledged by movie critics to be one of the best movies ever created by Bollywood and to be the most watched and popular. It was declared "Film of the Millenium" by BBC India and internet polls in 1999.

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