Sholay
India 1975
Directed by Ramesh Sippy.


When SHOLAY was released in 1975, it broke box office records, and even today, if you adjust for inflation, it is the biggest box office earner of all time. It is the movie that launched Amitabh Bachchan's career into orbit and made him a superstar. And whenever I talk to South Asian friends and coworkers about Indian cinema, they inevitably bring up SHOLAY, as in: Have you seen it yet? You must see it. That's a great one. You've seen SHOLAY, right? Well, I hadn't, until now. After all the hype, I must say I ended up feeling a bit of disappointment to discover that it is nothing more than a remake of The Magnificient Seven (1960, USA) with a few goofy musical numbers thrown in.

Indian heroes are tougher stuff, though, so they only need two: Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan), a couple small time crooks with hearts of gold. Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar), a retired police officer, remembers them from his days on the force, when they came to his aid during a bandit raid, even though they were his prisoners. He decides they are just the men to come to his village to help him capture the bandit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) -- alive -- to avenge the murder of his family.

SHOLAY spends too much time with our heroes Veeru and Jai before they are even brought to the village -- they hatch a scheme to collect their own reward money and end up in a jail run by a comical Hitler character. Well, he was supposed to be funny, anyway, but unless you are Mel Brooks, comedy and Hitler do not go well together.

When they finally get to the village, they spend a lot of time loafing around, waiting for the bandits to show. Veeru starts up a romance with an extremely talkative girl (Hema Malini) who runs the only carriage between the village and the train station, while Jai settles for a romantic staring contest between himself and a non-communicative widow (Jaya Bhaduri). Both romances are electric, probably because both were couples in real life.

SHOLAY has some fantastic moments -- moments so great you start to forget that you are watching the same movie that featured a comical Hitler character earlier. The Thakur has a great "reveal" that ends the first half of the film and leads into intermission. And there are gunfights galore, horse chases, and impossible escapes.

Both the leads are charming and charismatic as hell, and its easy to see why the film was so successful for Amitabh Bachchan: he's the quiet, brooding guy, not the open, fresh-faced guy. Sure, being the romantic lead in a film is great, but let's face it, who steals the picture? It's Han Solo over Luke Skywalker, almost every time.

Although much of the film is tired cliche, the strong cast makes it work well enough. But what really sells the film is that it is one of the more technically accomplished films of the period I've seen -- well directed, well edited, decent music. The incidental music helps give SHOLAY a bit of a spaghetti western feel (SHOLAY being what they call a "curry" western). SHOLAY is nothing particularly original, but it is good, and worth seeing, if for nothing else so that you'll have a response the next time someone asks you -- and they will: so have you seen SHOLAY yet?

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 22, 2004.


Comments

I can imagine your disappointment for the film. But I guess some films are meant to be seen in the context of the time they were released. The action genre in Bollywood consisted of punches with ridiculous sounds and funny somersaults. Sholay brought a grittiness to the genre. Here the characters are less caricatures and more human. Technically, for that time the film was flawless (it is still much better than Dhoom 2). It can be enjoyed more if it is seen as the perfect masala film.

Posted by: Saif at March 30, 2009 07:47 AM
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