Apurv Shukla –
As India completed 68 years of its Independence on August 15, it also marked a historic day for Hindi cinema.
On that day, ‘Sholay,’ the biggest blockbuster of all times was released, changing the phase of Indian cinema forever. Directed by Ramesh Sippy, this extravaganza rewrote the concept of film-making, broke all records and brought to fame Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar as big fans of Western actioners. Sholay owes its genesis to famous Westerns such as ‘The Seven Samurai’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven.’
The tag line for the film was, ‘The greatest star cast ever assembled.’
It was for the first time that one of the biggest stars of the times, Dharmendra was cast alongside an upcoming actor Amitabh Bachchan, fresh from the success of ‘Zanjeer.’
Hema Malini and Jaya Bachchan reprised roles of their love interests respectively; a part they were playing, or about to play in real life for the respective actors.
The versatile Sanjeev Kumar played the ageing patriarch, out to take revenge on the pain inflicted on his family by the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh.
Never before, or after has a villain’s role received as big a cult status as Gabbar did.
Amjad Khan played the tobacco chewing, foul mouthed terror.
But he was not the first choice for the role.
Danny Denzongpa was initially pencilled in for the part, but walked out of the film as he was committed to shooting Feroz Khan’s ‘Dharmatma’ at the time.
Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan both expressed a keen desire to play this part. But writer Salim Khan was convinced that he had found his Gabbar in the stage actor.
It was the first and last time that Amjad Khan and Salim-Javed collaborated on a project.
Gabbar became the biggest abiding memory from this classic. His mannerisms were copied by film buffs and records of his dialogues were released.
Such was Gabbar’s fame that he became the first actor in a villainous role to endorse a product (Parle G Biscuits in 1976).
In the first two weeks of its release Sholay was considered a box office failure.
The film industry was sceptical as the film had one of the leading men getting killed by the villain in the pre-climax. It was also felt that Sholay did not accord a prominent role for a mother, an essential ingredient for success in the 1970s.
But Sippy and his writers were confident. And were they proved right; once the film picked up, it was virtually unstoppable.
Sholay was the first film to celebrate 25 weeks of successful run simultaneously in 100 cinemas throughout the country.
Sholay has given us characters which are remembered to date. Aside from the main stars, many actors in smaller parts also achieved fame. Among them were Asrani playing a jailor, Jagdeep in the role of a wheeler-dealer Soorma Bhopali and Gabbar’s henchmen Kalia and Sambha played respectively by Viju Khote and Mac Mohan.
It is hard to pinpoint specific reasons for the film’s success.
Here was a big budget entertainer mounted spectacularly, which used the canvas of a Hollywood adventure, but filled it with colours Indian audiences never done before.
Sholay was a revenge drama but embellished with emotions that had an impact on millions.
The late Khushwant Singh said in his review of ‘Sholay’ (in Illustrated Weekly of India of which he was the Editor), “Sholay may have its faults and slips. However, its success in the box-office is assured and the film can boast of having made unmistakable contribution of the greatest villain to Hindi Cinema – Gabbar Singh.”