Sholay Celebrates 40 Years: Why This All Time Bollywood Blockbuster Still Remains A Cult Classic

 Classic: Sholay was directed by Ramesh Sippy. The film has novelties to stun a viewer even in 2015

Classic: Sholay was directed by Ramesh Sippy. The film has novelties to stun a viewer even in 2015

Forty years ago, something amazing happened: a film, Sholay was released in theatres across India. Initially, Sholay was a flop. The reviews were scathing and the ticket sales were few. There was even talk of changing the ending of the film. It turned out that all Sholay needed was a little time and some word-of-mouth publicity. The film would go on to become the biggest grosser of 1975 and earn 60 golden jubilees across India. It would also give us a set of fantastic characters who have become iconic.

There’s a lot to love about Sholay, but one of its triumphs is that it’s not just the leading actors who played memorable roles. From Gabbar’s sidekick Sambha to the comic relief provided by Soorma Bhopali, Sholay has given us minor characters who packed major punches.

While the crux of Sholay concerns Jai and Veeru’s friendship as well as Thakur’s rivalry with Gabbar, without this delightful supporting cast of characters, Sholay wouldn’t be as enjoyable a ride. Here’s to the little guys.

Veeru (Dhamendra) and Garba Singh (Amjad Khan)
Veeru (Dhamendra) and Garba Singh (Amjad Khan)

As India celebrates 68 years of freedom and 40 years of Sholay, it perhaps makes sense to “review” the idea of Independence through the lens of this all time blockbuster, a cult classic that is both fiercely Indian and casually eclectic.

Besides the drum beats of blind worship that accompany every mention of the film, and the ad infinitum repetition of its Gabbarisms, JaiVeeruisms, the Hangal memes and the Basanti gifs, director Ramesh Sippy’s widescreen wonder has novelties to stun a viewer even in 2015.
Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar had a lightness of touch that could weave, almost unconsciously, themes far ahead of their times. The outlaws duo, with just their first names denoting a low-caste, orphaned origin, charm us with their “rogue masculinity”, but in their sentimental education, we witness the gumption of the film-maker and the scriptwriters who dreamt up that audacity.

The lawless keep the law, because law itself is under scrutiny. The law of Ramgarh is Gabbar Singh, the anti-law. But his dependence on absolute violence is nevertheless a mechanism to survive the established law, which has the scaffold of old feudal practices under a thin veil of the new state: the young government of India, barely 28 years old then.
Forty years later, even as a second-tier metro like Jaipur welcomes the metro and celebrates this upgrade in public transport as a sign of being one step closer to the hallowed modernity promised by governments of technocracy and technologies of governance, a lower-caste groom has to wear a helmet to ride a horse to his own wedding ceremony.
That is India. But this is-ness is as fluid as the muddy waters of Benares, as tepid as the waters in that centrally-placed well of Ramgarh, where Basanti waits for Veeru, people gather after a hard day’s toil and sip on gossip.

Jai (Amitabh Bachchan), then and now
Jai (Amitabh Bachchan), then and now

How did Jai-Veeru escape the caustic filter that lines every gaze of the aam Bharatiya, who is so calibrated and adjusted according to his/her religion, state, language, caste, gender, dialect, class, pin code and many other axes of comprehension? But then Hindi film industry has always been notorious for creating such non-places, mythical turfs that somehow compress the national imagination into a three-hour film and project it onto the celluloid.
Yet, even then, the faces of that imaging of the nation have always been Hindu, upper caste. Unless, it’s a “Muslim social”, Islam had its designated place in the darzi, the mausi, old chacha, in a largely Hindu, upper-caste national imaginary. Dalits were the “beloved”, almost family (but not quite) servants.

Gabbar resorts to violence to escape the clutches of law, which has the scaffold of old feudal practices
How does a pair like Jai-Veeru – half-caste, petty criminals — take that hardboiled national imaginary for a ride on their rickety bike with a sidecar? How does a Thakur — the law itself but with its hands cut off — advocate the possible remarriage of his widowed daughter-in-law with one such half-caste, outlaw? And, while “order” is restored after Jai dies in Veeru’s arms and a defeated Gabbar is handed over to law (or killed, if you’re watching the “director’s cut”), aren’t we left with a churning in our stomach for the dreamt up possibilities and extrapolations of order — a whole lot of whatcould- have-beens?
Sholay gifts us a bouquet of this-too-is-possible. It is a critique of what went before and what came after its torrential middle — the ad nauseam playback of boy meets girl without much of a bildungsroman. Perhaps such a narrative coming-of-age was impossible under a largely unchanged political superstructure, with the Nehru-Gandhi-led Congress leading or blocking the way, whichever way you choose to see it.

The stars of Sholay - Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar (deceased)and Amjad Khan (deceased)
The stars of Sholay – Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar (deceased)and Amjad Khan (deceased)

The soundtrack includes over two hours of dialogues and songs
Forty years of Sholay and a current prime minister of similar protean origin. India might be a Ramgarh, but the pressing question is: who and what is Gabbar?

Universal Music releases film soundtrack

On the anniversary of Sholay’s release, Universal Music has come out with Sholay: The 40th Anniversary Collection, which includes over two hours of dialogues and songs, and also made the soundtrack digitally available for the first time.
Sunil D’sa, vice president – marketing of Universal Music India Pvt Ltd says, “I don’t think there is any other film in the history of Indian cinema where both the songs and the dialogues have become so iconic. Even today’s younger audiences are aware of those classic dialogues from the film. So we thought why not present the entire film on audio format…and that’s what the album is about. While listening to it, every scene from the film props up in front of you.”
Along with releasing the album, Universal Music also has plans to turn the anniversary into a multiplatform campaign. The group has collaborated with DJ Suketu to create a five-minute mashup to introduce the film’s music, and has also associated with Dubsmash for people to create their own versions of the characters’ famous lines.

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